PCSE Grant Recipient Blog Posts

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Potlux

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 Brent Packer ’15, founder of Potlux, the first online community where collegiate sustainability initiatives are effectively aggregated and shared. Also on the Potlux team are Aaron Rosen ’15, Jared Geilich ’15, Gerard Liu ’15, Keren Reichler ’16, Cassia Patel ’16, Ellen Paik ’16, and Gabe Frankel ’15.

Potlux aims to promote environmental sustainability by facilitating best practice movements across the college network, inspiring new ideas, building intercollegiate collaboration, and catalyzing project funding.

You can read other grantee reports here.

potlux logoSince this is my second time as a Patricelli Center Seed Grant winner, I thought it would be helpful to write this update differently than the Wishing Wells ones. Sure, it’s fantastic to read about how these grants are being used to significantly improve the impact of the winning ventures. However, I felt that these updates only loosely applied to my own interests and ventures. They should be a resource for other budding social entrepreneurs to gain the inside perspective on what it’s like to be a few months further along than their own ventures. They should allow new entrepreneurs to really feel what is it like as a new Seed Grant winner. Because I know you’re wondering, it is far from the wild Zuckerbergian life shown in The Social Network… good riddance.

Brent Packer '15

Brent Packer ’15

So, here goes:


Potlux is only 9 months old.

At times, it feels like we’re many times that age. We’ve presented at various events, built a team that is committed to continuing with Potlux through their full-time jobs, and began conversations with some of the most impactful players in the global sustainability scene. (We’ll let you know the details when plans and partnerships come to fruition.)

We are also fortunate to announce a phenomenal addition to the Potlux team. Marguerite Suozzo-Golé will be working full-time this summer as our Director of Strategy. In addition to her studies at Brown University, she has participated in various significant sustainability initiatives, including Rhode Island’s first climate change legislation. This summer, her main task will be discovering and implementing the best practice of growing the Potlux community. We’re incredibly excited about her future contributions.

Between this progress, it sometimes feels like Potlux is only a few weeks old with long periods of stagnation. 

It’s easy for an entrepreneur to understand that their new way of approaching a problem is an improvement on the status quo. It’s easy to envision the paths that will allow their venture to succeed. It’s easy to imagine others seeing value and incorporating this new service in their daily lives.  

But it doesn’t work like that.

Most entrepreneurs recognize this on a rational level when entering the early-stage dance. Countless people offered me encouragement with a healthy dose of realism. Of course I believed them, but it has only felt real when tasked with creating my own momentum each day away from the vibrancy of the Wesleyan community. It’s a test in endurance and grit. In some ways, it feels like Kübler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial — “As long as the website is made, people will find it and use it. We can become a major sustainability tool by the beginning of the school year.”
  2. Anger — “If I only put in more time during the school year we would be so much further ahead than we are now. Why did I waste my time?”
  3. Bargaining — “As long we become partners with AASHE, we’ll have the impact we hope to have.”
  4. Depression — “What is the point of all this? Maybe I’m better off working for a more established sustainability organization these next 5 months.”
  5. Acceptance — “Building a new sustainability tech non-profit is really freaking hard. We believe in our mission and our approach. We’re going to keep pushing, celebrating the little successes, and working towards long-term goals along the way.”

As always, feel free to contact me at bpacker@wesleyan.edu with any questions, comments, suggestions, pictures of baby animals, quality Donald Trump quotes, or anything else you want to send my way.

Thanks for reading. We’ll keep you updated :)

Brent Packer

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Assk

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?

Apparel samples that Assk founder and CEO Rachel Verner '15 found during pre-graduation packing. With the PCSE Seed grant, Rachel will formally launch Assk outside the Wesleyan campus, continuing her mission to "tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent."

Original apparel samples that Assk founder and CEO Rachel Verner ’15 found during pre-graduation packing. With the PCSE Seed grant, Rachel will formally launch Assk outside the Wesleyan campus, continuing her mission to “tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent.”

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”:

  1. 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!)

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Networking

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.

  1. 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!

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from the Wesleyan Doula Project

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 the Wesleyan Doula Project, one of the three 2015 winners. You can read other grantee reports here.

The Wesleyan Doula Project, a PCSE seed grant winner, is a student-run, volunteer collective that improves access to quality women’s health care. Pictured from left are Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin ’16, Julia Vermeulen ’15 and Zandy Stovicek ’17.

The Wesleyan Doula Project, a PCSE seed grant winner, is a student-run, volunteer collective that improves access to quality women’s health care. Pictured from left are Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin ’16, Julia Vermeulen ’15 and Zandy Stovicek ’17.

Winning the Patricelli Seed Grant has enabled us to imagine a whole new future for the Wesleyan Doula Project. Sure, we’re still committed to doing what we’ve always done– primarily, working with women’s health centers to provide support to hundreds of women terminating their pregnancies each semester. We still send teams of two doulas every Friday and Saturday (and the occasional Tuesday) to clinics in West Hartford and New Haven to work in the procedure and recovery rooms; we still participate in the quarterly conference calls with other organizations in the Full Spectrum Reproductive Support Network; we still struggle to find the time to get 35 busy doulas together for potlucks and movie night; and we still do our best to ignore the protesters lining the sidewalk as the weather gets nicer.

But while our day-to-day operations are humming along as usual, longer-term plans are emerging, and some of them are already being acted on.

Applying for the Seed Grant and pitching ourselves to a team of accomplished social entrepreneurs meant that for the first time, we were thinking about words like “donor base” and “triple bottom line” (We didn’t know what it meant either.).The process pushed us to communicate the impact of our project to people outside of the Reproductive Justice community and gave us permission to dream big and to ask ourselves, “what would the best version of the Wesleyan Doula Project look like?” The changes we envisioned were big and small, spanning clinic, community, and national levels–and the reality was, there was no way that we could act on all of them, at least not at the same time. So, once we got over our surprise and giddiness upon discovering we had won the grant, we pondered a different set of questions: First, “what is the most important goal for the Wesleyan Doula Project at this point in time?,” and second, “what do we need to do to achieve it?”

A semester of consideration and discussion with partners, alums, and mentors helped us figure out a set of short- and long-term goals, one of them being the eventual employment of a full-time Wesleyan Doula Project Fellow, who could work to achieve some of our bigger projects. With a fellowship on our horizon, we’ve wrapped up the semester and have a full summer planned, with campus-based doulas working at the clinic, our first-ever summer intern tackling grant opportunities, and a whole lot of planning for the coming school year. The Seed Grant spurred us into action, and we can’t wait to see where it will take us. But first, some highlights from what we’ve achieved this past semester:

  • We formalized the role of our Board of Advisors, and scheduled our first meeting for the end of the summer.
  • A group of Wesleyan students from the WDP and Clinic Escorts attended the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference at Hampshire College in April. And most exciting, Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin, co-coordinator of the WDP, presented as part of a panel on full-spectrum doula work. The CLPP conference is one of the largest reproductive justice conferences in the country.
  • In April, we partnered with ASHA (Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness) and the Wesleyan Clinic Escorts to host a well-attended WesFest film screening of an off-beat romantic comedy, Obvious Child (2014), and a quick introduction to the reproductive and sexual health work done by each of our projects.
  • In May, we were officially incorporated into Wesleyan’s Office of Community Service (OCS), a partnership that will give the WDP access to the structure, expertise, and resources of a community of civic engagement experts and student groups.
  • In May, we recruited and selected next year’s student coordinators of the WDP, a paid position through the Office of Community Service. The team will consist of two senior leaders–Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin and Jesalyn Ortiz– and one junior leader, Alexandra (or Zandy) Stovicek.
  • Zandy Stovicek is also the first-ever Wesleyan Doula Project summer intern (also paid, but with our Seed Grant money)! She will work to identify funding opportunities, design a long-term game plan for grant applications through the 2015-2016 academic year, and begin drafting prioritized applications. She will also develop a website for the project, which we hope will be an indispensible resource for prospective partners, donors, and volunteers alike.
  • Last, could the second ever university-based doula project be in the works?! We’ve gotten plenty of emails from people expressing interest in starting their own projects, but this spring we began conversations with what seems to be a promising and dedicated group from a nearby liberal arts school. We hope to offer the support and training they need to launch a successful project.

We are eager to meet the challenges ahead as we make the most of the amazing opportunity afforded us by the Patricelli Seed Grant.  Thanks to everyone who has helped us in the past year, but especially to Makaela Kingsley, for her unwavering enthusiasm and her honest and indispensable advice. We look forward to updating you all about our successes, stumbles, and new plans for the future of the Wesleyan Doula Project!

As a recent graduate with the Class of 2015, this is both my first and last blog post for the Wesleyan Doula Project. It has been an honor and a pleasure to co-coordinate this organization with Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin (Class of 2016), and I can’t wait to see how much farther next year’s group of doulas and their talented leaders will take this project.

–Julia Vermeulen

Enrichment Grant Report: Zoe Toulouse ’16 and Adriana Brau-Diaz ’16

Zoe Toulouse ’16 and Adriana Brau-Diaz ’16 were selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. With this grant, they attended a weekend-long birth doula training, which will allow them to work as doulas this summer and explore careers in women’s reproductive health down the road. You can read Zoe and Adriana’s reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.

On the weekend of March 6-8, we completed an introductory birth doula training with Rina Crane in New York City. It was an extremely enlightening experience in which we learned all about the ins and outs of childbirth and being a supportive presence for an expecting and laboring mother. Specifically, we were taught to be active listeners, how to help a woman design a birth plan (for hospital and home births), physical comfort techniques, and how to serve as a mediator between the woman, her partner, family, and medical professionals. The training consisted of a number of group activities and we bonded with other workshop participants. This will be beneficial in the future as we work as doulas and need to create a network in that world.

Additionally, the workshop taught us how to approach the business aspect of the doula profession. We learned about offering birth doula services pro bono initially, and later how to truly build a career out of it. Our trainer Rina Crane has been in the field for over 10 years and was able to provide us with a lot of resources in the New York City area based on the connections she has formed over the years. The workshop reaffirmed our passion for childbirth, babies, and a woman’s wellbeing during this life-changing event.

We plan to carry out what we learned in the workshop this coming summer and further in the future. We strongly believe every expecting mother deserves a doula. This summer, Adriana will be working as a birth doula at Harlem Hospital in New York City, and Zoe will be working as the Women Children Infants intern at Mary’s Center in Washington, DC.

Enrichment Grant Report: Kehan Zhou ’15

Kehan Zhou ’15 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship to subsidize his trip to Berlin to attend a Bitcoin conference. You can read Kehan’s reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.


Inside Bitcoin Berlin Reflection: Kehan Zhou ’15 

bitcoinWith the support from the Student Enrichment Grant and the CSS department, I attended one of the biggest Bitcoin conferences in the World in Berlin. This conference brought together economists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs who work on Bitcoin enterprises. The result was many stimulating talks on the most advanced Bitcoin technology. 

Bitcoin is a digital currency that uses blockchain technology to achieve anonymity and security. It is the first digital currency that solved the problem of double spending where the same currency is spent twice. Compared to traditional currency, Bitcoin offers very fast payment that costs only a fraction of the traditional transaction fee. In addition, Bitcoin is a “smart money” which means that it is programmable like computer code. This allows it to accomplish many complicated payment schemes that traditional currency cannot achieve.

The conference discussed many interesting ideas on Bitcoin around the world. For example, one company is working on bringing space Bitcoin banking to Africa by allowing people to bank through satellite signals. Bitcoin technology can also support prediction market where any prediction can be bought and sold like a securities. The prediction could be the weather for tomorrow or the result of presidential elections. I truly believe that Bitcoin and blockchain technology are the future of money. While we are still in the trial and error phase, Bitcoin’s technology could revolutionize the way we use money and many other fields.

I want to thank the PCSE Enrichment Grant for supporting my trip and I would like to chat with anyone who is interested in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and share my experience with more people.

Enrichment Grant Report: Vanessa Chen ’16

Vanessa Chen CGI U 1Vanessa Chen ’16 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship for her trip to CGI U, an annual conference at which students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.

You can read Vanessa’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.


The weekend of March 6, I flew to Miami, Florida to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, where I had the opportunity to meet with other student entrepreneurs and business leaders.

The conference offered students opportunities to learn from leaders through skills sessions on how to best sell products and panels about entrepreneurship. I attended a skills panel on the importance of measuring impact; this session was led by an entrepreneur, Karim Abouelnaga, who recently graduated from college. A key point raised in this talk was about the ability to generate funding. He said that for social enterprises to remain relevant in today’s society, every dollar spent by investors and donors is measured by the amount of impact produced per dollar. His Vanessa Chen CGI U 2social enterprise provides summer programs to students that predominately come from economically disadvantaged households. Abouelnaga was able to gauge impact by measuring test scores from students who went through his program.

The conference also had workshops and a speaker series that included high profile individuals who gave advice to student leaders attending the conference. For example, I had the opportunity to see the whole Clinton family: Bill, Hilary, and Chelsea Clinton. Chelsea Clinton spoke about the ideas of success and progress. She said that some people tend to mistake progress for success, but in reality progress is only the first step toward realizing a larger vision. As a result, people need to continue to focus on their end goals.

Another informative portion of the conference was the panel series. One of the speakers spoke about the issues of indoor air pollution and the positive effects of cook stoves, which are more efficient than cooking on an open flame. Her topic directly related to my startup, which sells cook stoves at a low cost to areas that typically cannot afford them. As I listened to her pitch and heard her explain the idea to other students, I realized that I wanted to emulate Vanessa Chen CGI U 3her style of selling an idea. For example, during the introduction to my pitch of the product, I used a story and facts right from the very start to convince my audience of the importance of cook stoves.

Lastly, my favorite part about this event was pitching the startup that I work for and learning about startups that other brilliant college students were creating. Through this experience, I gained a better understanding of how to best position my product and create networks with individuals from around the world. Having the opportunity to be in an environment where I get to make conversations and be inspired by my peers was extremely motivating and rewarding.

I believe that the Clinton Global Initiative conference is a great opportunity for any university student. It is easy to recognize that every student attending the conference has the drive and motivation to improve the world. This conference added onto my college experience and opened my eyes to the fact that it does not always take age and experience to succeed: drive and passion are just as important. Thank you Patricelli Center for funding such a wonderful experience.

Enrichment Grant Report: Trevon Gordon ’17

Trevon Gordon ’17 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The grant contributed to his work with Saha Global, a non-profit that empowers women in rural communities to solve their village’s need for clean water and electricity by providing business opportunities. Although Trey ultimately did not raise the full amount of money he needed to travel to Ghana with the Saha delegation, he learned valuable lessons and practical skills through this experience. You can read Trevon’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.


saha logoBeing accepted as a member of the SAHA Global fellowship was one of the most significant events of my college career. Coming from a city like my hometown, Poughkeepsie, and being somewhat poor I haven’t had much professional work experience. Furthermore, I didn’t think I would ever get any opportunity to do something so significant and impactful while still in college. Getting accepted to SAHA Global changed my entire view of what I was capable of. When I was chosen to be a fellow, I remember thinking that this was my chance to take the next step in my life. Not only did the experience change how I viewed myself, but it also changed how I viewed the world. As a learned more about SAHA, their mission, and how they accomplish their goals, I realized that the world is a place filled with people who have problems that they can’t solve on their own. Furthermore, I began to see that individuals just like me can have a major impact on the world if we are dedicated enough to the change that we want to make.

Throughout my time with SAHA, I developed all of the skills necessary to become the spark of change that I wanted to make in society. By fundraising for SAHA, I developed a charisma that I never knew I had. I learned how to network and make connections with people as well as how to manage my time between my internship and my schoolwork. I also faced a great deal of obstacles to overcome during my internship. A few of these obstacles include making my travel accommodations, learning how to pitch an idea and sell myself, and managing finances. One of the most significant hurtles I faced was to raise the money necessary to go on the trip which ultimately prevented me from going to Ghana to complete my fellowship. However all of these setbacks have taught me the most important part about being an entrepreneur, which is to be versatile and to be able to recover from unexpected difficulties that are set before you.

For these reasons I believe my SAHA Global internship was one of the best experiences I could have to prepare for my own entrepreneurial pursuits. The fellowship has given me the confidence to tackle problems no one else has tried to solve and to believe that I have to ability to do anything I put my mind to. In addition I have gained a tremendous number of skills from this fellowship that will help me in life as well as my future career. Lastly, my experience in the SAHA Global fellowship has been very unique and has shaped my mindset in such a way that will prepare me for a successful future in social entrepreneurship.

Enrichment Grant Report: Rina Kremer ’15

Rina Kremer ’15 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The grant contributed to her trip to Japan, where she researched natural, self-sustaining landscapes as preparation for her thesis: a permaculture design for the Cross Street Dance Studios at Wesleyan. You can read Rina’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.


rina kremer 1In the spring semester of my junior year, I was asked by one of my colleges to write up a brief summary of what my capstone/senior essay/thesis would be about. The point was not a grade, but to get us thinking before the summer came, just in case that got us motivated to do some preliminary work. I had always been a bit confused as to what a double major in East Asian Studies (religion and philosophy concentration) and Environmental Studies (public policy) would culminate into as a senior something (project, etc.), but as you are always told, to just study what you want to, I left that up in the air for later-me to worry about.

By the time junior spring came along, I had joined/run several campus groups, worked at and around Wesleyan, gone abroad to Japan, taken a plethora of courses in and out my two majors, and, through these things, figured out what work I was most suited for. More importantly, though, and more immediate, was my thesis. As fun as “just thinking” or the “what-ifs” are, I didn’t want that to be the culmination of my four years of life here, nor what I was to devote most of my academic career to during my senior year. That is, a bound, eighty-dollar thesis sitting on a shelf for x amount of years in Special Collections isn’t how I imagined my Wesleyan life conclude. I wanted it to be something more useful, more practical.

rina kremer 2By the generous support of The College of East Asian Studies, the College of the Environment, and, of course, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, I was able to take a thesis fieldwork trip to Japan. At three in the morning on the 26th, I was airport-bound to start the two-week journey.

My thesis, consisting of three sections — written, photo, and landscape design — ultimately boils down to a “Japanese-influenced” sustainable re-landscaping project of the Cross Street Dance Studio grounds, a fusion of one of my student groups, WILD Wes, and the two majors themselves. (Why the quotations are there the written portion will hopefully explain, since it’s somewhat complicated).

Most materials that I was able to gather here in the States were dated, Western-POVs that were centered around the types of landscapes most associated with Japan, which are shrine and temple gardens, or what I was ultimately not trying to draw from. What I am interested in is the natural, self-sustaining landscape, not the demonstration of man’s dominion over nature to make it “ordered” and “beautiful” (and also requiring too much human labor), as most of these landscapes in the publications do.

rina kremer 3What I spent my time on in Japan, then, was visiting locations both inside and outside of major cities, to cover the most rural to the most population-dense (since the intersection of “man” and “nature” is an important component, especially to my site in particular). I started in Tokyo, then was off to a house tucked into the hills without an address, the Internet-less, hundred year-old house of my grandparents in the mountains, and a national park outside of Kyoto – among others. Having a first-hand account of a wide array of landscapes was important for me to create something out of it accurately — or as accurately as possible from my position — with shrine and temple visits included.

Though permaculture — or sustainable landscaping — is a constantly changing, ever-morphing existence, I have started to pull together the information and images from this trip abroad and will display it come April when my plans are complete and images printed. Though on my way out now and ready for the real world, I can’t wait to come back to visit this site down the road, and see what it has become. Again, a huge thanks to the COE, CEAS, and the PCSE for this incredible opportunity; I hope the site will be something you’ll be proud of, too.

Enrichment Grant Report: Kehan Zhou ’15 and Julian Compagni Portis ’15

Kehan Zhou and Julian Compagni Portis were selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship to attend Startup Weekend New Haven in November. You can read their story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.


kehan zhouStartup Weekend New Haven was a really great opportunity for my business partner, Julian, and I to learn about entrepreneurship from experts in many different fields. Startup weekend is a weekend long workshop that allows people to pitch their ideas, form teams, and deliver a minimal viable product at the end of the weekend. In the process, experts in various fields offer help and constructive criticism.

Startup Weekend offered an opportunity for us to interact with people who are passionate about starting a company. During the weekend, Julian and I met many interesting people from graphic designers to students at Yale business school. This exposure allowed us to receive feedbacks on our startup ideas from people with diverse backgrounds. Everyone brought in interesting perspectives that made the weekend a true meeting of the minds.

startup weekend new havenWith the help from the coaches, Julian and I worked very hard on our startup idea. In the span of 54 hours, we conducted a market survey to validate our business idea, developed a solid business plan with cash flow models, and designed a concise flat-design website. At the end of the weekend, we presented out product and it was very well-received by the judges as well as professionals in venture capitals.

As a conclusion, we are very glad that we received a grant from the Patricelli center which allowed us to attend this event. From my personal experience, I strongly recommend anyone with a passion for startups or ideas they want to develop further to participate in future Startup Weekends. Startup Weekend not only gives people an opportunity to put their entrepreneurial ideas to the test, it gives participants a crash course in the necessary skills to transform an idea into a real business.

Enrichment Grant Report: Lizzie Shackney ’17

CoCo Chair Lizzie Shackney ’17 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship to attend the Igniting Innovation Summit at Harvard last month. You can read Lizzie’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our grant programs.


On November 7, I attended the Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard. The speaker list sounded interesting, I liked the idea of getting of campus for a day, and I thought it would be a good experience to meet other people who were interested in the broad concept of “social entrepreneurship,” but most of all, I wanted to be inspired. When people ask me what I plan on majoring in or what I want to “be when I grow up,” I usually respond with an exasperated, “I have no idea.” But that’s not really true.

I have an idea of what I want to be when I grow up, but it’s mostly just that: an idea. I know that I want to have a career that has a positive impact on the world. I know that I want to be a part of a team of people that has that same desire, and I know which of my past experiences I most want to base my future off of. If anything, the summit gave me some direction. It was also a space for me to think about my goals, and for me to take the skills and advice of professionals and bring them back to the activities that I engage with here at Wesleyan.

First, we heard from Deepa Subramaniam, who is the Director of Product at charity: water. She talked about what the organization does and the intense need for clean and safe drinking water, especially in the developing world. She shared what makes it special as a charity organization (their 100% model, the proof they provide to those who donate that they’ve made a real impact), and how they have made themselves into an innovative non-profit. She also talked about her own career path, and how she left her successful career at Adobe to work at charity: water.

Then, we heard from Rachel Chong, the Founder and CEO of Catchafire, a highly successful volunteer platform that links those with skill to volunteer projects in need of help. Similar to Subramaniam, she started out with a more corporate career, working for Shell and then on Wall Street, so that she could understand how these companies and firms work from the inside. She encouraged the summit-goers to keep their passion for creating change alive throughout their careers.

I found it interesting that both of these opening keynotes had worked in corporate roles before switching over to the non-profit world; I realized that I’ve heard this story many times before. I assume that the skills and resources acquired in the for-profit world can contribute to a person’s success in the non-profit world, but I also hear them say that they hadn’t felt fulfilled in the for-profit world. I suppose that both of those factors contribute to the switch.

Next, we attended our first panel discussion. I went to a panel called “Mothers Matter: Innovations in Maternal Health in the Global Context,” where I heard from three public health-related professionals. All of their work involved using technology to make women’s health services more accessible, either through mobile apps or telemedicine. All of the panelists did most of their work in developing countries, and one did additional research in the United States. I thought a lot about the maternal health issues in the United States, such as high premature birth rates, lack of pre-natal care for poorer mothers, and inaccessibility to health options, such as abortion. The panel definitely re-sparked my interest in maternal health and the rights of pregnant women in a domestic sense; it reminded me that there is much to be done in the United States.

After lunch, we heard from the chief emerging payments officer of MasterCard, and then from my favorite keynote, Doug Rauch, the President Emeritus of Trader Joe’s. He was funny and genuine, and talked about how non-profits are still businesses. Business is about solving problems, and non-profits solve problems. He talked about motivation, and showed a picture of yogurt on the screen. “It’s not yogurt,” he said, “it’s culture.” How do you create a culture of motivation and innovation, a culture of trust? That’s the challenge.

Success, he argued, has a lot to do with failure. It’s important to create an environment in which it’s a really great thing to fail and share those failures. Innovation can’t happen without failure, and so it’s all about finding the best ways to fail, and then getting right back up again. Learn, share, and come back to your purpose: when you can celebrate and understand these principles, you can also embrace innovation.

Overall, I thought that the day went very well. The food was great, the speakers were even better, and I left feeling motivated and focused. I had asked myself questions about where I wanted to go and how I could improve my own leadership within my activities and classes on campus. I’m grateful to the Patricelli Center for funding this experience, and would recommend that more students take the time to get off of campus, if at the very least to get refocused.