You are here

Spark: A space for social innovators to combine ideas with networks - Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr

 Registration is closed for this event

Spark Workshop with Catherine Rohr, Defy Ventures


Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Workshop will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Please plan on arriving 10-15 minutes early.
Reception to follow at 8:00 p.m.

Warren Hall, Room 209
1125 Amsterdam Avenue (between 115th and 116th)

Defy Ventures
Defy (v.): To challenge or dare a person to do something deemed impossible.

What would it be like if you were known for the worst thing you’ve ever done? One in 15 people will go to prison in his/her lifetime.  


“Rather than condemning people for their past mistakes, Defy Ventures recognizes that many former drug dealers and gang leaders share similar skill sets and talents with top business leaders. They aim to nurture these abilities to help both the individuals as well as society as a whole.”



- Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group







Defy Ventures provides carefully selected, ambitious men and women who have criminal histories with life-changing entrepreneurship, leadership, and career opportunities. The mission of Defy Ventures is to transform the lives of business leaders and people with criminal histories through their collaboration along the entrepreneurial journey.

Founded and managed by investors and entrepreneurs, Defy Ventures is a NYC-based entrepreneurship training program and incubator that recognizes that many former drug dealers and gang leaders can become successful, legal entrepreneurs. Individuals participate in an intensive internship program that includes MBA-like training, executive mentoring, leadership development, hard and soft skills personal development, career placement, and family and community support services. Graduates qualify for resources and services as they achieve key business development milestones.

Through Defy events, Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) are introduced to hundreds of business executives from companies like Google, Bloomberg, Blackrock, Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Capital One, Maverick Capital, and Deutsche Bank.

Defy Ventures has currently rasied over $2.5 million and has helped launch 44 businesses within 1.5 years. They have been profiled in The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, The Wall Street Journal,, The Huffington Post, and Harvard Business Review.

Session Questions:


  • What models can Defy Ventures learn from to scale their organization nationally?
  • Could a for-profit / hybrid structure improve Defy Ventures’ current business model? 
  • How feasible is franchising for this organization to expand? 

About Catherine Rohr:
Catherine Rohr is the Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit oranization that leverages the skills of senior business executives to equip inmates and former inmates with entrepreneurial training – enabling them to productively re-enter society. Prior to founding Defy Ventures, Catherine worked in private equity and venture capital for six years in Palo Alto, California and New York City.

In 2004, a friend invited Catherine to tour some Texas penitentiaries as part of a prison ministry program, and the experience was transformative. As she spoke with the men in prison, Catherine recognized that many inmates shared the same characteristics of the entrepreneurs she pursued in venture capital—charisma, resourcefulness, and the ability to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’ She understood that, unless they had access to the fundamentals of (legal) business and a support network to coach and guide them, most of these individuals were destined to repeat their crimes, spend their lives behind bars, and pass a legacy of crime and imprisonment to their children. Within a year, Catherine had dropped everything and moved to Texas to launch the Prison Entrepreneurship Program – an initiative that is still thriving in Texas and shaped her newest enterprise, Defy Ventures.

Catherine earned a Certificate in Fundraising and Philanthropy from New York University and received a BS degree in Business Administration from University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.



Spark provides Social Innovators with an opportunity to explore resources, connections and potential solutions to help their social ventures, by tapping the collective knowledge within Columbia University, and the larger entrepreneurial and social impact community in the New York area and beyond.

This workshop is open to all who are willing to bring their ideas, experience, and connections to help solve social and environmental challenges that these social innovators aim to address.


If you are unable to attend the above events but would like more information on Spark, please register for our mailing list.

For more information, or if you would like to suggest a future Spark workshop, please contact:
Diana Rambeau:

This event is supported by the Social Enterprise Program, the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center and the Social Enterprise Club at Columbia Business School.

July 23rd, 2013 from  6:00 PM to  8:30 PM
Columbia Business School
United States
Phone: 212-854-2176