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How Defy Ventures lets inmates pitch a business ‘Shark Tank’ style, and equips them with job skills

Founded by CEO Catherine Hoke, Defy’s EIT program generally takes six months to one year. Courses include basic instruction on opening a personal bank account, how to cope with shame, and developing a business plan. Defy also has a second 100 course program EITs can enroll in, if they choose.

For those who graduate, the rewards are real. Along with a sky-high employment rate, Defy graduates have a recidivism rate of around 3.2 percent—a stark contrast to the staggering 76.6 percent of former prisoners who land back in jail within 5 years of their release.

The program is so thorough that Baylor University’s MBA program accredits EITs from Defy’s one year program upon their completion of the entire program.

Success among Defy Ventures Graduates commands the attention of top business executives such as SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who personally went to prison to speak to the people he noted for their “grit and mental toughness.”

McDermott told CNBC he was “highly impressed by the individuals I met. They welcomed me openly into a very emotional conversation about their lives. They were unafraid to be brutally honest, not only about their mistakes, but also about their dreams for the future.

He added that “it was a powerful reminder to me that every journey has value, even those that temporarily stray from the right path. I left inspired by the courage I witnessed from every person in the Defy program.”

Other support has come from top companies like Chase Bank, which administers banking courses for Defy Ventures; and Google, who has added over 450 people to the growing army of volunteers pulled from top companies all across the nation.’s Principal, Justin Steele, told CNBC that once Google’s employees take a trip to prison, they become deeply invested in the success of the EITs. Along with strong volunteer participation, Google has donated over $ 1.25 million to Defy, along with plenty of vital equipment like smartphones.

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