Meet the Staff

Catherine Hoke (Rohr)Defy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

Founder & CEO

Catherine Hoke (Rohr)

Founder & CEO

Catherine started Defy in 2010 after founding and leading the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a nonprofit organization that serves men throughout the Texas prison system. At PEP, Catherine developed the vision, recruited and worked closely with the Governing Board and three Local and National Advisory Boards to execute the vision, led a staff of 25, raised a $2.5 million privately funded budget, taught PEP’s curriculum to men in prison, oversaw all activities with the prison system, and served as an advocate to external constituents. Under Catherine’s leadership, PEP was recognized for its innovation and results by NBC Nightly News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, National Public Radio, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Deal Maker Magazine.

Prior to PEP, Catherine built a network of more than 4,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs during her career in venture capital and private equity. She sourced $32 million in equity investments in three technology deals at Summit Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based firm. Catherine then served as Director of Investment Development at American Securities Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration from University of California, Berkeley.

A three-time marathon runner, college rugby player and varsity rower, and California State Women’s Wrestling Champion, Catherine still loves training and competing in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. As a French Canadian-born daughter of an entrepreneurial immigrant, Catherine was an ESL student and appreciates good grammar. She’s surprisingly domesticated and feels the need to regularly experiment in the kitchen. Catherine married someone this summer who quickly became Defy’s top volunteer!

Louis KanganisDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Louis Kanganis

Chief Operating Officer

Louis oversees organizational development, staff leadership, and business operations for Defy.

He has held C-level positions for a number of startups in the online media, e-commerce and systems/software industries for which he has raised in excess of $15 million of seed and growth capital. In 2001, he founded and then served as CEO for Spring Street Networks, a VC-backed provider of private-label online personals solutions for a network of more than 200 media companies including AOL, Primedia, Hearst Newspapers, RealNetworks, and others. With a database of more than 3 million registered members, Spring Street was sold to a competitor in 2005.

Louis also has more than 10 years of experience in the securities industry as an analyst, portfolio manager and private investor for PaineWebber, Schroders PLC, and Steinhardt Partners, among others. During that time, he had direct P&L responsibility for assets in excess of $400 million. His primary investment focus was on the technology, internet, media, and cable sectors. Louis has an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Geophysics from Columbia College.

Markus LeibundgutDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Markus Leibundgut

Chief Technology Officer

Markus has well over 20 years of experience in technology management for both software and hardware. As the former VP Technology and Operations for Metrozen, a consulting firm which he founded, he was responsible for all technology design and management of Metrozen’s clients. He has built technology architectures for systems in the retail, advertising, hospitality, scientific instrumentation and many other industries. Prior to his work with Metrozen, he was the Director of e-Business at Thermo Electron, where he created the technology backbone which allowed Thermo to merge the Web presence of over 100 established brands into one single brand, to merge sales data from dozens of ERP systems worldwide into one single sales data mart managing over $2 billion in sales and to create a unified, global lead management system. He also held Senior Management positions in Technology, Marketing and Operations with Mettler-Toledo, and was responsible for much of the digital systems design of their weighing products. Markus has a Master’s degree in Business Administration with distinction from New York University and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Jose VasquezDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Jose Vasquez

Program Manager & Recruiter

Jose coordinates classroom training and directly supports Defy Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) in reaching their entrepreneurial potential. What Jose loves most about his work at Defy is the community created by staff, EITs, and volunteers, as well as the opportunity to guide EITs in creating companies and legacies that will make their communities and families proud.

As a Defy Class One graduate, Jose is the founder and CEO of Happy Vida, a personal concierge service for busy New Yorkers. He has also served as a Weatherization Instructor at The Osborne Association, a Weatherization Team Leader and a retail store manager.

Born in New York City and raised in the Bronx and Rhode Island, when he’s not supporting Defy EITs or running his business, Jose loves spending as much time as possible with his family and loved ones (and eating his grandma’s awesome cooking!).

Jordan WhitlowDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Jordan Whitlow

Program Manager

Jordan oversees Defy’s TryOut and Training events/curriculum and manages the organization’s mentor and volunteer networks. Prior to joining Defy, Jordan worked as a consultant at various embassies throughout the world helping develop emergency action procedures. Jordan also served as a special operations sniper in the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment for six years. He ended his military career as a sniper section leader, supervised three sniper teams and ensured they were capable of operating as attachments in support of multiple special operations units as well as independently.
Colin ErhardtDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Colin Erhardt

Chief of Staff

Born and raised in New York, Colin received his B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Boston College. Prior to joining Defy, Colin was a consultant in the Strategy and Transformation Practice of IBM Global Business Services. In this role, he worked on a variety of projects implementing technologies in the telecommunications and media industries to make business processes more efficient. After hearing about Defy’s incredible success in empowering EITs to create their own legacies, he knew immediately that he wanted to be part of scaling Defy’s vision nationally.
Kathy TorresDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Kathy Torres

Finance and Operations Manager

Kathy manages payroll, accounts receivable/payable, and purchasing for Defy Ventures. She also sets student entrepreneurs up on QuickBooks and assists them with their bookkeeping. She brings to Defy 10 years of bookkeeping and administrative experience in for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Danielle FreniDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Danielle Freni

Director of Marketing

Danielle is a former broadcast news producer turned nonprofit communications director with 10+ years of experience. Her passion for creative solutions to really BIG problems attracted her to Defy. Prior to joining this awesome team, she spent five years as the forward-thinking head of communications at one of the largest and most prominent Jewish congregations in the country. Working closely with the senior leadership team, the board of trustees and various other stakeholders, Danielle led a game-changing, strategic communications plan, which supported two schools, a 6,000-member congregation, and a $4.5M fundraising campaign. Prior to that, she served as a media relations specialist and regional spokesperson for New York Blood Center, one of the country’s largest blood collection organizations. Danielle was also a producer at NY1 News. She is an ESTP, a half marathon runner, and a trivia enthusiast.

Danielle manages media inquiries, is working on giving this web site a serious facelift (we know!), producing Defy’s eLearning video content, and developing marketing collateral that will be delightful to our stakeholders.

Charles HokeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Charles Hoke

Director of Business Development

After obtaining his MBA from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!), Charles arrived in New York to work on Wall Street. He started his career in High Yield Research and later worked in High Yield Sales & Trading. Charles served as one of Defy’s most active volunteers until 2014 when he left finance behind to join the Defy Ventures staff. His passion for problem solving and fighting injustice attracted him to the opportunity to help redeem one of America’s highest failure rate industries. It also attracted him to the woman he married: Defy’s founder and CEO, Catherine Hoke.

Charles oversees all of Defy’s outward-facing initiatives and programs, including volunteer recruitment, fundraising and donor relations, and employer relations. He develops strategy and infrastructure, and is building a team of charismatic go-getters who love to rep Defy. Let Charles know if any new recruits come to mind.

Vik VenkatramanDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Vik Venkatraman

Entrepreneur-in-Residence

An avid entrepreneur, Vik has founded and run several profitable businesses, including Clothes Horse, a private label suiting company that he continues to manage. Prior, he played a key role in building the $50MM Business Insights unit at American Express, and engineered the savings or growth of over $50MM in value for clients at Deloitte Consulting. Vik has a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Columbia University.

Vik helps our EITs get the most out of their entrepreneurial journey. He provides contacts to expand their support network, and offers guidance on running a successful startup rooted in his significant experience in business ideation and development (which he also leveraged in publishing a book on product launches).

 

THE STAFF

Catherine Hoke (Rohr)

Founder & CEO

Catherine started Defy in 2010 after founding and leading the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a nonprofit organization that serves men throughout the Texas prison system. At PEP, Catherine developed the vision, recruited and worked closely with the Governing Board and three Local and National Advisory Boards to execute the vision, led a staff of 25, raised a $2.5 million privately funded budget, taught PEP’s curriculum to men in prison, oversaw all activities with the prison system, and served as an advocate to external constituents. Under Catherine’s leadership, PEP was recognized for its innovation and results by NBC Nightly News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, National Public Radio, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Deal Maker Magazine.

Prior to PEP, Catherine built a network of more than 4,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs during her career in venture capital and private equity. She sourced $32 million in equity investments in three technology deals at Summit Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based firm. Catherine then served as Director of Investment Development at American Securities Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration from University of California, Berkeley.

A three-time marathon runner, college rugby player and varsity rower, and California State Women’s Wrestling Champion, Catherine still loves training and competing in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. As a French Canadian-born daughter of an entrepreneurial immigrant, Catherine was an ESL student and appreciates good grammar. She’s surprisingly domesticated and feels the need to regularly experiment in the kitchen. Catherine was married this summer to someone who quickly became Defy’s top volunteer!


The diverse team that powers Defy brings a variety of expertise to the organization, from entrepreneurship to technology to nonprofit program management. Defy is a lean, results-driven institution with a team who’s committed to and passionate about our mission. A specialized roster of consultants compliments our small full-time staff and collaborates with us to create transformational opportunities. We work exceptionally hard, play whenever we can, and, above all, value the heart behind the entrepreneurs-in-training, volunteers, and supporters who share in our mission.