THE TOMORROWS PROJECT: Defy the Odds

September 1st, 2017 by TOMS

Employee name | Molly Virostek
Employee job title | Social Entrepreneurship Marketing Coordinator
Tomorrows Project Title | Defy the Odds
Project Tagline | Help 20 incarcerated EITs (Entrepreneurs in Training) transform their hustle and defy the odds with a Defy Ventures scholarship.

 

Tell us about your Tomorrows Project.

My Tomorrows Project provided a Defy Ventures scholarship to 20 incarcerated EITs (Entrepreneurs in Training), empowering them to transform their hustle and defy the odds.

Defy Ventures is an entrepreneurship, employment, and character development training program for currently incarcerated men and women. An MBA style training program, Defy believes these incarcerated men and women are natural entrepreneurs, but have applied their skills in the wrong areas. With the proper training, and mentorship from top business leaders, they can transform their hustle and defy the odds.

Defy graduates boast a 95% employment rate and a 3% recidivism rate (returning to prison), compared to the 76% national average. That statistic echoes in my heart every day. For most Defy graduates, this is not a second chance at life. It’s a first chance.

The Defy program is 6 months long and culminates with a business plan competition and graduation ceremony. For many of these men and women, this is the first real shot to build a life for them and their families.

 

How did you get involved with Defy Ventures?

Through my work on the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship, I’ve met and worked with countless entrepreneurs, business leaders and startup founders. They continually blow me away with their energy and resilience, bringing cutting-edge ideas around new ways of harnessing business to change the world. But the story of Coss Marte, founder of Conbody, has been particularly inspiring to me. And it was his story that led me to Defy Ventures.

Coss Marte is one of the most humble, hard-working business leaders I know. He’s got hustle, vision and a great sense of humor. Coss is also a former drug kingpin who served seven years in prison. But that’s not the end of his story. It’s only the beginning. While in prison, Coss was severely overweight and doctors told him if he didn’t start exercising, he had 5 months to live. Not wanting to die behind bars, he started working out and lost 70 lbs in 6 months. Then he started helping other inmates and he didn’t stop there.

With the help of the Defy Ventures’ entrepreneurship program, Coss realized he was on to something. He graduated the program and, upon his release, launched Conbody, a prison-style boot camp in New York City. Conbody employs previously incarcerated individuals as trainers and staff – giving these individuals jobs and a second chance, and working to break the stereotypes of ex-cons within the communities they are reentering.

Coss is a shining example of a Defy graduate. Not only did he turn his own life around, but he built a company committed to helping others break the same cycle. When I learned about Defy, the program that helped Coss become the leader he is today, I couldn’t wait to get involved.

 

Why is this Tomorrows Project important to you?

When I first volunteered with Defy, I participated in a Prep Night for Business Pitch Competition at Lancaster Prison. The Pitch Competition is one of the final activities before the EITs graduate from the program. I was excited (and admittedly very nervous) to give back to this amazing organization. I spent a lot of time worrying whether I would have enough business acumen to offer these EITs some real value, but I underestimated how much a day in prison would enrich my own life and transform my perspective. After a full-day in a maximum security prison, I was humbled, inspired, and reminded what it means to see someone as 100% human.

I have since gone back to prison with Defy, and will continue to do so. Partly because I see how much it means to these guys for all of us to simply show up. Partly because their impact upon me and my view of the world is beyond words. But mostly because there is something so inspiring about throwing out all those “us” and “them” labels, rolling up your sleeves, and spending the day with a group of motivated humans who are looking towards the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

My friend Coss once said, “I’ll break it down for you. Who here hasn’t committed a mistake? Everybody has committed a mistake in their lifetime. What if you were known for the worst thing you ever did? Or what if you just helped someone change that story?”

What impact has been made so far?

Through the support of TOMS and the Tomorrows Project, we provided 20 Entrepreneurs in Training with a Defy Ventures scholarship. This 6-month scholarship translates into a lifetime of impact.

In the past six years, Defy has served over 2,300 men and women with criminal histories, and financed and incubated 170 companies that created nearly 350 employment opportunities. More than 3,500 individuals have volunteered as startup coaches, judges, and mentors.

Defy Ventures is a rapidly expanding national organization and I’m honored to share their story.

For more information, check out Defy’s website here: www.defyventures.org