Around Town: Social Entrepreneurs Come to D.C.

Chef spoke to a packed room at Halcyon House welcoming ten new Halcyon Incubator Fellows.

By Claire Handscombe

This year's Halcyon Incubator Fellows. Back, left to right: Kristof Grina, Daniel Hill, Faran Negarestan, Prasoon Kumar, Sam Pressler, Yoko K. Sen, Jeffrey Prost-Greene, Eric Shih, Farah Brunache

This year’s Halcyon Incubator Fellows. Back, left to right: , , Faran Negarestan, , Sam Pressler, , , ,

The February 18th event welcomed the newest batch of social entrepreneurs, chosen by a grueling selection process, to their eighteen-month fellowship at the Halcyon Incubator. Their ventures ranged from Spendrise, at the intersection of social change and crowdfunding, through Up Top Acres, which promotes urban rooftop farming, to Electric Feel, which offers portable charging for electric cars.

José Andrés spoke engagingly about the need to embrace failure in entrepreneurship. “I don’t have a bad relationship with failure,” he said. “I love that person that is failure. I give him or her thanks for keeping me awake.” His number one piece of advice to emerging entrepreneurs was that they should be highly aware of how weak every new business is. Like a new baby, he said, they require care and love. “New life doesn’t come with instructions. In the process you learn to become a father… that feeling you are not there yet – it’s a good thing, it’s what keeps you trying hard.”

José Andrés speaks at the Halcyon Incubator Kick Off

José Andrés speaks at the Halcyon Incubator Kick Off

He also spoke of his vision for what he calls the new capitalism, in which return of investment is measured not just by profit margins but also by how many people we empower and lift out of poverty.

Certainly, the ten 2016 fellows of the Halcyon would agree with this, as they are working on practical solutions to real needs. Prasoon Kumar of Billion Bricks has designed winterHYDE, a fully insulated tend for a family of five which traps body heat. It’s a product for the poor, a weapon in the fight against global homelessness, but it is no way poorly designed.

Kumar hails from India, and the fellows come from far and wide. Yoko K. Sen, from Japan, is the mind behind Sen Sound Space, which works to transform the auditory experience in hospital so that sound can alleviate suffering rather than compound it. Faran Negarestan, who immigrated from Iran, spoke alongside his colleague, Carlene Brown, about Reciprocare, which will improve the reliability of homecare for the elderly and disabled by providing an easy way to match homecare workers with immediate needs.

Sam Pressler was studying at William and Mary when a paper he was working on led to an interest in mental health among veterans. Since comedy has always been his own cathartic outlet, he began to wonder if veterans might find it useful too. Out of that has come a partnership with the Veterans Writing Project, and The Armed Services Arts Partnership, which offers lessons to veterans in all kinds of arts, from ceramics to piano and guitar lessons to improv classes.

The Halcyon Incubator fellowship aims to remove barriers to innovation, and one of the ways in which it does this is by providing accommodation and funds for social entrepreneurs. Rent-free housing is provided for five months alongside a $10,000 stipend, and for the next year or so afterward rent-free or reduced-rate workspace is available as well as mentoring, professional advice and opportunities to network.

Applications are now open for the fall 2016 batch of Halcyon Incubator fellows. Do you know someone who might benefit from the program?

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