Pelican Bay Defy-233

Founding Story

In 2010, Defy Ventures was founded in New York City with the mission to transform the lives of people with criminal histories and business leaders through their collaboration along the entrepreneurial journey.

Rooted in the belief that everyone deserves a second chance (or a legitimate first one), Defy leverages the innate talents of its currently and formerly incarcerated Entrepreneurs-In-Training (EITs) and the generous spirit of its volunteers to “transform the hustle” of people impacted by the criminal justice system.

Defy’s founder, Catherine Hoke, a venture capitalist by trade, was visiting a prison in Texas when she recognized the similarities between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and incarcerated people – relentless drive, resourcefulness, and extraordinary hustle. After learning about the barriers to employment that people face upon release from prison, she wondered what would happen if these people were equipped with the education, training, and community to go legit. This idea led Catherine to found two 501(c)(3) nonprofits: Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas in 2004, and later Defy Ventures in NYC in 2010.

Today, Defy’s programs empower thousands of EITs to succeed through chapters in NYC, the Bay Area, Southern California, Nebraska, and Colorado. Defy has engaged thousands of volunteers and EITs with impressive results, including a <5% recidivism rate.


  • 2010: Defy Ventures founded by Catherine Hoke
  • 2012: Launched first post-­release program in NYC
  • 2014: Opened regional chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • 2015: Launched first in-prison programs in California and New York
  • 2016: Opened regional chapters in Southern California and Nebraska
  • 2017: Opened regional chapter in Colorado; Expanded NYC chapter to Connecticut