Last week the New York Times ran an article on the front page about Defy Ventures–a venture capital project aimed at individuals formerly incarcerated:

Defy Ventures provides carefully selected, ambitious men who have criminal histories with life-changing entrepreneurship, leadership, and career opportunities.
Defy Ventures is funded and managed by a group of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who recognize that many former drug dealers and gang leaders share similar skill sets and talents with top business leaders. Through an intensive internship program that includes MBA-like training, executive mentoring, leadership development, and career placement, Defy Ventures offers its interns a legitimate chance to succeed as income earners, entrepreneurs, fathers, and role models in their communities. Defy’s signature program engages interns in a series of business plan competitions that award up to $150,000 in seed capital to winning ventures.
Defy Ventures is a New York City-based nonprofit organization that is entirely privately funded by executives, foundations, and other generous donors[foot](As an aside, they come PRETTY close to biting from the Detroit style D. Throwing a LITTLE bit of shade on that. Just saying.)[/foot].

Defy’s central mission is to give opportunities to individuals who’ve already shown they can hustle and grind. How many times have we heard that big time drug dealers already show the types of skills card-carrying MBA’s lack. They know logistics–how to house and move product. They know product differentiation–how to distinguish between competing products. They know customer service–how to acquire and keep a customer base.

And of course they know how to deal with adverse market environments.

The central problem here of course is the fact that their specific “job training” makes them unemployable. Defy Ventures seeks to sidestep the employability issue and move them straight into entrepreneurship.

Ms. Rohr[foot]Catherine Rohr, Defy Ventures’ founder[/foot], who has a background in venture capital, got the idea for Defy after visiting a Texas prison in 2004 as part of her church’s outreach program. The criminals she met there were charismatic, independent, resourceful, and willing to take risks, she said, much like her colleagues in the business world. Many of Defy’s students had managerial roles in the drug trade, overseeing teams of up to 40 people. Each Defy student is paired with a mentor in the business community.

 It’s hard to hate on this program given the fact that formerly incarcerated individuals have an incredibly hard time navigating the world after they’ve served their time. But this program reproduces even as it is deeply embedded in the idea that the entrepreneur is the Apex Citizen[foot]I just watched the movie Chronicle last week and modified the concept of the Apex Predator introduced there[/foot]. To the extent the program gets its members to look out for one another they do so through creating a competitive market environment that combines MBA style training with what appear to be techniques borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous. The end result is the self-directed hustler who is able to take his entrepreneurial talents and use them for good.