Defy Ventures Is Providing an Avenue to Success for Prison Inmates

October 13, 2016

7:30 pm

Techstars recently sat down with Catherine Hoke of Defy Ventures, one of the five Techstars Foundation grantees, to learn more about the organization and how it’s helping diversity in entrepreneurship. Defy Ventures provides entrepreneurship training and intense character development for people with criminal histories. 

When I was 26 years old, a friend invited me to visit a prison in Texas. I was hesitant, but ultimately went. In prison, I met some very smart and hungry hustlers who defied the stereotypes I had of people in prison. They shared their stories with me and it broke my heart. Many of them were almost guaranteed to a life in prison since birth (70% of the children of incarcerated parents go to prison).

I left my venture capital job in NY and moved to Texas to start a prison entrepreneurship program to train these men in prison how to be successful, legal hustlers when they get out. I founded Defy Ventures as my next step to scale nationally to every prison and train people with criminal histories post-release. The vision of Defy Ventures is to eliminate the problem of mass incarceration in America and put ourselves out of business.

We are trying to solve some of the most challenging problems in America: mass incarceration and legacies of incarceration, poverty, joblessness, violence and hopelessness.

Many people have distorted stereotypes of people in prison – they think of them as wild animals and a danger to society. We break down those misperceptions so they can see incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as human beings who, like them, have made mistakes. We create opportunities for people on either side of the fence to connect in their humanity and foster greater empathy.

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ConBody, a platform that provides prison-style workouts, was started by a Defy graduate named Coss Marte. Coss was incarcerated on drug charges and prosecuted as a kingpin because he was operating a multi-million drug business. He was very overweight when he went to prison and was told he would die if he didn’t get healthy. So, while in prison, he worked out and lost weight. He also helped other inmates lose weight and get fit, too. His business is a prison-style boot camp that helps people “do the time.”

He helps his clients get healthy and live better lives. He hires other people with criminal histories to create opportunities and empower them. Plus, he volunteers time with Defy and gives back by going into prison to train people. He is changing perceptions and defying the odds big time.

Learn more about Defy’s impact on EITs and volunteers here in a SOCAP interview.

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Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed. Through the Techstars Worldwide Entrepreneur Network, founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates four divisions: Techstars Startup Programs, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships, and the Techstars Venture Capital Fund.

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