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Candace Sjogren


VIP Contributor

Head of Alternative Lending at Marqeta - 

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Knife Skills, an Oscar-nominated documentary, describes the opening of a unique restaurant. Edwins, a fine French dining establishment, launched in 2017 with a twist -- the restaurant doubles as a culinary arts school that only employs ex-felons. This film illustrates how so few organizations focus on teaching true marketable skills to our "fallen citizens." And just as I was inspired by this film, I met Concetta Mantinan.

Mantinan's story began with learning disabilities. When she was 17, Mantinan was diagnosed with an eating disorder, ADD and other learning impairments. As she struggled in school to learn and understand, Mantinan felt ashamed and drowned it first with sugar, then with drugs and alcohol.

"I was always in the worst in my class and had extremely low self-worth growing up, so I started cheating and lying through school, creating more shame," Mantinan says in an interview. "My anxiety reached its peak when my friends went on to college, and my drinking took off. I then graduated to meth and was an addict for 10 years. None of this was about drugs, but rather about the underlying shame tied to low self-worth and self-esteem."

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Once Mantinan got sober, she started her first company, It's Perfect Malibu, a sober living facility. After getting a chemical dependence counseling degree, Mantinan then moved to San Diego to focus on building a recovery program for college students, San Diego Student Recovery. She sold that company in 2016 and now Mantinan is now building some Knife Skills of her own. She recently launched the Holistic Learning Sanctuary Foundation, a nonprofit trade school focused on providing life skills and work training for veterans, people dealing with mental illness and those recovering from addiction.

The Holistic Learning Sanctuary will provide job training for six trades, including construction, culinary arts, media, filmmaking/photography, agriculture and computer science. By the time students graduate, they will have the skills they need to pass any trade test, and if they pass, will be able to get a job.

As Mantinan built her first two businesses, she learned a number of lessons about how to start, fund and run a nonprofit. As she builds Holistic Learning Sanctuary and works to raise $150,000 in seed funding through the company's GoFundMe, she recommends these three tips toward early success.

1. Find a niche and fill it

First, Mantinan recommends finding your place in this world.

"As I've continued to build one business after the next," Mantinan says in an interview, "I've learned that I have the most success when I find a way to serve in a space no one else wants to serve."


2. Find your tribe first


Before building an empire, a founder first needs to find a good group they can trust and turn to for help. As Mantinan explains, "Mentors are a must. I was a drug addict for so many years that I never had business mentors. I felt very lonely in my first companies, with a constant fear that someone was going to steal my idea. But, then I joined a mastermind group, the Ascension Leadership Academy, and I've gotten not only a ton of guidance from my peers as to how to run a successful company, but coaching as to how I can show up a bigger and better leader as well."

3. Start somewhere strong

Mantinan is a big believer in capturing minnows, then fish, then whales. While she intends to build a global organization to impact education around the world, she recognizes the importance of doing the first project well. "We have started with two trade lines, agriculture and culinary arts. We've gotten the land donated and are on our way to make these first trades a success."

Joshua Berglan, Chairperson of Mantinan's fundraising effort and CEO of Live Mana Worldwide, is committed to building out the Holistic Learning Sanctuary because he is a recovered addict himself. In an interview, Berglan says, "Addicts have a superhuman ability to work and a chip on their shoulder. When we give them something to care about, something to work toward, we can stop the cycle. The Holistic Learning Center is doing just that. Mantinan is building the new world's education."

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