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.

Richard BronsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Richard Bronson

Executive Relations Manager

Richard works with individuals and organizations interested in partnering with Defy’s mission to disrupt a broken criminal justice system.

He began his career working on Wall Street. A serial entrepreneur, he founded a national magazine, ran an advertising agency and helped build several financial service businesses. Most recently, he’s been an advisor to DoYouRemember.com, the popular Internet nostalgia site.

Annie BrownDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Annie Brown

Development Assistant

Driven by her previous work with marginalized communities and passion for equitable economic opportunity, Annie heads volunteer engagement and recruitment, and oversees the national Executive Mentoring program.

Prior to joining Defy, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to Turkey where she taught English at Amasya University and collaborated with returned Turkish immigrants from Germany to contextualize the effects of transnationalism on local social identity.

Annie received a BA in English Writing and Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

Candi FeolaDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Candi Feola

Event Planner

A native of New Jersey, Candi joined Defy Ventures in the spring of 2015 as an Event Planner assisting with the planning and coordination of admission meetings, social occasions, and fundraisers. Candi has a passion for education, hospitality, and service, which she realized from her experience as Marketing and Event Coordinator for multiple private schools. Candi has planned and executed logistics for speaking engagements, open houses, and public relations events.

Candi is a natural in the event industry. Her warm and enthusiastic personality, along with flawless precision and attention to detail, has helped contribute to her success. Her vision and passion for the details will help set a high mark in Defy Ventures’ commitment to excellence.

Candi has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Public Relations from Mount Saint Mary College. She enjoys playing/watching sports, anything outdoors, spending time with her family and friends, and snuggling her English Bulldog Brutus.

Lindsay FreemanDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Lindsay Freeman

Chief of Staff

Lindsay provides strategic support to Defy’s CEO on a wide range of operational matters and manages Defy’s media and public relations initiatives.

Prior to joining the Defy team, Lindsay practiced corporate law in the Tech Group at Lowenstein Sandler LLP in New York City, representing startups, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors regarding financial and general corporate governance issues. Previously, she practiced in the Asset Management Group at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. She also has pro bono experience representing clients in the arts and media spaces, as well as entrepreneurs from traditionally marginalized communities. Lindsay’s professional background in advising startups and small business owners combined with her passion for social justice drew her to Defy and its mission.

Prior to practicing law, Lindsay worked as a media planner at a boutique marketing consulting firm. Lindsay holds a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Delisha GrantDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Delisha Grant

Director of EIT Recruiting

A New Jersey native, Delisha holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School. She began her professional career in Sales and Business Analytics for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson company that manufactures such recognizable products as Tylenol and Motrin. There, she was a recipient of the Encore Award for strategic thinking, decisiveness and results attainment. After graduating from law school, she began her legal career as an associate for a nationally recognized class action firm engaged in complex healthcare and securities litigation. She then launched a solo law practice, advising startups and emerging growth companies in technology, new media and entertainment on how to turn innovative ideas into well-funded, sustainable brands.

Delisha’s passion for social justice and economic empowerment attracted her to the opportunity to help redeem one of America’s most marginalized groups. She develops strategy to expand Defy’s reach and recruit a record number of Entrepreneurs-in-Training to Defy’s programming.

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.

Jay JohnsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Jay Johnson

Director of Learning and Development

Jay works with world-class subject matter experts and talented producers and videographers to develop entrepreneurship and character-building training for our EITs, all while developing training and development opportunities for staff and volunteers. These efforts help transform the lives of EITs and their families, and define Defy as a learning organization.

Jay has built his career in education and staff training on the belief that learning is a lifelong process, and that the learner always comes first. Most recently, he was a licensed NYSED school director and served as Director of Education & Product Development for the New York Institute of Photography and the New York Institute of Art and Design, shifting them from correspondence courses to global online, asynchronous distance learning.

Prior to directing for-profit programs, he provided preschool-to-adult product, business, and strategic development solutions for a variety of online and brick-and-mortar companies, including Kaplan, Kumon Learning, Britannica Online, Merriam-Webster, the Vermont Center for the Book, World Book, Petersons, SchoolNet, Little Brown, Mattel, and Hasbro. Jay has his Masters in Education from the University of Iowa, and is a member of the Phi Beta Kapa and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies.

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.
Karen LinDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Karen Lin

Special Assistant to the CEO

Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Karen received a degree in Biological Sciences with minors in Economics and Public Health from Rutgers University. Post-graduation, her continued desire to make a difference in global health equity and social justice issues led her to Cambodia this past summer, where she worked with a nonprofit organization to design a health education program. Upon her return, Karen was attracted to Defy’s mission of transforming the lives of those with criminal histories.

In her free time, she can be found playing with her two puppies (or stopping to pet every dog on the streets of New York!), watching every culinary competition reality show, and cooking/baking up a storm in her kitchen.

Annah MasonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Annah Mason

Program Manager

Driven by the desire to build better communities through collaborations that impact, innovate, and tell a new story, Annah manages Defy’s programming and directly supports EITs in achieving their personal and entrepreneurial goals.

After earning a B.A. in Journalism and covering gender inequality in the financial sector, she transitioned into the nonprofit realm to participate in the profound impact of entrepreneurial training programs. While working for the Downtown Women’s Center, she opened and operated two social enterprises empowering homeless and low-income women on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Before joining Defy, she operated a program equipping women survivors of war in northern Uganda with the skills and resources needed to overcome personal trauma and launch small businesses.

Annah cares deeply for the creative/entrepreneurial spirit and strives to empower others to be healthy leaders, caretakers, advocates, and the key drivers of their success.

Megan RilkoffDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Megan Rilkoff

Program Manager

Hailing from Massachusetts, Megan graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Comparative Literature and French. Following graduation, Megan taught English for a year in Laos as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant where she developed her love for pho and papaya salad. Her past experience includes working at a service-learning non-profit in South LA, editing for Scribe Literary Magazine and interning at GOOD Magazine.

Megan manages Defy’s educational and event programming, supporting EITs’ investment in themselves and their ideas. She believes that education is key to fostering self-empowerment and creating strong support systems and is constantly inspired by the community of EITs, executives, and volunteers who regularly act on their belief in second chances.

Lisa RosenDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Lisa Rosen

Online Video Producer

Lisa is responsible for video and course creation for online learning at Defy. She comes to Defy from a background in webcasting and video production, and has non-profit as well as start-up experience in both technology and the arts. She studied painting and drawing at the College of Charleston, and earned her Masters degree in Cinema Studies at New York University.
Will SpisakDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Will Spisak

Development Research Analyst

Will is a native of Queens, NY and partially attributes his unique worldview and cultural appreciation to growing up in “the world’s borough.” He is driven by intellectual curiosity and a passion for community service. Will holds a B.A. from CUNY-Queens College where he studied History, Arabic, and Secondary Education. In 2014, he graduated with an M.A. in Political Economy and Development from Fordham University.

Will is an experienced community organizer and researcher. Since 2011, he has worked with a number of CBO’s developing programs in workforce development, adult education, and social services. Will has conducted interdisciplinary research for academics and think tanks in addition to his own independent research, which has taken him to exotic locations like Morocco, Italy, and Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

During his free time, Will can be found playing the drums with his band somewhere in Brooklyn, playing a game of pick-up soccer at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, or at the dog run with his two pit bulls. As an avid reader of non-fiction, he would love it if you shared book suggestions with him.

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.
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

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.