Formerly Incarcerated Men & Women Look to “Transform Their Hustle”


The Defy Ventures defiant headline “Transform your Hustle” recruitment campaign registered big time with those who have done time for crimes. Catherine Hoke (Rohr), founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, challenged more than 60 formerly incarcerated attendees to become well-trained entrepreneurs and make more money.

With a down payment enrollment charge of only $20, she persuaded several dozen to enroll to be trained by top executives. Oakland’s turnout was so large that Defy Ventures agreed to hold two more introductory sessions again at 6 p.m. Monday, August11th and 6pm, Wednesday, August 13th at the Washington Inn at 10th and Washington streets in downtown Oakland.

Hoke thanked Eric Cobbs, the Defy Oakland Bay Area director, for the “large unexpected expression of interest.” She said their outreach campaign in the San Jose Silicon Valley area attracted only seven potential participants.

Hoke, a former Oakland resident and champion wrestler who once lived at 26th and Market streets, seemed totally at ease as she frankly told some of the participants that from their appearances they might not be accepted into her rigorous program.

She told them that if they were truly dedicated and worked hard, they would become successful.

“For those who don’t get past our initial review, we will return your $20 startup money.”

Hoke started Defy in 2010 after founding and leading the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a nonprofit organization that serves men throughout the Texas prison system. She reached out to Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland, and Eric Cobbs, religious broadcaster, to help her organization connect with men and women who have hustle, can persuade others, who know how to turn a quick profit and who are competitive and unafraid to take risks.

Rev. Agee thanked Cobbs for recruiting the unexpected turnout. He said there are hundreds more in our community who want to work and start businesses, too. They are watching to see how these signups go. If they are successful, we can train and help them find the financing to start Black and minority-owned businesses in East and West Oakland, he said.

Cobbs said many of the recruits came from the “Men of Faith” religious broadcast co-hosted by him and Rev. Dr. Roy Welford. Their broadcasts gained widespread audiences from such themes as “Where are our Fathers?” and “How do we stop violence in our community?”

“If you have a criminal history and are ready to transform your hustle, Defy Ventures wants to see what you’ve got. Show us your A-game, and we’ll help you take it to the next level by introducing you to investors, executive mentors and employers,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs said Defy has helped launch more than 70 businessesin its first two years. “If our trainees complete their online coursework and engage in serious one-on-one mentoring to qualify for investor backing, we in the Bay Area could also help launch the same number of businesses over the next two years,” he said.

“All one needs to get started is a high school diploma, criminal history, be drug-free and have a lot of drive and hustle.”

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