The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the first report from Rachel Verner ’15, founder of Assk, a company that strives to normalize sexual consent through apparel and education, thereby preventing sexual violence. You can read other grantee reports here.
I find myself seated on the floor of a house in New London, CT. My good friend is house-sitting for a Connecticut College Professor, both of whom were generous enough to allow me to stay. My laptop is perched on a footrest that has been stripped bare of its pillow, and just like this footrest, I have been stripped of the very thing that made me comfortable: Wesleyan. I am no longer an undergraduate, surrounded by endless creativity, passion, encouragement and excitement. I am an alumnus, plagued by responsibility, bills, taxes, and politically incorrect people. I don’t have a source of income. I don’t have a place that I can call home. Luckily I had a few points left over at the end of the semester so I was able to stock up on food, but I eat a lot, so that surely won’t last long. I am a scared shitless, soon-to-be-hungry alumnus. How am I going to make this work?
When I first started Assk, my objective was to diversify the conversation about sexual violence. Never could I have imagined that two and a half years later, I would have an Assk business card in my hand, with my name followed by “Founder & CEO” on the back (Note to self – the business card may be thin enough to eat, if the situation becomes dire). Today, Assk Apparel and Education is a company that strives to tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent. Through apparel, we are attempting to shift normative influences, and encourage consumers to adopt consent as a core personal value. Through education, we seek to give people the tools necessary to build healthy sexual relationships, support survivors, and understand the ways in which gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation and religion impact sexual assault, consent, and rape culture.
So what now? Here’s a condensed version of my “Assk To Do List”:
- Stay in the country
As silly as it may sound, the biggest struggle I’m facing with Assk right now is staying in the country. I’m a Canadian citizen, and unfortunately, it’s not easy to establish myself in the US as a broke, I-graduated-from-college-a-week-ago entrepreneur. After a handful of conversations with immigration lawyers (thanks to Wesleyan’s parent listserv for hooking me up!), I’ve decided that best plan is to look for a full-time position that will secure my legal status in this country, put some money in my pocket, and allow me to pursue Assk on the side.
(For any potential employers that have Googled me and are reading this right now – I promise, I really do want to work for you! And I really do intend to pursue graduate work in psychology/neuroscience!)
- Get more funding
Since receiving the $5000 Seed Grant from the Patricelli Centre, Assk has been fortunate enough to secure an additional $1800 in funding from other sources, including an incredibly generous private donor. Nevertheless, we’re hoping to obtain additional funding in preparation for our Kickstarter campaign (more on that in the next blogpost!), so we’ll be applying to several grant-givers over the course of the summer.
- Legal stuff
A sobering reality of trying to start a company is that there’s a whole bunch of legal stuff that needs to be done, which currently looks like trademark and company registration. One of the big questions Assk is facing right now is what our legal structure should be: do we want to establish ourselves as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid? I’ve got some more research to do before making the final decision.
Networking can be simultaneously fun and daunting. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with so many incredible people, including several Wesleyan alumni, who have all offered fantastic advice. One challenge – beyond squeezing myself into the very hectic schedules of successful business professionals – is figuring out which strengths of each individual align best with Assk’s current needs. Is their background in apparel, production, distribution, education, or marketing? By narrowing the focus of every conversation, I’m able to make the most of everyone’s time. To date, I’ve gained insight on the wild world of social entrepreneurship, starting a clothing company, ethical manufacturing, launching a Kickstarter campaign, just to name a few. Moving forward, I’m looking for advice on my business structure, my financial plan, and my operations plan.
- Build an online presence
Assk needs a website and Facebook page, and we could likely use a Twitter account as well. I’ve started to play around with Square Space, but I’d really need a week of just focusing on the website to produce something that I’d be comfortable publishing. On top of that, we need to develop some content for the site itself. We do officially have a domain, though!
(In all honesty, I was so embarrassed that we don’t already have a Facebook page that I started to make one before writing this blog post. Then I stepped back and reminded myself that the quality of the page was more important than its existence.)
Here’s hoping my next up-date will be filled with a brand new set of challenges!