Coss Marte is 31 years old. For the last three years he’s been the CEO of ConBody, a prison-style bootcamp that has reached 22 countries and tens of thousands of customers. His story of success is similar to that of many CEOs, except for one key detail.
Marte didn’t start his business in grad school. He started it in prison.
Marte is a graduate of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that connects prisoners with professional mentors to help them start businesses that can thrive once they get released back into society, in a six-month program known as “CEO of Your New Life.”
On a recent Tuesday at Wallkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York, the program was about to reach its natural end for 25 “entrepreneurs-in-training,” or EITs. With dreams of becoming the next Coss Marte, the EITs pitched 50 executives on their ideas before a graduation ceremony honoring their achievement.
Business Insider ventured inside Wallkill to see firsthand how the “Shark Tank”-style competition is granting second chances.
Wallkill is a minimum security prison, but it still prohibits most electronic devices. Defy’s events took place free from cellphones and other buzzing and beeping distractions.
The day’s events began with Defy flipping the usual script. The welcome tunnel, typically formed by inmates, was instead made up of executives. Inmates got high-fives and cheers as Jay-Z’s “Empire of State of Mind” boomed through the speakers.
The two groups immediately started networking with an icebreaker game.