Defy volunteers are influential
business leaders who, like our
entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs),
have often defied many odds in
their lives to achieve success.

If you’ve profited from the wisdom of great mentors and have a passion for helping others do the same, then you’ll have a powerful and rewarding volunteer experience with Defy.

Defy seeks successful business executives, entrepreneurs, investors and other skilled, passionate professionals (e.g., lawyers and accountants) to coach our EITs to launch their business ventures. At Defy, you’ll use your core competencies to “pay it forward.” If believing in underdogs, and seeing an idea grow from conception to completion is what you crave, then you’ll love volunteering with Defy.


Tim Draper
(business plan competition judge)

Founder and Managing Director
Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Menlo Park, CA

From my experience, I think Defy Ventures is a very worthy cause—something I rarely say about nonprofits. The prison system really needs to be rethought. The U.S. puts more people in prison per capita and for longer periods of time than in any other country. It’s time for a fresh look at crime and what happens to people who commit crimes.

Brian Korb
(mentor and Investment Committee Member)

New York, NY

Defy runs a tight, professional ship that pays attention to the details. It’s a quality product and a winning model, and I’m excited to be part of it. Defy believes that the raw DNA of excellent entrepreneurship can be molded. If you’ve paid your dues and want to be a productive member of society, then you get a shot. That’s what this country is about. I believe in the multiplier effect of Defy on EIT families and communities—Defy graduates are hiring people and adding to the tax base.

The U.S. prison system makes people feel like they’re worthless. Defy graduates feel better about themselves when they realize that people care about them. Watching EITs create their business plans, pitch their companies, and grow as individuals is amazing. Many of them do it better than I do! However, Defy doesn’t coddle its EITs. It isn’t afraid to cut someone out of the program if they’re not proving that they want to be a successful entrepreneur.

Before I started volunteering with Defy, I hadn’t known anyone who spent time in prison and was even somewhat afraid to meet the EITs. Now I’m excited to see them! The whole experience humanizes the prison issue and strips down the human experience to its essentials. It has really humbled me—with a few different circumstances, my life could easily have been really different. I’ve realized just how much early circumstances play a big role in life and it’s unfair.

Doug Beck
(mentor and business plan competition judge)

DWS Funds (a division of Deutsche Bank)
New York, NY

What really inspires me about Defy is having a hands-on impact on people’s lives. I’ve been involved with several nonprofit organizations, but my experience with Defy is more engaging and real. It’s miles ahead of anything I’ve ever done to give back. It’s not just about writing a check. I put in real sweat equity and I’m proud to pass on the things I’ve learned in my life.

I believe that anyone with initiative, regardless of background and baggage, can control their future. However, I do realize that we live in a complex economy and its many hurdles can be very intimidating. Defy has so many dimensions—it’s a virtuous cycle that benefits not just the EITs, but their families and communities.

I talk about Defy to my friends, colleagues, and family at least once per week, and even have photos of the EITs in my office. It’s been a wonderful experience to help my mentee clarify and execute his vision. Seeing people refuse to quit helps put in perspective how fortunate many of us are in the corporate world and how important it is that all parts of society are looked after.

Malte Barnekow

Founder and CEO
The 86 Company
New York, NY

When I first came to a Defy event, I saw how different the EIT’s lives were from my protected background. But what really struck me was how all the EITs came up to me to thank me for being at the event. I experienced a kindness from them that is very different from the picture that society paints about people who have criminal histories.

Ryan Evans
(business plan competition judge)

Founder and President
Bitesize PR and Lift Marketing
Chicago, IL

Defy is very personal to me because I spent time in prison, so I know what they’re going through. Getting back on track was extremely difficult for me, even though I had a lot more connections, skills, and resources than Defy EITs have.

Our society has said that they’ve paid the price for their crimes, but the sentence should not continue for the rest of their lives. Even a short prison sentence is a life sentence. People don’t realize how much help people need when they get out of prison—skills, confidence, and people who care about them. At Defy, I really feel like I’m helping to rebuild lives.

Charles Sims

Managing Partner
Empirica Strategic Management
New York, NY

Defy is all about looking forward and not being a prisoner of your past; your mistakes don’t have to define you for the rest of your life.

The program is really rigorous. We say, “You can do it,” and the EITs live up to those expectations. The level of understanding that the EITs display about business concepts like break-even and profit is impressive. With all the deadlines and performance expectations, Defy instills the importance of good execution and builds a set of behaviors that sets graduates up for success in other areas of their lives. Working with my mentee has been great because she’s so coachable. In turn, the experience is also teaching me how to be a better communicator and listener.

Shavonne Correia
(business plan competition judge)

Vice President
Pantheon Partners
New York, NY

So many organizations help students at a young age before they make mistakes; fewer help people after they’ve made mistakes.

I walked into Defy not knowing what type of people I would meet, but I’ve been blown away by the caliber and dedication of the EITs. The energy they bring to the program is just phenomenal. It’s obvious how serious they are and I’m so impressed with how thoughtful they’ve been in developing their businesses.

When I volunteer, I really feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. The EITs really listen and take my advice. It’s been amazing to see them achieve more than many people who don’t have the major disadvantage of having a criminal record.

Todd Young
(mentor and chairman of Young Professionals Board)

Portfolio Manager
Swiss Re Asset Management
New York, NY

I love working with Defy EITs because they are taking control of their futures. Their attitude, the quality of their work, and their ideas really inspire me. I’ve seen so much growth in the EITs since I first met them during the final executive interview session to get into the program – they’re much more confident, disciplined, and polished. But it’s not just about entrepreneurship. Defy also becomes a family for its graduates, and a source of love and hope.

Katie Sanford
(mentor, Young Professionals Board)

Chief Operating Officer
Chou, Chou LLC
New York, NY

Before Defy, I had never been involved with anyone whose life was as different from mine, no less someone who had been incarcerated. It didn’t know what to expect, but on the first day, Defy really broke down barriers when they made us hug everyone and the EITs shared why they went to prison.

What’s amazing about volunteering with Defy is how real the work is. The EITs really want to be there and are serious about turning their lives around. They also have no problem talking about how they messed up, have dealt with the consequences, and are living life differently now. There’s no finger pointing or blaming others for their actions. They take responsibility.

When I first started to get to know my mentee, we didn’t talk about business. We discovered that we like the same kind of books. We’re both nerds in the same way, and it’s so cool to have this in common with someone who’s had such a different life than me. In NYC, there’s a lot of emphasis on power, glamour, and lifestyle. Working with Defy strips all that away so that you’re just looking at the person. We’re both creatures of God who were created equally, despite our circumstances.

The EITs work just as hard, if not harder, than I do as an entrepreneur. They worked their butts off to prepare for the business plan competition. As a competition judge, it’s not just about giving them a pat on the back and saying “good job.” I felt like I could be tough on them because they worked hard and raised the bar for themselves. I’m tough on my mentee because he’s smart and because Defy is tough on him, too.

In return, I feel like the experience has helped me focus on what’s real and important in life. I’ve also honed my own business skills. Becoming entwined with souls who deserve so much and who work so hard to transform their lives is amazing.

As a member of the young professionals board, it’s also been rewarding to share my experience with my friends. I’m really thrilled that it’s been so infectious in my personal life.

Anna Akbari

Sociology of Style and Closet Catharsis
New York, NY

As an entrepreneur, I’m used to hustling and taking huge risks, but it’s even more difficult for people who don’t come from a background with resources like mine. I think Defy EITs have done more introspection and are committed to living a more positive life than the average citizen because of the obstacles they’ve overcome. I really like Defy’s tough love approach. Too many programs take a handout approach, but I like working with an organization that has high expectations.