Catherine Hoke

Founder, CEO, Defy Ventures

The Problem:

"They say that America is the land of second chances, but it's really not. Once you have an X on your back, you almost have no opportunities," says Catherine Hoke. "Of people who are rearrested in America, 89% of them are unemployed at the time of their arrest."

Catherine Hoke

The Epiphany:

According to company legend, Hoke, a former venture capitalist, had a revelation while touring Texas prisons in 2004. Drug and crime rings are organized in much the same way as major corporations--why not put those skills to good, legal use?

The Execution:

Hoke started with an entrepreneurship program in the Texas prison system; then, in 2010, after moving to New York, she founded Defy Ventures. The six-month program teaches former inmates entrepreneurship basics that participants can then use to enter business-plan competitions. After that, a three-month incubator helps graduates turn their plans into reality.

The Result:

Since its launch, Defy Ventures has produced 115 graduates, 71 of whom have launched their own companies. Working outside the prison system has allowed Hoke to adopt a blended-learning, online-offline model to "make the program more scalable, and therefore have a bigger impact," she says. What's next? Taking Defy national.

[Image: Flickr user Enixii]

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