2019 Grants Challenge
🎉 Winner

Defy Ventures

Defy equips program participants (whom we call Entrepreneurs in Training, or EITs) with the skills and tools to become productive and committed employees, business owners, and community members. Defy operates its core program, CEO of Your New Life (CEO YNL) in six SoCal prisons (where nearly 50% of our current EITs will release to LA County), and in two transitional facilities in LA County. After EITs are released, they can enroll in our post-release programs, including a business incubator.


Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

Let’s face it—prison is not exactly a place brimming with inspiration and optimism. But for some people, prison is a rock bottom that gives rise to the desire to become more than the sum of their worst decisions.

While at California State Prison, Solano, Quan Huynh enrolled in the first-ever Defy cohort. Quan was arrested multiple times as a gang member and served 22 years in correctional facilities—both juvenile detention and prison. He was serving a 15-to-life sentence for murder when he joined Defy’s program.

Quan had decided he wanted to turn his life around and leave behind a positive legacy, even if he only had the opportunity to do it behind bars. While incarcerated, he became certified as an addiction specialist and served as a team coordinator with the Alternatives to Violence Project. One afternoon, a friend who had come back from a presentation told Quan he “had to check out Defy.” With its focus on entrepreneurship, transformation, and redemption, Defy seemed like a perfect fit for Quan.

Quan paroled to LA County after 16.5 years and before finishing Defy’s program, which he completed after his release. Six months later, he launched his business, Jade Janitors, Inc., after placing in Defy’s business pitch competitions. In 2018, Quan earned almost $130K in revenue and employed seven people, five of whom are formerly incarcerated. Quan also helped create his family’s business, Monarch 9 Cafe, from concept to daily operations nine months after his release. Defy gave Quan access to a robust community of mentors and supporters, who helped him along his entrepreneurial journey and led to him attending MasterMind Talks, which opened up speaking opportunities and a chance to start writing a book about his experiences.

Today, Quan is paying it forward and serves as Defy’s post-release program manager for Southern California. At Defy, Quan supports EITs’ success by developing partnerships with service providers, facilitating EITs’ learning, and connecting them to networks and resources. Quan embodies the spirit of defying the odds and his journey is a testament to the power of second chances.

Which of the CREATE metrics will your submission impact?​​

Unemployment (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?​

County of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to CREATE?

Defy’s innovative programs make LA the best place for formerly incarcerated individuals to CREATE and gain access to opportunities and jobs. We provide pathways to success to Angelenos with criminal histories by preparing them for successful reentry and supporting them through the reentry process.

Defy uses an “inside-out” model to combat the factors contributing to cycles of recidivism and poverty plaguing the 43,000+ Angelenos with criminal histories who struggle to find work and a legal, sustainable livelihood. We leverage the entrepreneurial spirit and talents of people with criminal histories and provide them with the tools and skills to redirect their talents toward legal businesses and jobs. With the support of LA2050 grant funds, Defy will serve over 100 Entrepreneurs in Training (EITs) in LA Country with our full life-cycle of programs.

Defy’s program begins on the inside—in prisons—where we engage classes of EITs in our CEO of Your New Life (CEO YNL) program. With grant funds, we will begin our sixth class of 60 EITs at California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC) in August 2019.

CEO YNL is a 7-month program consisting of 1,200 pages of proprietary curriculum content, supplementary video-based instruction, regular classes and peer discussion, exciting events with executive volunteers, mentorship and coaching, and the creation of deliverables including a resume, personal statement, and business concept plan. CEO YNL culminates in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition and cap and gown graduation, after which EITs earn a certificate of completion. Our program model is aligned with the evidence-based conceptual framework “5-Key Model for Reentry,” which focuses on elements of well-being for returning citizens: meaningful work trajectories, healthy thinking habits, positive coping strategies, positive social activities, and positive social relationships.

Defy is also partnering with two LA transitional facilities (where EITs are no longer in prison and are reentering society), one for men and one for women, to provide the CEO YNL program. With grant funds, we can launch another class of 25 EITs as early as June 2019.

Once released from prison and graduated from CEO YNL, EITs have the opportunity to enroll in Defy’s post-release program, which further eases the reentry process and trains them to gain and sustain meaningful employment (through workshops and events), develop and launch profitable businesses (through an incubator program), and become more engaged family and community members.

Defy’s programs support strong economic outcomes, a decrease in recidivism, and increased well-being for participants, volunteers, and the communities in which they live. The employment rate of Defy graduates is more than 82%, and their return-to-prison rate is less than 5%, as opposed to an average of more than 50% for formerly incarcerated individuals in California.

In what stage of innovation is this project?​

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

Defy measures the success of our program both quantitatively and qualitatively. We have well-defined key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the reach and effectiveness of our program, as well as additional measures that we track that are important to our program. We also collect stories and testimonials from individuals impacted by our program.

Our KPIs for our in-prison program are enrollment, graduation rate, final exam passage rate, Net Promoter Score (survey) among EITs and correctional staff, volunteer involvement, and EIT program satisfaction (survey). We also track EIT well-being (based on survey instrument).

Our post-release program KPIs are volunteer numbers, EIT engagement, employment, recidivism, program satisfaction, and incubator completion. We also track business launched and other business startup metrics.

We also look for qualitative feedback about our program from EITs, volunteers, prison administration and staff, and others who are involved with Defy both through surveys and in-person interviews. Our staff members who have regular, direct contact with our EITs gain insight into the value our program is providing in real time.

Our objectives are:

- Enroll 60 EITs in the CEO YNL program at LAC

- Enroll 25 EITs in the CEO YNL: Community program in LA transitional facilities

- Engage 15 EITs in our LA post-release program

- Achieve a graduation rate of 65% or more in our CEO YNL programs

- Achieve a program participant Net Promoter Score of 60

- Maintain 80% employment rate of program participants 1 yr after release

- Maintain <10% recidivism rate of program participants 1 yr after release