The Refinery: Mentoring Young Entrepreneurs

A few weeks ago, we introduced you to the teams taking part in The Refinery. They have been working on a crucial aspect of their business development plan: customer interviews. The method adapted for The Refinery prepares each team to conduct in-depth interviews with 30 potential customers in a 2-month period (the Lean LaunchPad as originally developed would have participants conduct many times that over a longer period).

Prior to setting off on their customer discovery quests, the teams had an opportunity to present their business idea to a group of mentors who provided critical feedback about each of the individual projects. The mentors play an important role in The Refinery, providing a sounding board for the teams. But more than that, each of The Refinery’s mentors are deeply knowledgeable about entrepreneurship, and each has an impressive history of startup expertise. Plus, they are all Pratt alumni.

Ashley Berger

Ashley Berger is passionate about helping creative entrepreneurs have financially successful careers producing and creating things they love to make. Her experience includes over a decade involved in the marketing industry in various capacities from promoting major brands such as Dell, Think Film and Coca-Cola to crafting compelling fundraising campaigns for non-profits such as Pratt Institute and Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. She completed an undergraduate degree in Advertising Design-Art Direction, and a Masters in Arts and Cultural Management from Pratt Institute, where she developed an expertise in the management of creative businesses, and how to serve the unique marketing needs for creative entrepreneurs. Today, Berger lives in Brooklyn running Makers Megaphone, a business coaching company she founded to support modern makers, while also working for Etsy where she serves as a business adviser to some of Etsy’s top creative sellers.

Alicia Jean-Noel. 

Alicia Jean-Noel is the Manager of Adult (Public and Community) Programs at the Brooklyn Museum, board member with the Emerging Leaders of New York Arts fellow as part of the Arts and Business Council of New York, as well as the Young Professionals Board for Urban Bush Women. Jean-Noel is a graduate of the Arts and Cultural Management program at Pratt Institute (M.P.S.) and Business program at Edinboro University (B.S.). Alicia is committed in word, thought and deed, to inspiring citizens towards cultural awareness and arts integration to strengthen society. Her strengths lie in coalition building, marketing, community curation and business-operational performance improvement. She is a cultural maven, currently residing in Brooklyn.

Peter Ragonetti.

Peter Ragonetti graduated from Pratt in 2004 with a B.I.D. For 10 years Peter worked in Product Design, Development and Manufacturing, then transitioned to a Design Director role. After a few years he set out to forge an entrepreneurial path founding PTR Design LLC in 2013 and co-founded of a few start-ups in emerging markets. The motto of PTR Design is “Design it, Refine it, Make it”. Recently Peter began teaching a class in the Pratt Industrial Design Department where he guides seniors through launching their own crowdfunding campaign.

D. K. Smith.

D.K. Smith is managing director at the Brooklyn Innovation Center startup accelerator, which provides entrepreneurs with mentoring, tech-focused education, and access to funding. He is a judge for the Brooklyn Public Library’s “PowerUP!” business plan competition, and he mentors founders in the BigApps NYC civic tech challenge. D.K. earned a BFA from Pratt Institute and a Certificate in Multimedia Technology from NYU.

Don’t forget to make time in your spring schedule to attend the Pitch Competition, where our judges will pick the best business idea on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

If you are interested in learning about entrepreneurship at Pratt, visit to find out when the next Startup Session will take place, visit, or attend Co-Working Hours on Fridays. You can also contact The Founder’s Club at It’s not too early to start thinking about applying to The Refinery next year. Contact Brynna Tucker, to learn how you can start preparing to launch your own entrepreneurial project.

About Robert Carabay