How To Tap Inmates’ Entrepreneurial Spirit? A Boulder Man’s Trying

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Brad Feld and Inmate Prisoner Defy Ventures
Brad Feld (center) on a prison visit which is part of an inmate mentoring program that aims to help current and former prisoners find jobs and start businesses.

To survive in prison it helps to be resilient, creative and a self-starter. And that's not unlike what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, says Brad Feld, head of Boulder-based Foundry Group, a venture capital firm focused on start-ups.

Feld, who's been called the godfather of Boulder's start-up community, is on the board of Defy Ventures, a group that offers entrepreneurial, employment and character-development training to current and former inmates in New York, California and Nebraska.

The group relies on volunteer business executives who mentor trainees, known as Entrepreneurs-in-Training, and aims to build relationships and community between the two groups.

According to Defy Ventures, more than 1,000 people have graduated from the program and 165 businesses have been created, employing 350 people, many of whom are former inmates.

Feld says among his favorite success stories is a fitness company called ConBody. Founder and CEO Coss Marte developed a prison-style boot camp based on his experience behind bars. Marte, a former drug dealer, says he lost 70 pounds in a span of six months in prison while doing workouts in a jail cell.

  • Related: Listen to Podcast StartUp, featuring entrepreneur Coss Marte

As Colorado increasingly becomes a hub for startups, Feld hopes to bring the program to the state. He speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.