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MyStartUpStory: How Coss Marte Turned a Prison Sentence into Startup Gold

June 9, 2015

Coss Marte’s story sounds like something out of a made-for-TV movie. Picture this: At the age of 19, Marte was running a multi-million dollar cocaine operation in the Lower East side of Manhattan where he was raised. He’d dropped out of college, traded his baggy clothes for slick suits and was working around the clock to expand his illegal drug empire. In a twist of fate, everything changed for him in 2009. Marte, who happened to be grossly overweight at the time, was arrested and sentenced to 7 years in prison.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t really phased by my sentence. I was determined to continue running my cocaine operation from inside prison and I was even brewing hooch (illegal alcohol) in my prison cell for Marte2sale to my fellow inmates,” says Marte. “At the time, I just didn’t see my crime as something that was bad. For me, it was just a job— a way to make money to feed and clothe my young son.” Eventually though, Marte’s jailhouse antics would catch up with him.  After getting into a physical altercation with one of his prison guards he was placed in solitary confinement.

It was while he was housed in that 9×6 cell solitary cell with no access to people that Marte underwent what he describes as a spiritual awakening. “Solitary may have been one of the best thing to happen to me. It was in there that the negative impact that I’d had on my community suddenly dawned on me. I realized that I needed to do something positive and that it had to start with me,” he said. It was also during solitary confinement that the warning of a prison physician came floating back to him. “I’d been told in one of my prison check-ups that both my blood pressure and cholesterol were very high and that if I might not make it out of prison alive.” It was time for Marte to make a change.

This is where Marte’s startup story truly begins. He began working out furiously in solitary. Without the assistance of weights he developed grueling plyometric routines that allowed him to lose weight while also building muscle. He lost 70 pounds in just 6 months and he didn’t stop there. “When I got back to the general population, I started coaching my fellow inmates, and was even able to help a large group of them lose considerable weight.”  Marte1

Marte was paroled from prison after serving 4 years of his 7 year sentence. As a condition of his parole, he was compelled to live with his mother and also to find a job. The latter condition proved to be more challenging than he’d anticipated. “My felony made it extremely difficult to get any job, let alone one that paid above minimum wage. Literally the only employment that I could find was cleaning toilets at a local hotel,” he says. As a way stay occupied, he began working out in his neighborhood, using a metal pipe suspended between a wooden fence as a makeshift pull-up bar.  “Locals that I knew from my days on the block would come by and watch me workout outside. At first I was pretty embarrassed about it. It was a huge hit to my ego to go from making thousands of dollars a day to working minimum wage and not even being able to afford a gym membership. That was, until some members of the community asked me for fitness tips. Something clicked inside me and I realized that I had a business opportunity on my hands.”

Flash forward a year and a half and Coss Marte is the founder of Conbody, a thriving personal training business in New York City. The startup, which is protected by Hiscox’s commercial insurance coverage uses prison style bootcamp techniques, along with some trade secrets that Coss developed himself. His business is booming— it’s been featured on NPR, Men’s Health, Fox 5 and the New York Post to name just a few.  Conbody’s marketing tagline “do the time” serves as a clever acknowledgement of his businesses’ fraught beginning.

Coss prides himself on having a virtuous business model. He only employs fellow ex-cons that are working to get back on their feet. When asked what the best part about being an entrepreneur is, Coss immediately  mentioned creating a culture of inclusivity. “I remember working at jobs where I was scared to admit when I had made a mistake. I’m proud to own a business that fosters a culture of acceptance and encourages people to grow and become better.” For more information about Coss Marte and ConBody, visit him on social media– Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.