Defy Ventures Illinois is a nonprofit with a vision to cut recidivism in half by leveraging entrepreneurship to increase economic opportunity and transform lives. Defy's entrepreneurship, career readiness, and personal development training programs are helping currently and formerly incarcerated people create their own pathways to financial independence.
Defy provides holistic, beginning-to-end support and training to EITs and pairs them with successful business leaders, providing a pathway forward in a social environment that heavily discriminates against people with criminal histories.
Because our entrepreneurship pathway is not full-time, it allows EITs to hold jobs or enroll in higher education programs while also pursuing their business. This allows us to serve a wider range of people than if our program were full-time. Defy has had success scaling because of our curriculum, brand equity, program expertise, our national network of affiliates and employer partners, and a program design that is easy to replicate throughout the country.
The Defy Accelerator Program leverages Defy’s extensive volunteer base and content that can be even more responsive to the needs of the formerly incarcerated population. With an eye to longer-term business sustainability, the Accelerator offers supports to enable long term business sustainability.
Defy operates the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp program, which is a prerequisite to the Defy Business Accelerator program for men and women with criminal histories who want to become entrepreneurs. The program is designed for individuals who have already achieved stability in reentry and have business concepts that have not yet been launched or are in very early stage startup (defined as not yet earning more than $500/mo in revenue and not more than one year in operation).
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp consists of 27 self-paced online courses, which are expected to be completed within six months. Throughout, EITs are independently responsible for reading chapter contents, watching supplemental videos, responding to online reflection and discussion questions, and uploading key deliverables. As Bootcamp EITs move through the curriculum, they receive increasing levels of support from Defy staff, including coaching from volunteers.
Prior to admission to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, prospective Bootcamp EITs’ must demonstrate that they have stable housing and employment (or other form of basic income). Any formerly incarcerated individual who meets basic admissions requirements is invited to join the program at no cost.