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The Mill Launches Entrepreneur Program For Formerly Incarcerated

The Dimension Mill on North Madison Street.

The Mill is located in the repurposed Showers Brothers Furniture Company Dimension Mill on North Madison Street. (Holden Abshier, WFIU/WTIU News)

The Mill in Bloomington launched a new entrepreneurial program last month for the formerly incarcerated.

ReBoot is a six-week program designed to help participants focus their business ideas and work to fill customer needs.

Andy Lehman is head of accelerator programming at The Mill, a nonprofit center for entrepreneurship located in the repurposed Showers Brothers Furniture Company Dimension Mill. He said ReBoot is designed to open the door for an underserved population.

“A lot of folks don’t get told yes,” Lehman said. “They’re constantly told no and don’t have opportunities that other folks do. I wanted this to be an opportunity to say yes, and to give folks the opportunity to build something.”

At the end of the program, participants become members of The Mill for a year. They will have more opportunities to grow and expand their business through programs and partnerships.

One of the first seven participants is Michelle Brekke, a house painter from Bloomington.

For her, the program is not just business - it’s personal.

“I made myself a promise when I was in prison that I wouldn’t turn down any help that was offered to me,” Brekke said. “I’m an addict, so in the recovery thing, but also in my life.”

Brekke used to ask her boss for a raise almost every Friday, but was rarely successful. She would jokingly tell him, “you know, I’m kinda a big deal.”

Brekke eventually left the company, opened Big Deal Painting in October 2019, and gave herself the raise she always wanted.   

She said being a part of ReBoot has not only expanded her company, but also given her a new sense of confidence. She finally feels like a big deal.

“To see the progress from week to week, to know that, like, what we’re doing is reigniting and everybody is getting things out of it is amazing,” Lehman said.

Lehman said the program has already received a lot of support, including several guest speakers. With two weeks left in the first group of participants, Lehman anticipates an expanded program in the fall.

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