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.

Damarcus AdisaDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Damarcus Adisa

Development & Recruiting Manager, NYC

Damarcus holds a Bachelor’s of the Arts in History from Fort Valley State University. As an undergraduate student, Damarcus was actively involved in numerous campus organizations such as the Student Government Association, Fort Valley State Historical Society, NAACP, etc. During the 2013 United States Senate special election in New Jersey, he completed a fellowship with the Cory Booker for Senate Campaign. He also served as Staging Location Director of the Hoboken office in New Jersey’s 33rd Legislative District. Corey Booker went on to win the Democratic nomination, and the 33rd Legislative District in which Damarcus worked garnered the fourth largest turnout among Democratic voters statewide. Damarcus is an Alumni Member of the Alpha Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. Prior to joining Defy Ventures, Damarcus worked as Jr. Account Executive with Zimmerman Advertising on the Nissan North America account.

In his free time, he enjoys watching Ken Burns documentaries, reading biographies, and working with Alpha Gamma Lambda’s Young Achievers program, a mentoring and leadership academy that prepares young men for college.

Richard BronsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Richard Bronson

Executive Relations Director

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.

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.

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

THE STAFF

Melissa Gelber-O’Dell

Development and Recruitment Manager

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 Development and Recruitment Manager in the San Francisco Bay area, she works to connect Entrepreneurs-in-Training to Defy’s programming and expand operations on the West Coast.

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 Kappa 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.

Barry KellamDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Barry Kellam

EIT in Residence

Barry works directly with Defy’s Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) by providing support and coaching along the entrepreneurial journey. He himself is a formerly incarcerated individual who graduated from Defy and started the budding business System 3 Carpet and Upholstery Specialist, Inc. Barry won Defy’s Leadership Award while in the program, making him an excellent fit for empowering others to succeed as earners, parents, and role models in their communities.
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.

Brian MollDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Brian Moll

Executive Director, Bay Area

For the past decade Brian has been a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’, establishing faith communities in New York City. From 2004 to 2014 he founded and raised funding for two dynamic communities in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, and was a coach for in-house leadership residents whom his community funded to star faith communities in Harlem, Inwood, and Brooklyn.

Brian has been a leadership coach for faith-based community startups around the world, including leaders in San Francisco, Boston, Brazil, Ireland, and France. He was also the Chairman of the Board for an international startup, African Dream Initiative, a nonprofit that locates the brightest children living on the margins, provides them with a world class education, and molds them into leaders.

Brian is also a husband and father of four, with one on her way to college and his youngest still in diapers. In his spare time he loves to read, work on his jump shot, and watch just about any documentary he can find.

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.

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.

Tarell RodgersDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

THE STAFF

Tarell Rodgers

Director of Employment

Tarell holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from Grinnell College and a Master’s in Education from Aurora University. Tarell has over 15 years of experience working with diverse populations and those facing significant barriers. He started his career out of college as a case worker in Chicago’s Department of Children and Family Services. He was most recently Director of Work Readiness Services for the HOPE program in Brooklyn.

Tarell has worked on a variety of workforce development contracts including Workforce 1, CUNY Workforce development initiatives, Wildcat’s GED for Jobs Program, Grant Associates High-Wage Initiative, The NYS Department of Criminal Justice Work Readiness task force, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Gun-Stop forum.

Tarell has been trained in Motivational Interviewing, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Transcendental Meditation for PTSD, Vicarious Trauma Stewardship and is a Work Wellness contractor with various private agencies. His community service includes volunteering at Metropolitan Correctional Center and Metropolitan Detention Center as a Mindfulness meditation facilitator.

Tarell leads by example, empowering people — many of whom face challenges similar to his own — to succeed by sharing his personal story. He recognizes people’s barriers, focuses on their strengths, and pushes them to achieve their goals. Tarell was recently awarded the prestigious Citizens Against Recidivism Award for Leadership in Education.

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.

 

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.