Meet the Staff

Catherine HokeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

Founder & CEO

Catherine Hoke

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.

John HubersDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

John Hubers

President

John brings more than 25 years of leadership experience spanning organizational development, management consulting, information technology, and systems design and implementation. Most recently, he served as the COO at Single Stop, a $30M national anti-poverty organization in the social innovation sector. There, John oversaw all operational, fiscal, technological, and strategic efforts of the organization while also leading the work that fueled the continued growth and national expansion of the programs.

Prior to that, he served on the Executive Management Committee as Director of Operations and Knowledge Management at Millennium Promise/Malaria No More, an initiative founded by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University to address extreme poverty at the global level. John oversaw operations and multi-sectoral relationships in over a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa in one the most ambitious and complex anti-poverty strategies ever undertaken.

John’s previous experience includes executive management, consulting, and operational and information systems leadership roles in the for-profit, government, and nonprofit sectors. He has overseen business operations as well as technology in multiple contexts and on a global scale. John is trained in finance, econometrics, and management. He has completed graduate and post-graduate programs, both domestically and internationally, in organizational development, political economy, and international affairs.

Rebecca ChoiDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Rebecca Choi

Chief of Staff

Rebecca is the Chief of Staff at Defy Ventures. Having graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in Political Economy and minor in East Asian Studies, Rebecca started her career in the world of finance as an investment banking analyst at JP Morgan in New York. Then, she moved to the buy-side, working for private equity firms in the Bay Area where she sourced, evaluated, negotiated and executed investments internationally and in the US. After her private equity career, Rebecca “retired” to Hawaii where she owned and operated a local restaurant in Hilo for five years and later launched her consulting practice advising non-profits and higher educational institutions. Prior to joining Defy, Rebecca was the COO of a non-profit graduate university in San Jose, CA, where she led strategic planning, organizational development, operational improvements, and growth management. Rebecca has a passion for improving education, ensuring justice, and providing economic opportunities for the disadvantaged.
Robert EapDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Robert Eap

Program Manager, In-Prison Program, SF

Robert comes to Defy after completing his PhD in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Most recently, he was the Assistant Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. In this role, he developed programming to advance Bay Area disability rights and promote disability culture. Prior to this, he was an assistant in USC Dornsife’s Office of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives and contributed to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students, faculty, and staff. He has committed his career to social justice and looks forward to advancing Defy’s reach and impact.
Nadine Friedman-RobertsDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Nadine Friedman-Roberts

Development Associate

Nadine is a nonprofit administration scholar specializing in gender equity through an intersectional framework. She holds a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College, where she developed a screenwriting mentorship program for girls in alternative-to-detention programs.

Her writing and video work on gender, race, and pop culture has been published in Salon, Bitch Magazine, Biographile and The Daily Beast. Nadine has also worked with progressive organizations such as Berlin-based Dropping Knowledge and Arts in a Changing America, a national project filling the urgent need to engage, from an arts perspective, the United States’ dramatic demographic transformation. Nadine is currently completing a book of essays and photographic portraits of individuals living with Multiple Sclerosis throughout the United States.

Melissa Gelber-O’DellDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Melissa Gelber-O’Dell

Director, Prison Engagement and Admissions

Originally from New York, Melissa Gelber-O’Dell received her BA from Franklin and Marshall College in Government and Women’s Studies and a Master’s degree from New York University in Social Work and Public Policy. She spent seven years at the Center for Court Innovation working to provide new opportunities to individuals involved in the criminal justice system and increase the efficacy of the judiciary. Most recently, Melissa served as the Program Director of the Community Assessment and Services Center, a large-scale reentry resource hub, assisting clients on probation returning from incarceration. Melissa is also an adjunct lecturer in the MPA program at San Francisco State University and is the Chairwoman of the Board for NYC TOGETHER.

As a criminal justice reform advocate, Melissa is passionate about Defy’s mission. In her role as Director, CEO YNL – California, she works to connect Entrepreneurs-in-Training to Defy’s programming and expand pre-release operations on the West Coast.

Daniel GonzalesDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Daniel Gonzales

Admissions Program Associate

Daniel Gonzales is the Admissions Program Associate, working to connect candidates for Defy’s programming with the application process. Prior to this role, Daniel was an HR professional at PepsiCo Venezuela. There, he managed all programs that aimed to improve the workforce, including engagement and development. Daniel is committed to social justice causes, including spending four years at a local Nonprofit focused on empowering high school students in under-served areas of Caracas. After volunteering as a teacher for 2 years, Daniel served as the HR Coordinator of the Executive Board helping recruit new volunteers, establishing alliances and working on the strategic plan for the organization.

Daniel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Relations and recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Entrepreneurship at Hult International Business School.

Charles HokeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Charles Hoke

Vice President of Growth

Charles oversees all of Defy’s outward-facing initiatives and programs, including fundraising, volunteer and donor relations, and strategic growth initiatives. He develops strategy and infrastructure, and is building a team of charismatic go-getters who love to rep Defy.

After obtaining his MBA from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!), Charles arrived in New York to work in financial services. He started his career as a High Yield Research Analyst 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, underdogs, 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.

Julie JacksonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Julie Jackson

Vice President of Learning

Julie Jackson-Forsberg is Defy’s Vice President of Learning. With twenty years’ experience in education, specifically devoted to underdogs, Julie is dedicated to helping people maximize their potential. Her experience is concentrated in instructional program development, curriculum, and data analysis. Prior to joining the Defy team, she served as the Chief Academic Officer of the Public Preparatory Network of charter schools, the founder and Managing Director of Critical Thinking Works, an education consultancy; and the founder and Head of School for Oracle Charter School in Buffalo, New York, a college-preparatory charter high school. Julie has an Executive MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Saunders School of Business; she is a past Fellow of the Peabody Professional Institute in Charter School Leadership at Vanderbilt University; she has completed coursework in Educational Leadership and Administration through George Washington University; MA work in English / Composition Studies through Northeastern University; and a BA in Creative Writing and Chemistry through Hamilton College.
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.

Julianna C. McCorkleDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Julianna C. McCorkle

In-Prison Program Associate

Julianna is a Massachusetts native who moved to New York City to attend Barnard College. There she studied Political Science and Biology while working in an ecological genetics lab. After college she worked as a paralegal at a law firm that catered exclusively to tech start-ups.

Julianna has interned at several non-profit organizations including the League of Women Voters, Human Rights Watch, and the Democratic National Committee. Eventually she hopes to go to law school and serve incarcerated people as a public defender.

Nadeem MirzaDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Nadeem Mirza

Video Producer

Born and raised in Queens, NY, Nadeem Mirza is a videographer/video editor with over 5 years of experience in the field. He has experience on each level of production from planning shoots, to coordinating on set, filming, and editing of the footage to deliver the final product. He has developed training/education videos, promotional and marketing content, short films, and web series.
Jeanette PineiroDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Jeanette Pineiro

Event Planner

Originally from New York City, Jeanette graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Development Sociology and Communications. After graduation she spent five years in Miami working for a young event management company where she was responsible for all day-to-day operations and events with local television stations around the country. It was this experience that first sparked her interest in working with start-up companies. Returning to New York City, Jeanette now serves as the Event Planner & Program Assistant managing the implementation of Defy’s in-person, experiential training.
Cindy RansomDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Cindy Ransom

Family Coordinator

Cindy received her Bachelor’s degree in the Fine Arts with a minor in Interpersonal Communication from the University of Central Florida in 2003. She is currently seeking her Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy and joins Defy Ventures as their Family Coordinator.

Prior to becoming a mother of two, Cindy worked at Disney in entertainment as a character performer in Florida and received intensive training in the world’s leader of guest service and satisfaction. She lived in California for 12 years and worked as an associate producer for television on various networks such as Disney, PBS and Spike TV. In those jobs, she enjoyed getting to know people from all walks of life.

Due to her personal interest in positive psychology and solution-focused concepts, Cindy brings with her an enthusiasm and an optimistic approach. She focuses on highlighting people’s strengths, sense of resilience and enjoys collaborating with others.

Reid RansomDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Reid Ransom

Lead Software Engineer

Reid began his career in the entertainment industry working for shows on MTV and Comedy Central. He went on to edit branded content for The CW/Microsoft, NBC/Walgreens, E!/Volkswagen and many others. He has developed software to improve post-production workflow and deliver video content more efficiently. His apps have been used to back up footage for the BET Awards and rescue corrupt footage for many networks.

Recently he developed a web application that enables major movie studios to manage their content across digital distribution platforms like iTunes and Google Play.

Reid earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

David RobinsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

David Robinson

Employment Manager

David comes to Defy with 20 years of experience in Workforce Development and Program Management, working with youth, Fatherhood Initiatives and Re Entry Programs. David’s experience is concentrated on helping formerly incarcerated men and women become productive members within their communities. David is a graduate from the University of Baltimore and comes to Defy from Philadelphia, PA.
Marina ThompsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Marina Thompson

Director of Talent Acquisition

Director of Talent Acquisition, Marina leads recruitment initiatives for Defy nationally. Most recently, Marina served as Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Lantern Community Services. While at Lantern, Marina managed recruitment efforts for 15 Supportive Housing sites, professional development trainings and had oversight of engagement and employment practices. Prior to Lantern, Marina served as Executive Deputy Director of Workforce Innovation at New York City’s Children’s Services (ACS), with a focus on recruitment, retention and developing formal pathways from school to work in the field of Human Services. Her twenty-year career in Recruitment, Human Resources, Employee Engagement and Executive Coaching also includes positions at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and consulting roles for IT and Property Management firms. Marina received her B.A. from William Smith College, additionally she has completed coursework in Social Work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School and holds a certificate in Coaching For Improved Work Performance from Fordham University.
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.
Sean VolinDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Sean Volin

Program Director, In-Prison Program, NY

Sean has more than 15 years of experience and leadership and has globally led implementation and management of Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Operation solutions requiring collaboration of multiple factories, configuration centers, third party suppliers and various stakeholders. Sean’s experience spans demand planning, supply planning, fulfillment, logistics, sales and operations, planning systems technology, financial planning as well successfully developing and leading cross-functional teams.
Henry Webster-MellonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Henry Webster-Mellon

In-Prison Program Manager

Henry graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and Anthropology from the University of Vermont in 2012. Soon after graduation, Henry dove headlong into the 2012 presidential campaign (as an Obama staffer) and learned the ropes of field organizing. Having been bitten by the political bug, Henry joined Organizing for Action in Washington, D.C. immediately after the president’s reelection campaign. At OFA, Henry spent several months learning from some of the foremost progressive political operatives in the country, while working towards building a progressive grassroots infrastructure around the country. Wanting to get back in field organizing, Henry moved to Houston, Texas, in 2013 to work as the city-wide OFA organizing lead, charged with rallying communities around comprehensive immigration reform. Soon thereafter, Henry worked as a field director with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in his home congressional district in Pennsylvania. Most recently, he worked as the director of special projects for Run for America, a political startup working to elect a new generation of leaders to Congress. When not trying to change the world, Henry is doing one of three things: exercising/playing sports, getting schooled on public health policy by his girlfriend, or getting lost in subway stations.

 

THE STAFF

Catherine Hoke

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.



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.