Andrew Glazier — Defy Ventures

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Pre-election must listen.  Andrew Glazier is the CEO of Defy Ventures and runs an incredible entrepreneurship program for incarcerated entrepreneurs. We talk about developing an entrepreneurial mindset and the need for criminal justice reform.

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Andrew Glazier is the CEO of Defy Ventures. Defy Ventures is a non-profit that works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs. They have an inspiring entrepreneurship program and also a new fund that helps fund entrepreneurs coming out of prison. Unlike many accelerators or venture funds, Defy goes really deep on the personal coaching and operates on the premise that being a successful entrepreneur is about building the right mindset of belief in oneself and courage. I’ve seen the program in action and I think they’re going to be a ton of lessons we can all learn from Andrew today.

Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and thank you for the great work that you’re doing. Thanks, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. Well, I love Defy ventures, as you know, but maybe you could just start with telling us more. It’s it’s not like a lot of the the VCs that I have on the show. So give me some of the basics of the program you’re running.

Yeah, absolutely. So we are a national nonprofit and we work with currently and formerly incarcerated adults. And we use entrepreneurship to change mindsets, to get people with criminal histories their best shot at a second chance. So, you know, when we start with people who are incarcerated, what we’re doing with them is we are hooking them in with this idea of starting a business to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to believe you have something to give the world, something to sell.

Once people come out, we continue that support for them initially with the reentry and career support. But then eventually, for those who do wish to pursue that business, we provide continued training and then we have an accelerator program where we really look to find some of what we call entrepreneurs in training or EITs, and we select them for the accelerator program. And then with the help of volunteers like you, we’re able to then work with them to launch a small business. Great, so many questions.

So just the program that you’re running inside the prisons, that’s, you know, I’ve forgotten now it’s a nine week course. People are spending 10 hours a week like it’s a pretty intensive program. Yeah.

Yeah, it’s actually about nine months. Oh, so, yeah, seven and nine months. Pretty bad, but. Yes, but is it is it 10 to 15 hours of work per week. It’s a twelve hundred page curriculum, and then at the end of it, we have a business pitch competition in prison and it’s kind of Shark Tank style, but that’s where we have volunteer judges that come in and these EITs pitch their business and we have a competition.

So when you talk about the mindset change, you said, OK, a lot of people in prison have a lot of the qualities. So I would say when I visited the people I met, they had a ton of hustle.

They had a lot of grit, and they were not they had a lot of entrepreneurship. Now, it may have been slightly you know, it was different entrepreneurship than I usually think about entrepreneurship.

But is that what you meant? And, you know, what do you what do you do when you coach the mindset change?

And. Yeah, so, yeah. So, you know, in the past, you talked about the fire as far as, like, transforming hustle. Right, a lot of it is about. Instilling some focus and putting some parameters around what it means to be an entrepreneur, right, to say, look, you’ve you’ve got skills, right?

I mean, most people in prison that are in our program have been. Business owners before it just wasn’t likely legal business, but as I say, in in prison, when I’m talking to folks, look at.

Just because the business you ran may have operated a difficult regulatory environment with questionable HR practices doesn’t mean it wasn’t a business right and those skills can be transferred to legal business and it’s a lot of it is about contextualizing things they may already know how to do and just saying, look, let’s put some different language on that. Let’s put some different frameworks around that. And now let’s talk about something you want to do that is going to make a positive difference in your community.

And that’s where that personal piece comes. It’s like, hey, where did you come from and who do you want to be? Hmm.

And we’ve got people we work in maximum security, the highest security prison in California, all the way down to moderate and a little bit of minimum security, but for the most part, working in modern maximum security facilities with men and women.

And now you were there at sort of the midpoint where they were really just forming their entrepreneurial ideas at that point.

That’s what we’re giving them some coaching on, how to focus some of that stuff.

Yeah, I was there for they were working on personal statements and their personal statements were incredibly impressive, but there’s also some self limiting beliefs.


Yeah. I mean, the first thing we talk about when we start the class is this idea of self limiting beliefs. Right. What if you’re going to be an entrepreneur? Right. You need to be able to believe in yourself. Right. So let’s explore that. What is the stories that you tell yourself about what you can’t do?

And now let’s blow those things apart.

And so much about what we do in Defy is is about that that narrative change and taking accountability for their past, thinking about who they want to be and what they’re doing to transform and make creating a vision for their future. And and I think that is such a deeply human exercise.

And I think one of the reasons it’s so moving for volunteers when they come in is that they realize. They’ve got they’ve been on their own journey, right? We all have we’ve all made mistakes or we’ve all done things that we may regret and, you know, coming to terms with those things and not letting those things define us, even nobody else knows about them. Right. But how are you defining those things internally? And those self limiting beliefs are things that prevent all of us from achieving the things we want to achieve.

So can we talk a tiny bit about the steps of the line game? Because it is totally a powerful game and you have a question in there that has something to do with, you know, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Right. Tell me about or tell our listeners, because I participated in some of the questions and how that works.

Yeah. So the step to the line exercise is one of the most it was the deepest one of the deepest exercises we do. And the way it works is we have our entrepreneurs in training our EITs line up on on one side, we have all of our volunteers lined up on the other side. And then we ask a series of questions that range from the kind of silly like who’s your who in the room loves Taylor Swift to, you know. Right.

And to, you know, except the line if your parents tucked you in every night until they loved you. Right.

And what we’re looking for, what we’re trying to achieve there is this moment of empathy where we start to see how we are more similar than we are different along the way, and also to recognize where there are important differences.

And certainly, you know, we’re exploring questions of privilege in there. But but I don’t think that’s the most powerful piece of I think the most powerful piece of it is this idea of we’re all humans and we can be empathetic with each other and and find that shared humanity and realize that we are more alike than we’re different. Yeah, yeah, well, some of those were you ask some questions or deep like who has struggled with addiction in their family or some of that stuff where the volunteers who are mostly, you know, the business community stands on the line as well as the EITs.

That’s right.

But then, you know, who got tucked in and felt loved when they went to bed? It was a very disproportionately one shared room.

Yes. Or who was arrested before the age of 15. Oh, right. Which which are are some of the heartbreaking questions in there that I think are so important to the you know, the recognition that we all we come from different realities in life and, you know, and. In many cases, but for where you were born, right, and what you had in the first 10 years of your life, your life path might have been very, very different.

One of the questions you asked that was a very shared humanity question was because you were leading the session when I was there, was who feels nervous to be here today?

Right. Right. Yeah. And, you know, I was in a men’s prison and it was you know, I was nervous, but so was a lot.

So was a lot of the room that was facing me. The you know.

Yeah, absolutely. I tell people. So we ride the bus in. Right. I think you came in on the bus with us, with me. And as we ride the bus in and I always say, like, hey, who’s nervous? And then, you know, people sort of put their hand up and I’m like this. However nervous you are, the folks we’re about to meet are more nervous. Right. And and because. In many cases, the volunteers to come in may be the first people who did not either live or work at that prison that those individuals have met in years, and that is nerve racking.

And they’re going to get in there and like start to share about themselves. And these are all not norms inside of prison. So it’s a it’s a big moment when we’re doing that for the EITs to have that opportunity to sit across from somebody not behind bars. Right. And have that human interaction and to start to be treated like somebody who is smart and as valued and and can be respected. And that’s a big deal.

Yeah. I mean, there are so many stories, but I’m I’m going to stick with your program for a second half of my visit.

Anything else about the entrepreneurship? You know, my audience is more entrepreneurs here. You know, when you’re talking about how to launch a business or some of the basics of entrepreneurship that did apply to all of us that you think have been really good parts of your program.

Yeah. So, you know, I think. A lot of times when I’m speaking with, you know, individuals in the VC community and I’ll talk about entrepreneurship, you know, I talk about all the parameters of the businesses. We support our. Less than twenty thousand dollars to start a capital cash flow positive within three months, you shouldn’t require a physical storefront and should be built on some experience you already have.

Right. And it always amuses me a little bit when I talk to folks in the community who are like, well, you can’t start a business for that.

That’s not possible. Right. And, you know, my feeling is, well, au contraire, you know, because I see it happen all the time. Right. You know, aren’t entrepreneurship in the small business world, the sort of neighborhood world, I think a lot of times can get lost, the basics are the same. Right. How do you come up with the idea that people want? How do you make more money than you’re spending. Right. You know, and then how do you how do you market it and get it out there?

But we’re doing it at the at this level of kind of micro neighborhood businesses. And and we see it happen that when folks come out, you know, not everybody who does the program comes out and necessarily decides to launch a business, which is which is fine.

What we want them to not do is go back to prison. So what we’re really hoping for is initially they get a job that will sustain them. And then for that percentage, you do want to pursue that business. And we see it over and over again, whether it’s the like the commercial cleaning business or the fitness business or the food business.

One of our volunteers is a great guy. Name is Mark Bowles. He’s a he’s a VC San Diego area. And he mentored one of our folks that came home and helped him launch commercial cleaning business.

And, you know, I remember sitting down with him. He’s like, you know what, Timothy? Who was the EIT? He is the hardest working, most talented entrepreneur I have ever met, because this guy will bust through any walls in front of them and work incredibly hard and it feels entitled to nothing. Right. And, you know, he’s like I just like that’s a guy I know is going to be successful. And, you know, Timothy is a guy we were able to to fund through Defy and Forrest with a seven thousand dollar initial investment.

This guy built a commercial cleaning business is Ian.

Do you have a fellow named Ian on your staff? Indeed, yes.

And Ian said something really powerful that stuck with me, which is the people in prison. I forget how long he was in prison, but it was 12 years.

12 years. Yeah.

And he said something like, there are people who come out of prison better and they make that choice and there are people who don’t come out better. But you make a choice. Absolutely, yeah.

I mean, look, agency is something we take for granted in the world, right? You know, you and I have a ton of agency like whether we agree, whether we choose to embrace our agency. Right. Whatever. Right. But I mean, we have a lot of free will. You know, we can decide what we’re going to do every day for the most part. Right. You know, when you’re in prison, you get to make ten decisions a day, right?

Ten. That’s it. Think about the decisions you make in the first hour of your waking moments. Right.

You know, but so we try to do in our program through entrepreneurship is restore a measure of agency to say, look, you’ve got some choices in front of you now. Right. And you know what? Let’s let’s talk about some of the smaller choices programmatically of like, do you want to do this business? Do you want to do that business? Right.

But then that grows into like, who do you want to be? Right. Because you’ve got some choices right now, even if you’re still going to be locked up for a while, even if you’re going to be locked up for the rest of your life.

And we have some of those. Right. You have some agency about what you choose to do with your time. And and that is what a lot of what Ian was talking about is finding agency inside a prison to start to make some choices about who you want to be so powerful.

One of the things you also asked on the steps of one game was who’s been in isolation?

Yeah, for more than a week, a month, a year, five years, 10 years or so.

And in five years, I don’t know, 10 years like people who are stepping to the line. It was really terrifying.

So maybe could we talk about just Defy ventures and what you’re trying to do and what is the overarching what is the state of sentencing and criminal justice, if you use that word? I don’t know. Sure. Yeah. Yes.

I think of our advocacy and a little bit of a subversive way most of the time, which is that when we bring people in, a lot of people think they’re coming in and then they come in with different motivations. Some people think like, oh, I want to go inside and see a prison, see that I’ve done that. You know, other people are coming in because they want to learn more about the justice system. The people are coming in because, you know, they want to, you know, do service.

But everybody walks out of that day, right, realizing that whatever they thought about the criminal justice system was wrong. Right. And who was inside it and that, you know, that the world is not what they thought it was when they walked in that morning. And what I hope to do with that is. Get people to vote, right, to start to think critically about what it means to vote for politicians who just want to lock people up and throw away the key and what and what it means to be an employer and to be in it, to be part of the solution as a member of the business community by employing people or investing in people.

Because employment I mean, I think employment is a huge driver of recidivism. If I.

Oh, number one. If you are unemployed, the number one factor most likely to send you back to prison. Right.

And so entrepreneurship seems more important than ever. Yeah.

Yeah. I mean, for us. Right. We our first hope is that somebody our first goal and people come out of prison is let us help you get settled, make sure you have access services and that’s helped get a job. Right. So one of the things we look for from our volunteer base is people who are willing to employ and have entry level jobs and are willing to say, I will be a Fairchild’s employer. And I always interview people who have finished the Defy program.

Great. The next piece for us is to say, OK, you have your job, you’re stable. Do you want to pursue entrepreneurship?

And to give them that opportunity and importantly, access to capital if they’re willing to work hard and get there. And that segues into this idea of this venture fund that we’re creating. It’s a philanthropic venture fund, but a venture fund nonetheless. And the idea behind that is to say, look, we have built out this selective accelerator program for, you know, we’re hoping we can push, you know, twenty five businesses through per year.

For those 25 people coming through, we want to give them high quality mentors, intensive coaching, a little bit more curriculum. But they don’t need that much more stuff like building a financial model, know how to incorporate their business, stuff like that, and then having enough money to be able to give them up to ten thousand dollars of a seed grant.

They don’t have to pay back.

And then they can employ other people who were formerly incarcerated. And so that’s where that circle starts to take off. So that’s that’s an opinion.

Let me put it another bit of a plug there. But, you know, you’re running a really lean organization, too.

And so people who want to give money to support your entrepreneurs, it’s going straight to those entrepreneurs. Oh, yeah.

For the fund for the venture fund in particular, 90 percent of that is granted directly. Right. So we’re I’m excited to say we just won a major federal grant to support the, you know, most of the operating costs of this program.

And we have this opportunity in front of us right now to invest, frankly, primarily with people of color, because that’s unfortunately who we incarcerate in this country at over indexed to black men six times the rate of white men. Right. And so when we’re talking about funding potential businesses and really focusing on racial justice, economic justice, social justice. This is where it’s at.

Mm hmm.

Well, I appreciate the work you’re doing, Andrew, so maybe changing gears a bit. Should we talk more about this amazing fund.

Let’s just talk about the experience of you show up in your program. And it’s a human tunnel, right? I mean, got for Randall or someone playing music, but it’s, you know.

Yeah. Coming in. Yeah. I mean, look, we try to make the event a really fun day, right. It’s deep, but we also try to make it a fun day that everybody’s going to remember, especially the folks inside who don’t get fund days very often. And so but when people get there. Right, I think for volunteer is the first thing they remember is walking through the big giant iron gates of clang shut behind them, because then, you know, it’s real.

Yeah, right. You’re inside and then you’re greeted by all these men or women, you know, in their prison blues who are super excited to see you. An when you are inside a prison, you have no choice but to be fully present.

It was so intense. I was chatting with someone. Oh, no, it was Emily Proctor who said that she didn’t know the difference being prison in jail. Yeah. Which I mean, it just emphasizes the stratification of our society. Plenty of people have no contact and plenty of people have way too much contact, 100 percent.

But, you know, I didn’t know all the sentencing guidelines, like a life sentence is far worse than twenty years to life or.

Well, so. So I think it’s interesting thing about life sentence is. A basic if somebody just gets life right. What that means is they will be in prison a minimum of seven years before they can go to the parole board to be considered for release. When you hear 20 to life, what you’re hearing is they have to do a minimum time, 20 years before they may be considered for parole and then they may be denied parole forever. Hmm.

Right. But they can go back to that parole board at a minimum every 10 years and be considered.

So but so I think one of the one of the one of the lies that people sort of feed themselves or think is that somebody gets life, are never coming home.

That’s not true. Ninety five percent of people in prison are going to return. Some people get what’s called life without parole or ELAC, which, you know is I’ve been I’ve heard of people call that civil death. Right, because you’re going to die in prison. Right.

But but that’s actually not that many people.

And, you know, I think the sentencing guidelines, you know, you see that the injustice of the sentencing guidelines, I think when you do this work because you meet people who were sentenced to crazy long sentences when they were juveniles. Right. Right. And when you meet somebody who is sentenced. At age 16, 17, 18, even twenty one, right? You know, the thing I wanted to ask in this exercise is who did something really stupid before the age of twenty three?

Right. And that’s nearly everybody in the room, if not everybody. Right. And, you know, that’s where I think I. Find so much tragedy in the system is when you meet these people who. Lived a difficult life as a child, right, and did something admittedly like real bad, right while they were children, and then the state 

That’s, I think, a really important takeaway. People coming in. It’s like, look. Our government is created around this stuff because we, the people, tell them to do this stuff, nobody ever got elected for being soft on crime. Right. And that I think that’s an important. Moment for folks to say, like, OK, what is my part in this? Mm hmm.

Do you have offices that we should all be paying attention to, like elected officials? Because we pay attention only to the top of the ticket sometimes?

Yeah, I would be I would be paying attention to your day races. Right. Right. These days are in his day in Los Angeles right now. That’s an important race. And this is. They step up criminal justice and sentencing and application justice is front and center in this race right now. OK, read up on it. Pay attention to it because it’s important.

OK, where’s where’s the where’s your vote right now?

I am not making an official organizational endorsement. This is my personal opinion. Right. Right. In my personal opinion on this is that I will be voting for Gascon  for a district attorney because he is not funded by police unions and he has a record of approaching justice differently.

Yep, yep. OK, Andrew, you grew up. Do you? You went to Harvard Westlake. You went to UCLA Business School. You’re from around here. You went to Pomona or somewhere on a college.

That’s right. L.A. County lifer. So I spend so much time talking about your program. But how did you go from that to here?

Yeah, but it said, well, my life is has never really moved in a straight line as far as career path, but, you know, went to Harvard Westlake had an amazingly privileged experience in school.

And then I graduated business school in 06. I end up working for his entrepreneurial firm, ostensibly to do finance, but I ended up running a construction site in that work, I met people on my job site and in talking to them, I met people with criminal histories that I was aware of for the first time. And I remember this guy. He was like he was a framer. And he was like, So how did you make this work?

Well, I didn’t wake up one day and think about I want to be a framer, you know? But I was a tweaker and I was high on meth and I stole a gun from a cop. And I was like, I didn’t kill him. And I ended up serving three years in prison. And this is what’s open to me. And I had to feel, given his realization of like, wow, if you have a felony on your background, a violent felony, like your opportunities are incredibly limited.

And that was really my when I first started to think about this idea of reentry cut to working at an education, get with city year, another education, great education nonprofit.

But you see this school to prison pipeline happening. Kids growing up in South L.A., East L.A., wherever it is, right, and they’re surrounded by generational poverty and violence and, you know, there’s a certain path of least resistance that exists in those neighborhoods.

You know, I remember the first time I went to prison was compensation for women. And we went into this room and we did the Stepto line exercise and everybody was lined up there and it just felt like I was in. One of the high school auditoriums that I’d worked at would sit here in the detention room and you look and you see all these faces and you’re like, I think I know some of these stories here.

Right, right. So now what are you are you the CEO?

Thats what they tell me. Yes, you. I didn’t I didn’t start here. Then I started as the executive director for Southern California.

OK, right. And it was a rapid rise to the top.

There was a battlefield promotion. Yes. Yes. Not only the promotion, but I mean, the reason I bring that up is because a lot of the founders that we work with, you know, they they’ve become founders without every qualification.

You know, it’s not like they run thousand person or or whatever they find themselves somehow into.

One thing we always hear is that it’s lonely at the top.It is lonely at the top. You know, I so. Defy story was a little fraught, you know, when I came in, we had a CEO and a who’s our founder. A lot of sort of classic founder’s syndrome stuff happened there and then. She left and then I found myself inheriting, which was essentially at that point a dumpster fire, and as a CEO and I went to my own junior cell phone and beliefs of like, what the hell am I doing here?

You know, I don’t feel like I have agency here. Right. I’m stuck, you know, and and and I’m not I’m not capable of doing this right. I’ve never raised money before in large amounts. And, you know, I have to figure out how to do this, turn around. And I feel like nobody is helping me.

And I want to I mean. Yeah. Who wants a dumpster fire? Well, right, exactly.

You know, somebody a coach said to me, there is a guy his name is Jason Jazz, that he runs a coaching firm called Novas Global. And he was on one of the trips at that time. He’s like, hey, man, I’m going to coach you. It’s like, OK, somebody else. He wants to coach me, right? He’s like, no, no, no, we’re going to do this. And so, know, I got on with him and he’s like, Hey, man, what are you doing here?

Why are you here? And I was like, oh, well, you know, I. You know, somebody’s got to do it and, you know, it’s like, you know, obligated and I don’t let people down, he’s like, Yeah, why are you really like? Well, I also hate losing. Right. He’s like, OK, I buy that, you know. And and and but what he helped me realize relatively quickly was, look, man, no one’s making you do this, so do it or don’t do it.

But stop complaining about it because you have a choice. And he’s like, look, as long as you live in this world of I’m stuck here and I can’t be successful, you are right. And when you’re the leader of the organization, you can’t sort of pull everybody together and be like.

Hey, everyone, I feel really bad right now and let me tell you how bad I’m feeling about this 

And that’s. I think that’s a lot of it, but also learning how to convey vision, right? I mean, ultimately, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I thought of myself as a systems builder. That’s my sweet spot is like taking something that somebody else made and then making it great. 

Maybe being a systems builder was like a limiting belief. You know, maybe. I think you’re right. I think you’re right about that.

No, you’re absolutely right about that is like I put myself in this box and like, well, I’m a systems builder. That’s what I’m good at. I’m not good at, like, vision and and that kind of stuff. But in the end. Right. I mean, you can be. Yeah. I mean, I needed to be and I was and. OK, I have a philosophical question for you. So how here’s the question, how do people learn to forgive themselves?

Yeah, well, so I would add to that, how do people learn to forgive others and themselves? I think they’re both tough, right. I think it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive oneself. And in some ways are in a lot of ways. I think you learn I think you learn to forgive yourself by practicing it. Hmm. I mean, you have to start by saying I mean, look, the whole operation, right?

I mean, you know, I remember Saturday Night Live and the guy would get me like I’m good enough, I’m smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like me. Right. You know, and we all sort of laugh at that sort of mode of affirmation and it sort of feels weird to do it. But in reality. Right. That self affirmation. It is hugely important because you are practicing. You’re you’re practicing yourself belief at that point, right, and I think forgiveness is the same thing, is that if you say, you know what?

I forgive myself for this, right? I am like, I know I messed up. I feel guilty about messing up, right? I feel bad about doing that, I certainly regret it. I don’t want to do that again. But I’m not going to live in that space and make that define me, and I think that’s a lot about what self forgiveness is, is to say. I am forgiving myself for doing that and recognizing that I that’s not the person that I am anymore.

And we tell it to our EITs all the time is like, look. When you do affirmation and we do those affirmations, you might be faking it till you make it there, right? But you’ve got to say it like you mean it.

And one day you will need it. And that’s how you change that belief about yourself. And I think forgiveness is the same thing. It’s good.

OK, Andrew, we’re going to have to wrap up so we end with some affirmative statements. Andrew, you are awesome.

This podcast was awesome. The work you are doing for the entrepreneurs in your program, each individual is so meaningful to them. And I appreciate what you’re doing. So thank you.

Thank you. And I would like to offer an affirmation to you, too, which is I think you’re awesome and I. I love it. You’re willing to talk about this stuff and and share it with your audience and be part of our program. And if I could just put a plug in for folks who are interested, check us out, www.Deftventures.Org. And if you want to get in touch, somebody wants to get in touch with me directly about supporting the program.