Author Tim Harford (Adapt) advocates we live in a complex world, thus we benefit from conducting trial and error experiments to solve problems. In the process, innovative solutions surface thanks to all the failed experiments. A recent experiment that has piqued my interest is a recyclables program called Defy Ventures.
Defy Ventures is a nonprofit organization located in New York City that offers a free entrepreneurial MBA-like training and mentorship program to people with criminal records. Founder, Catherine Rohr, a former venture capitalist, had previously performed outreach work in Texas with prisoners and learned that they possessed some of the same skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. She observed that some criminals were charismatic, independent, resourceful and willing to take risks. Some even exhibited managerial skills, especially those in gangs or the drug trade since they lead teams of up to 40 people.
The program is privately funded by a group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and foundations. First ex-convicts complete a 45-day training program and then 60 are selected for the internship program where they are taught about cash flow, balance sheets, taxes and intellectual properties. The class then conducts a contest where the attendees work on pitching a business concept with their assigned mentors/trainers for an opportunity to win seed funding up to $3,000. There is a final business plan contest after the 3-month training program where $100,000 is awarded to the winner. Conceived in 2010, Defy has helped launch 21 companies Such as catering, web design, personal concierge services and junk collection. For attendees that do not want to take the path of an entrepreneur, Defy offers a placement service for jobs in sales, technology, customer service, etc. Research did reveal they will not place convicted burglars in home-cleaning services.
Thanks to Ms. Rohr’s experiment, recyclables can work for more than plastic bottles and aluminum cans.