We don't just grow plants, we grow entrepreneurs!
The idea for Second Chances Farm grew out of serendipity and vision, but mostly from connections with people and shared ideas. Conception began in 2016 from a combination of two separate TEDx Talks given at the 5th Annual TEDxWilmington Conference in Wilmington, Delaware, of which our Founder is also the Organizer.
After a powerful talk about re-entry and recidivism by an ex-offender and former re-entry specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice, and an separate but equally innovative talk about farming of the future, our founder, Ajit Mathew George, began to connect the dots. Can we find a way to fight the recidivism epidemic facing this nation while simultaneously addressing other serious threats like water pollution, environmental damage, unemployment, poor quality produce, and food deserts?
The answer lies in hydroponic vertical farming. Second Chances will be the first vertical farm in Delaware and the first vertical farm anywhere to exclusively hire men and women returning from prison. It is a chance to not only provide jobs for those returning from prison, but also to harness their entrepreneurial skills and allow them a chance to become Compassionate Capitalists and business owners.
By joining and improving the indoor agriculture revolution and introducing an element of social change, we hope to be a social enterprise unlike any other.
Second Chances Farm, LLC will be an indoor vertical farm that hires exclusively men and women returning to society after serving their time in prison.
All crops and produce will be fresh, organic, nutritious, completely free of pesticides and herbicides, and grown within 150 miles of anywhere it is available for consumption, seriously cutting down long-haul shipping costs and pollution. Did we mention it will be fresh and available 365 days a year, no matter what the weather brings?!
TED & TEDx Talks That Inspired Us
Meet the Growers
Ajit Mathew George
Founder and Managing Director
Ajit Mathew George is a serial entrepreneur, creative marketer, veteran TEDx organizer, food & wine aficionado, philanthropist and certified Dream Builder™ Life Coach who divides his time between Wilmington, Delaware and Virgin Gorda, BVI. He has over 40 years of experience in creative marketing, strategic planning, and business development in various arenas from broadcasting and events to non-profits and real estate development.
Ajit is the founder of Second Chances Farm, LLC, an organization focused on hiring and giving turn-key entrepreneurial opportunities to people returning from prison after serving their sentences through the creation of indoor, vertical farms – or “plant factories.” Second Chances plans to produce organic produce, year-round, in local communities and minimize the carbon footprint of transporting produce.
Through Magic Dust, LLC, he helps organizations and individuals build their dreams, accelerate their results, and create richer, more fulfilling lives through Life Coaching, strategic marketing, and event planning. Ajit has sprinkled his “magic dust” to create tons of magical events like First Night Wilmington, Meals from the Masters, Virgin Islands Winemakers Dinners, MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, and TEDxWilmington. As the Organizer of TEDxWilmington, Ajit has also produced 32 TEDx events in Delaware since 2012, featuring 486 speakers who have given 466 TEDx talks that have attracted over 16.5 million views.
Prior to going into the private sector in 1980, Ajit was Director of Marketing and Membership Services for WHYY in Philadelphia, where he raised millions of dollars for public TV and radio. He also served as Managing Director of Nail Bay Resort in Virgin Gorda. Between 1980 and 2010, he was actively involved in real estate development including acquisition, construction, historic renovations, marketing, sales, and property management in the Delaware Valley and the British Virgin Islands.
Over the years, Ajit has volunteered thousands of hours for various non-profit organizations in both the U.S. and the BVI including being the Founding Chairman of Meals on Wheels Delaware and the BVI Charitable Fund. He has served as Chairman of the Governor's Council on Family Services, General Convener of Delaware Futures, and President of the Kiwanis Foundation and Kiwanis Club of Wilmington. He was awarded the Governor's Outstanding Volunteer Award of Delaware in 1994, The Jefferson Award in 2002 and 2003 for his work with the YWCA and Meals on Wheels, and The Award for Outstanding Philanthropic Service from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2007. He is currently a member of the Rotary Club of Wilmington, Delaware a former charter member of the Rotary Club Sunrise of Road Town, BVI, and received the Paul Harris Award by Rotary International from the Rotary Club of Tortola in 2006. Ajit served on the Board of Directors for the BVI Tourist Board.
Ajit was born to Indian parents, brought up in Kuwait, and moved to the U.S. at age 16 where he attended the University of Delaware and received his undergraduate and graduate degree in organization development from Antioch University. He is a passionate gardener who has planted over 1,500 plants at Sunset Watch Villa, his home in Virgin Gorda.
In 2012 Jon coined the term “Nurturator” to embody the notion that people, ideas, and companies don’t need to be in “accelerators" or “incubators," but need to be in a “Nurturator” or nurtured. It is the concept of a Nurturator that serves as a philosophical underpinning of the goal of Second Chances Farm to infect the world with compassionate capitalism by both nurturing crops and people.
Jon Brilliant is a serial healthcare entrepreneur that brings a wealth of experience to Second Chances Farm. Jon has been part of the founding team and CFO of two pioneering companies in the digital health/mHealth space. First, Jon was part of the founding team of WellDoc way back in 2005 that became the first mobile app to obtain FDA clearance (2010 – a year before the mobile medical app regulations) that is prescribed by physicians and reimbursed by payers (2011). Jon helped usher in an era and an industry and WellDoc has been called the grand daddy of digital health. WellDoc went on to have the American Diabetes Association grant BlueStar the first designation in a new class of therapy called Mobile Prescription Therapy as outlined in this Forbes article, which has not morphed into digital therapeutics or “digiceuticals.” Jon was instrumental in helping the company raise over $50M, and pioneer a business model by finding a way to obtain FDA clearance for a mobile app that could be prescribed by doctors and reimbursed by payers as described in the NY Times and MobiHealth News. Jon was part of a team that helped blaze a path that gave birth to an entire industry.
Following his eight years at WellDoc, most recently Jon, along with others personally affected by type 1 diabetes, co-founded Bigfoot Biomedical, which seeks to change the paradigm of care for insulin-requiring diabetes by leveraging data, connectivity, automation, and machine learning to reduce the burden on people with insulin-requiring diabetes and maximize the leverage of health care providers. As Bigfoot’s CFO and then Chief Strategy Officer, Jon helped lead Bigfoot’s creation of a disruptive business model of a bundled monthly subscription service that meets the needs of payers, patients and providers in an ever-increasing outcomes driven healthcare environment.
By integrating an FDA-cleared insulin pump and the leading continuous glucose monitor (CGM) with a smartphone app and a comprehensive, cloud-based data platform, Bigfoot enables a safer and less costly way to treat the millions of people living with T1D. Located in Silicon Valley, and founded by proven entrepreneurs with track records of innovation and value creation, Jon was part of a team that is creating a durable business of scale as well as meeting an important unmet health need. Bigfoot’s roots were chronicled in Wired Magazine and its prototype system, which has been used in the real-world since 2012, was described poignantly in this blog post by the wife of Bigfoot’s co-founder Bryan Mazlish. Bigfoot was also featured in the WSJ and in the Harvard Business Review article entitled: The Innovative Mindset Your Company Can’t Afford to Lose.
Jon has had operating roles in healthcare (SPEAR Physical Therapy, WellDoc and Wright Medical), automotive (JM Family), and retail (Harrods). During his professional career, Jon has advised dozens of companies, been a Senior Advisor to Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund, and a venture capitalist with his own fund (Atelier), a large European-based fund (Syntek Capital), and the family office of the former owner of Harrods. Jon has raised and invested billions of dollars in public and private markets, even helping restructure the debt of the country of Bolivia. Jon has served on the board of directors of over fifteen companies, ranging in size from startups to over $500M in revenue.
Jon received his undergraduate degree at The Pennsylvania State University while playing Varsity tennis and earned his graduate degree from Duke University.
Learn more about Jon by watching his talk at TEDX Wilmington and his interview on Comcast Newsmakers. Also check out his interview with PC World and his article on the Huffington Post. More of Jon’s media mentions can be found at Technical.ly/Delaware.
Evan M Bartle
Chief Growing Officer
Evan is a musician, craftsman, audiophile, and gardener with a love for tinkering, technology, and artistry. Although he spent much of his career in the world of event management and technology, he has always held a passion for plants since his first garden as a child with his mother. After graduating from Wilmington Friends School he went on to receive a Bachelors of Science from Northeastern University in Boston.
After graduation, he spent many years living in Austin, Texas, “The Live Music Capital of the World,” to pursue concert, event, and audio production. He worked for various events companies, managing teams of AV technicians in various event departments. In Austin, Evan grew plants mostly outdoors due to the suitable year-round growth climate in Texas. He has harvested everything from mushrooms to melons and everything in between. After returning to the east coast, Evan completed a 10-month term of service with Public Allies, an Americorps program, where he met Ajit and began developing the idea of Second Chances Farm.
Evan has taken classes in hydroponics, propagation, and growing microgreens. He mostly loves to play music, coach wrestling, and continuously tweak and engineer his homemade hydroponic garden that includes basil, cilantro, chives, spinach, and more.
Restorative Justice Program Coordinator
Patricia May has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology, Magna Cum Laude, from Florida State University. She has over 40 years of related work experience in the field of corrections. Patricia has worked for the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Delaware; Public Defender’s Office; Department of Correction, Community Services and Bureau of Prisons; Juvenile Corrections; Treatment Foster Care; a women’s Transitional Living Program and Substance Abuse Treatment programs. Patricia retired from the State of Delaware, Department of Correction in 2018.
While employed with Delaware Department of Correction, Patricia wrote, implemented and directed My Brother’s Keeper Mentorship Program, a 100 bed, 18-24 month, residential treatment program, at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. This program also included a reentry section, which supplied mentors and guidance, for men returning back to the community. Patricia also was staff advisor for the Monday Night section of the program, for men who were not able to be housed in the residential program. My Brother’s Keeper was a faith-based program, which emphasized the use of mentors, education, substance abuse recovery treatment and other aspects of restorative justice. My Brother’s Keeper’s required no additional funding from the State, other than the normal housing and security costs. The belief, purpose, and end result for the program, is that most people with criminal behavior can become productive, contributing, members of society if given the opportunity to learn pro-social values and employment skills.
Patricia has been involved in outdoor vegetable and flower gardening for over 40 years; and small scale hydroponic and full-spectrum light, indoor gardening for 4 years. Patricia has hoped for years to be able to infuse a horticulture program with a restorative justice program; therefore, the interest in volunteering with Second Chances Farm.
Patricia currently serves on the Board of Directors, Prison Ministries of Delaware, Inc.; the Advisory Board for The First Alliance Church, Hockessin, Delaware; and group leader for Bible Study Fellowship.
In-House Engineer, Marketer, & Media Maven
Jake is a world traveling filmmaker, digital marketer, TEDxWilmington Assistant Producer, and nonprofit founder. He helps social entrepreneurs and impact-seeking organizations share their story so they can change the world.
As a civil engineering graduate of the University of Delaware, class of 2009, Jake has worked on transportation engineering teams in Wilmington, Delaware; Madison, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His engineering career involved 40 year forecasting of infrastructure investments up to $1 billion.
In 2012 he was asked to transfer to beautiful British Columbia where he was a permanent resident of Vancouver for four years as a technical lead for an engineering team. Living in Vancouver created a life-changing opportunity to be surrounded by “Hollywood North”, and his passion for storytelling with video was born. After running a successful video business in addition to his engineering role, Jake returned from Vancouver to Delaware just before his 30th birthday in 2017.
From 2017 to 2019 Jake has been on the TEDxWilmington Tribe, as an Assistant Producer and Videographer, and a member of Ajit’s leadership team. In this time, he has video interviewed 171 speakers, volunteered with organizing 12 TEDx events, and coached dozens of speakers to format and improve their talks for the TEDx stage.
Today Jake runs a marketing business with his co-founder Markevis Gideon, Founder of NERDiTNOW, TEDxWilmington speaker, and previous finalist of University of Delaware’s Hen Hatch Startup Competition. They focus on content marketing, search engine optimization, video production, and social media storytelling.
Aside from business, Jake is a board officer of the NERDiT Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that donates technology to underserved communities in Delaware and abroad. 305 laptops and computers have been donated in the past three years, 22 of which have been donated to locations in Ghana and Kenya.
Vertical Farmer #1
Charles O'Neill is a dreamer and a doer. While incarcerated for six years, Charles volunteered for the prison newsletter, The Isthmus. Writing science-oriented articles, creating comic strips, and crafting mind-bending puzzles led to a position with the Men with a Message Braille Program as an Accessible Media Technician. This work was designed to provide Delaware's visually impaired students with learning material in ways never before available. Charles pioneered this position, creating and writing guidelines for other trainees that would join. When not playing soccer or painting watercolor, Charles studied all topics he deemed relevant to securing a prosperous future, especially researching deeply into aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics.
Charles graduated from Delcastle Technical High School with honors, studying aviation maintenance. He took home the gold medal prize in the state SkillsUSA competition in 2005 and 2006, and was additionally awarded the bronze medal at the national level both years. In 2006 he designed and built a functional pulsejet for his senior project.
After graduation, Charles joined Local 199 Laborers Union of North America. He thrives on the challenges of modern construction. Building high rise hotels, schools, courthouses, and more with Rizzo and Sons masonry company instilled an appreciation for the struggles his forbearers overcame. While taking a year-long hiatus from masonry laboring, he worked for Electrical Power Systems inc., testing and retrofitting large switchgear for factories and power plants in the Mid-Atlantic region.
As an avid gardener, Charles spends much time studying the new technologies pertaining to better, faster, and tastier food production. While attending a seminar on sustainable agriculture at the University of Delaware, Charles reached out to the Dean of Agriculture, Mark Rieger, who connected him with Ajit George and the Second Chances Farm Team - he dove right in and soon became the perfect fit as our first vertical farmer.
Charles plans to design and build systems that will effectively change the way food is produced as we know it.