LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge
🎉 Winner

Transforming Lives: From Incarceration to CEOs

Defy Ventures gives people with criminal histories their best shot at a second chance through entrepreneurship, career readiness, and personal development training programs, both in prison and in community facilities. Defy's program features a Shark-tank style pitch competition judged by volunteers from the business community. Our vision is to cut recidivism (return to prison) rates in half by leveraging entrepreneurship to increase economic opportunity and transform lives, empowering currently and formerly incarcerated people to defy the odds.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Opportunities for People Who Have Been Incarcerated

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

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Eight million Californians face barriers to employment and economic stability due to their criminal records, of which over 30% come from LA County alone. Formerly incarcerated individuals encounter significant challenges in their reentry journeys, with unemployment rates as high as 43% for the formerly incarcerated at the 1 year mark, while Defy's program graduates achieve an 84% employment rate at 90 days. High unemployment contributes to a recidivism (return to prison) rate of 68% in California, while Defy boasts a less than 10% recidivism rate for our program graduates. Defy Ventures' unique approach focuses on entrepreneurship, post-release support, and partnerships with local employers to provide clear pathways to employment and success for individuals with criminal histories. Securing employment for these individuals promotes economic stability, reduces recidivism, and enhances public safety.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Defy's "inside-outside" reentry program begins during individuals' time at correctional facilities (including transitional or youth diversion) and extends post-release to offer comprehensive support for those with criminal histories. Our core program is a 6- to 9-month career readiness, personal development, and entrepreneurship program. It includes 1,200+ pages of curriculum and concludes with a Shark Tank-style Business Pitch Competition judged by volunteers from the business community. Since 2016, Defy has run our programs inside 11 California State Prisons and has also now implemented 6 cohorts of our program in transitional facilities across Los Angeles. We provide graduates with ongoing case management as they navigate reentry, and workshops on computer training, financial literacy, mock interviews, soft skills, and networking. All program graduates receive a Chromebook and gain access to Defy's fair chance employment network. For those that want to pursue entrepreneurship, we have a pathway that includes free business incorporation,mentorship with a business professional, and an opportunity to pitch for up to $10,000 in seed grant funding. Through our volunteer events, Defy fosters new fair chance employment partnerships and shifts mindsets in the business community. By equipping our participants with strong job skills and expanding the network of fair chance employers, Defy is creating a scalable solution for economic inclusion and reduced recidivism.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Defy's life transforming work is proven and successful. Over 80% of our clients find employment within 90 days of starting their job search. Less than 10% of our program graduates are reincarcerated, while California's return-to-prison rate is closer to 67%. Defy delivers reentry programming throughout LA County, removing barriers to employment for the reentry community and CREATE fair opportunities to pursue career paths for those coming home from incarceration. Defy aims to break cycles of poverty and see systems-wide impact through a commitment to helping employers change hiring practices that discriminate against people with criminal histories. Our work exponentially impacts the landscape of reentry service provision and transforms the communities of LA County by modeling and advocating for second chances. Defy envisions a community of economic inclusion for those who have been impacted by the criminal legal system, while building safe and equitable communities for all Angelenos.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Defy assesses the impact of our program through quantitative and qualitative measures. We utilize key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate program reach and effectiveness. Additionally, we gather stories and testimonials from our program participants. Our KPIs include enrollment, graduation rate, final exam passage rate, Net Promoter Score, volunteer involvement, program satisfaction, and well-being survey. We also track volunteer engagement numbers, employment, recidivism, program satisfaction, accelerator completion, business launches and other startup metrics. Our objectives for the grant period are: - Enroll 90 individuals in LA County programming - Engage 140 volunteers - Achieve a graduation rate of 65% or higher in our program - Attain a program participant Net Promoter Score of 60 - Maintain an 80% employment rate for program participants one year after release - Maintain a recidivism rate of less than 10% for program participants one year after release

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 230

Indirect Impact: 1,150