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Convict to CEO: Defy Ventures finds value by investing in the futures of felons

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Coss Marte has no issues walking through his old stomping grounds and sharing the details surrounding his life of crime.

"Just sitting on a milk crate right on the corner. Doing what? Selling coke, weed."

Marte was very good at it.

He was drug kingpin in his early 20s, producing a $2 million a year operation.

His rap sheet filled with history on the streets translated to a ripe investment opportunity for one group.

"We look for people who are leaders in their illegal hustle. So if they were not good at selling crack on the street corner, they are less likely to getting admitted at Defy as well."

Catherine Hoke, is the founder of Defy Ventures. Their primary mission is teaching ex-cons who have a solid financial plan for a business and assisting them in securing an investment. "We say that at Defy, it is often a legitimate first chance, almost always."

Marte took that chance in 2013 and leveraged it into Coss Athletics, a boot camp program modeled after a routine that the 29 year old came up with while inside of a 9x6 prison cell. The program was the secret behind a whopping 71 pound drop in weight.

Asked if people are getting their fix differently these days, Marte says, "Yeah" adding that, "I'm fixing them."

Marte credits Hoke with his stunning reversal of fortune. "What she is doing, nobody else is doing and I believe she is a blessing to all of us who is coming home from prison and wants to start up our own businesses."

Hoke has been assisting prisoners since 2004. She first set up shop in Texas. Then six years later established Defy Ventures in Manhattan. "A lot of what we do is teaching them to believe in themselves and not to throw themselves away." she recently told PIX 11 News.

The primary objective for the Entrepreneurs In Training or EIT as they are better known is simple: "Painting a new vision for them of what their life could actually be and then giving them the tools and the mentors to achieve that."

By the way, a number of these "mentors" are high ranking executives that hail from some of the nation's largest financial institutions, all investing their own time to make an impact, by potentially investing in the new career of an ex-con,' says Hoke.

However as Hoke relishes in the investment of a second chance, it is important to note that she herself is the recipient of one. In 2009, Hoke resigned from the program she founded within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system after admitting to improper relationships with four graduates.

Hoke says, "It taught me the amazing value of grace. I had been preaching to audiences of other people, how people deserve second chances, but I didn't even believe that for myself and after I was the beneficiary of second and third chances of people believing in me, I realized that I am lovable just for who I am, not only for the results that I can produce in society and that healed me that gave me a new vision for myself so that makes me that much more passionate about extending second chances to other people."


That is what they are to her and the executives investing in the program.

They are not ex-cons, nor are they felons.

They are simply people trying to build a new legacy.