In 2006, Chrissy Deferville and a friend founded the nonprofit Catalyst for Thought, a finance and investment club to promote self-learning and business education.  (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

Chrissy Deferville is a connector. She has the gift of knowing who should meet whom and facilitates the introduction. She’s also the type of person who can talk people into giving their resources — be it time, expertise or finances — and feel good about it.

Deferville grew up in nearby Santa Ynez. Her father is an entrepreneur, and both of her parents are philanthropists. Throughout her upbringing, she volunteered for various nonprofit organizations, including 4-H and Jerry’s Kids. Deferville heard the call to service early and has stayed true to her path of self-discovery and growth, while making the world around her better.

Deferville attended Westmont College for undergraduate degrees in economics and business. Thinking she would pursue corporate law, she spent her senior year studying foreign policy in Washington D.C., after which she secured an internship with the National Republican Congressional Committee on Capitol Hill. She soon realized it was not the environment for her.


“I didn’t want to climb a corporate ladder or feel like my daily work wasn’t really helping make a difference in people’s lives,” Deferville said.

She returned to Santa Barbara and took an event-planning job at Bacara Resort & Spa. After a year, she moved to the University Club and has enjoyed six years as the sales and events manager. It was the perfect fit for Deferville, who considers herself an intrapreneur, which she defines as an entrepreneur within a business.

Through her interaction with club members, Deferville met numerous savvy local business leaders. In 2006, she and friend Kristin Brown decided to start a finance and investment club to promote self-learning and business education. The club caught the attention of the local Young Leaders group, which helped support it during the next phase of development.

Catalyst for Thought was born in the spring of 2008 as a stand-alone nonprofit, with Deferville at the helm. The Catalyst mission is to advance the community by educating and motivating individuals to create, develop and act on their entrepreneurial ideas.

Today, 25 local entrepreneurs and professionals operate Catalyst. Deferville takes a long view of the challenge she hopes to tackle through Catalyst.

“Today’s culture is one of instant gratification and immediacy,” she said. “Individuals who are successful, take action, and take ownership of their lives. Our goal is to create an environment for individuals to come together who genuinely want to improve their life circumstance.”

She sums up the Catalyst philosophy with this: “We focus on educating and motivating the individual to act. Through individual freedom and empowerment, personal ownership of life and its possibilities … the community benefits.”

Catalyst recently sprouted three inter-related divisions anchored by guest speakers and resources for the entrepreneur: Sync offers networking events with proceeds benefiting local charities; Minds hosts more intimate roundtable lunches for those interested in specific business advice from inspirational leaders who have dreamed, achieved and created change; and Atlas offers an online video interview series with executives, entrepreneurs and business professionals to help attendees navigate the path of business.

Conceivably, local members would participate in all three offerings at various times. Past Minds speakers include developer Michael Towbes, Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea and Balance Bar CEO Jim Wolf.

On Sept. 30, as part of Atlas, Catalyst will begin hosting executives who have experience with China, the third-largest economy in the world. China-based executives will join via video conference to participate and contribute. The first event will feature speaker Karen Bogart, president of Pacific Tributes Inc.

Deferville plans to have more Catalyst chapters spring up in other markets.

“We say reach globally, connect locally, and I see that happening across the world in years to come,” she said, adding that Santa Barbara has a wealth of entrepreneurs with worldly experience, which makes finding relevant, knowledgeable speakers and advisers possible.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at jennkennedy@noozhawk.com. Click here to see more of her work.