- Curtis Norris, the founder and CEO of Metro Mobile Power Washing, recently won $US15,000 in Defy Venture’s national pitch competition.
- Defy helps people who are currently or were formerly incarcerated start and grow businesses.
Norris told Business Insider he’ll use the money to buy equipment.
Curtis Norris is 67 years old, but his business career is just beginning.
Norris recently won $US15,000 in a national business pitch competition put on by Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that helps formerly and currently incarcerated individuals start and grow their own businesses.
Norris, who served 10 years in a California state prison between 2003 and 2013, won for his mobile power-washing company over five fellow entrepreneurs in training, or EITs, in the November 13 competition in New York City.
Defy Ventures helps inmates regain financial independence
“The word that I would use is just ‘wonderful,'” Norris told Business Insider. “It’s wonderful to win. All of this has been worth it now, everything I went through, because this is my last one.”
Norris is referring to Defy’s ladder of pitch competitions. Built in the style of “Shark Tank,” each competition involves EITs giving seasoned business executives, typically in the world of finance or venture capital, short pitches about their business. At the end, the executives rate the pitch, ask questions, and offer feedback.
Catherine Hoke, Defy’s founder and CEO, started the organisation in 2010 as a way for inmates to harness their natural sense of hustle and repurpose it as business savvy. To date, Defy has worked with more than 3,600 EITs and recruited roughly 4,400 executives. Inamtes who go through the program have a 95% employment rate and 3.2% recidivism rate. The national rate is nearly 68% after three years post-release.
Norris first participated in a Defy pitch contest in 2016, then another earlier this year, and finally the latest one, which was the first national competition Defy has held since it began mentoring EITs in 2012.
As one of Defy’s EITs, Norris has been working with an executive mentor to grow the business, earning different coloured “belts,” a nod to the rankings of martial arts, each time he hits a milestone set by his mentor. The belts signify EITs (and their companies) are progressing through the Defy system. The first belt — the white belt — is the CEO of Your Own Life program, where Defy mentors people still imprisoned.
Norris is a brown belt and hopes to soon become the second-ever black belt. So far Coss Marte, the founder and CEO of the prison-style bootcamp workout ConBody, is the only one to have reached black-belt status.
A hobby in the 1990s turns into a business in the late 2010s
Norris started his own business, Metro Mobile Power Washing, after a Defy worker came to his halfway house in November of 2015. He’d been working in the power-washing business since the 1990s, but initially wanted his Defy business to involve furniture restoration. His mentor told him the insurance liabilities would be too great.
“And I said what else can I do?” Norris recalled. He soon remembered his background in blasting the grime off gas stations and restaurant facades. “So I said OK, I’m going to start power washing and pressure-washing.”
In the two years he’s been in business, Norris has pulled in $US17,000 in revenue and hired two part-time employees (one of whom is his current girlfriend, who helps with “this and that,” Norris said). He projects he’ll be able to pull in $US135,000 for 2018, provided he can start growing his client base and handle larger projects, like ageing or repurposed shopping malls. He said he plans to use the prize money to buy equipment, instead of renting.
As for his involvement with Defy now that he’s outgrown the competitions, Norris said that bond is for life.
“My plans for Defy are going to be continuing, period,” he said, pointing to the handful of fellow Defy members, many of them young, who also hail from the San Francisco Bay Area. “That’s something I’ve going to do. I’ve got to pass it on.”