This Navy Yard incubator teaches former inmates how to start carpentry businesses

“Manual labor is important for society,” Refoundry cofounder Tommy Safian told Inc. magazine. “It's honorable work.”

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Lots of incubators have popped up on the scene in the last few years. But one growing subset of such programs has a particularly meaningful mission: to help people who have been incarcerated to start fresh by equipping them to launch their own businesses. The topic’s gotten renewed press attention as of late — Bloomberg Businessweek recently ran a story on a Connecticut-based program and our sister site Generocity ran one on a Philly-based construction program — and it’s also happening right here in Brooklyn.
Inc. writer Will Yakowicz recently wrote about Refoundry, which is based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Its participants learn how to make custom furniture through a local carpentry program, and after they’ve gained sufficient skill, they get help incorporating their businesses and selling their pieces at Brooklyn Flea and other local markets. (In fact, they’ll be at Brooklyn Flea next week, just in time for the holidays, if you’d like to check out their work.)
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Refoundry’s founders, Cisco Pinedo and Tommy Safian, previously ran furniture companies, so that line of work is in the company’s DNA. Though the incubator’s four members have made a relatively small sum so far, $135,000, that’s been enough to move at least two of them off public assistance. Interestingly enough, Refoundry doesn’t take any funding from the federal government. That’s by design, according to its founders. The Inc. story points out one limitation of government-backed job assistance programs:

Safian says the organization doesn’t take federal funding because it would restrict what they can do. If Refoundry were to take government funding, they would have to accept every applicant that walks in without assessment and place people in jobs in six to eight weeks, which means the training is in low-level jobs with low wages and high turnover.

That’s obviously not an ideal outcome for participants. But as Refoundry is seeking to prove, jobs that involve manual labor don’t have to be a dead end. In fact, it can even be a selective occupation, Safian told Inc.
“Manual labor is important for society, it’s honorable work, but it’s not for everyone coming out of prison,” he said. “Formerly incarcerated people have real skills — conflict resolution and working, negotiating within a bureaucracy, ability to seize opportunities, and patience. This is the most underused talent pool. People are people, no matter if they went to prison or not.”
We also have to mention that the incubator is fitting for the Navy Yard’s vision to become a manufacturing hub.

Series: Brooklyn

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