Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship 2019/2020 Year in Review


Fourteen weeks ago, the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Connecticut. Residents were asked to shelter-in-place, and Wesleyan announced a switch to a distance learning format for the remainder of spring semester.

Amidst the unprecedented fear and uncertainty, communities came together, combining traditional tools of community organizing and new modes of social innovation to respond with a swiftness that took my breath away. Mutual Aid Networks utilized Google Sheets and Slack channels to connect people with needs to people who could help. High-schoolers with access to 3D printers made PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare workers. Luddites everywhere learned how to make video calls so they could stay close with loved ones.

Ten weeks into the coronavirus odyssey, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police prompted a massive uprising of racial justice activism across the country. Mask-wearing, socially-distancing people everywhere took to the streets to show their support for Black Lives Matter and police abolition or reform. As we have seen recently with Parkland and the Climate Strike, young people took leadership roles, inspiring their elders to have hope that change can come.  

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter are exposing the massive race, wealth, and health disparities that are rampant and have always existed in our society. These problems are not new, but their severity and urgency is amplified at this moment.

the many hats of changemaking

Through their work with the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, students explore mechanisms for studying problems and creating impact. They cultivate their own capacity as entrepreneurs, community organizers, board members, philanthropists, and other changemaker roles.

History is unfolding in real time all around us, and we are asking ourselves what our roles in that history will be. We look to the mindsets and tools of social entrepreneurship to guide us. Should we address root causes or symptoms of these social ills? How can systems thinking and power mapping help us understand problems and imagine a new, better, and more stable equilibrium? Which stakeholders in the public and private sectors are part of our networks, and how can we leverage those relationships in our work? What are our theories of change, what specific outcomes are we working towards, and how will we measure progress? Can we get proximate and co-create sustainable solutions with (not for) the communities we seek to support?  

Now more than ever, institutions like Wesleyan have a responsibility to empower our students to engage with the world outside academia, to test their hypotheses about the ways society works (and doesn’t work) through experiential learning, and to reflect on their own positionality and potential to create impact.

Speaking at last week’s all-virtual Deshpande Symposium, my colleague Bara Watts from Oberlin College asked “How can we introduce students to their own agency?” That is exactly what we seek to do at the Patricelli Center.


In his inaugural address on September 21, 1831, Wesleyan’s first President Willbur Fisk said “Education should be directed with reference to two objects—the good of the individual, and the good of the world.” Today, the University’s mission is to provide “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” These foundations inform and inspire the work of the Patricelli Center, which teaches the theory and practice of social change and entrepreneurship to Wesleyan undergraduates from all classes and majors.

Now entering our tenth year, the Patricelli Center is a well-established fixture not just at Wesleyan, but also among our peer institutions. Based on student demand and pedagogical potential, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are offering social entrepreneurship programming. The Patricelli Center provides a successful model that combines academic and co-curricular programs, an array of project-based learning opportunities, and the rigor that characterizes a Wesleyan education. 

Through their work with the Patricelli Center, our students develop:

  • Problem-solving mindsets and skillsets
  • Creative confidence and competence
  • Comfort with ambiguity

To teach and instill these traits, in 2019/2020 the Patricelli Center offered a variety of programs with varying levels of breadth and depth:

  • a 1-semester Startup Incubator course (fall and spring)
  • a 6-week 0.25-credit intro course (fall and spring)
  • a new 0.5-credit System Mapping course (spring only)
  • a nonprofit board residency (offered through the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships)
  • five types of grants
  • mentorship and coaching by faculty, staff, alumni, community partners, and an entrepreneur-in-residence
  • collaborative workspace on campus and free access to a Middletown co-working facility

These programs are made possible by our generous donors, including Propel Capital, Newman’s Own Foundation, the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation, the Norman Ernst Priebatsch Endowed Fund for Entrepreneurship, and CTNext.


Alphina Kamara ’22 joined the PCSE team as a student intern.

Wesleyan was once again ranked #1 on The Princeton Review’s “Best Schools for Making an Impact” list

In the nine years since it was founded, the Center has awarded a total of $393,500 in grants to 184 students or student-led projects. This year, we awarded $23,500 to 19 grantees:

  • three $5,000 seed grants (which fund the launch or early stage growth of a project or venture)
  • two $5,000 internship grants (which fund an unpaid summer experience in the social sector)
  • one $8,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant (which funds a student-led summer project designed to promote peace or address root causes of conflict)
  • eight conference grants of varying amounts (which provide financial assistance to students who wish to attend off-campus conferences or other events related to their social entrepreneurship work or career planning)
  • five $500 Clinton Global Initiative University grants (to students whose “commitments to action” were selected by CGI U)
Fall 2019 Startup Incubator class

Students enrolled in the Fall 2019 Startup Incubator course (CSPL239) pitched their ventures at an event hosted by reSET and the MEWS+ in December. (Photo by Dennis Hohne)

Although the Patricelli Center Fellowship was on hiatus in 2019/2020, the Center continued to nurture and educate innovative students through its other programs. Thanks to support from Newman’s Own Foundation, the College for the Environment, Academic Affairs, and CTNext, we were able to offer a Startup Incubator course during both fall and spring. Taught by Visiting Instructor and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld ’10 with partnership from local partners reSET and the MEWS+, this hands-on learning opportunity helped 34 students develop entrepreneurial mindsets and turn ideas into reality. This year’s Startup Incubator projects included:

  • S.P.A.R.K. Fitness, which enhances fitness for low income and marginalized communities by providing child care, private rooms, affordable memberships, and much more. S.P.A.R.K. Fitness aims to decrease rates of obesity and other health problems amongst these communities. Founder: Itzel Valdez ’23
  • The Screen Reseen, a workshop series that creates a dialogue around the ever-increasing prevalence of screens in our lives, seeking to leverage the positive sides of screen time and mitigate the negative sides. Founder: Beckett Azevedo ’21
  • GAME:POINT, a student-run group focused on making Wesleyan Athletics more environmentally conscious and sustainable. Founders: Maddie Clark ’22 and Daniel Banks ‘22
  • SolarDrag Tech, which innovates the field of oyster farming through environmentally-friendly, fully-automated harvesting equipment. Founders: Mathew Gill ‘23, Brinton Thomas ‘23, and Samuel Jean ‘23
  • Vida Doce, a dessert food truck that combines Brazilian and Mexican culture to provide delicious sweets. Founder: Jennifer Ledezma ’21

The Patricelli Center partnered with UConn to host two entrepreneurship bootcamps for faculty and professionals from across the state interested in commercializing their research. 

Nearly 100 alumni, students, faculty, staff, and local professionals volunteered as speakers, mentors, pitch coaches, grant judges, and advisory board members. 

Patricelli Center director Makaela Kingsley served on the Advisory Committee for CTNext’s Higher Education Initiative, as a Mentor and guest speaker for the MEWS+ (Middletown Entrepreneurship Workspace Plus), and as a guest speaker for Connecticut College’s Fast Forward program.

Patricelli Center students received a variety of external recognition, including:

  • Ona Hauert ’20 (ONA) and Andrew Hirsch ’20 (Olive Branch Pictures) competed in the semi-annual CT Business Plan Competition hosted by The Entrepreneurship Foundation at Gateway Community College in New Haven. They took home prizes totaling $4000.
  • Jewett Center Nonprofit Board Resident, Patricelli Center Fellow, and founder of Be The Change Venture (BCV) Anthony Price ‘20 was selected to represent Wesleyan as the 2019 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow. BCV was also chosen as a 2019 Changemaker Challenge Winner by T-Mobile and Ashoka.
  • Patricelli Center Fellows Inayah Bashir ’20 and Luka Lezhanskyy ’20 each received a Watson Fellowship. Bashir, a College of Social Studies major with a Writing Certificate, plans to explore the histories, stories, and teachings of African spirituality through her project titled “African Spirituality: Obscured Foundations of the Diaspora.” Lezhanskyy, an English major, will spend his Watson year studying how NGOs and communities combat child trafficking in hot spots around the world through his project “The Global Campaign Against Child Trafficking.” 
  • Five students were selected for Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2020: Shantelle Sosa ’20, Anthony Price ’20, Sydney Ochieng ’22, Livia Cox ’22, and Nick Wells ’20. Their “commitments to action” address the opioid epidemic in Connecticut, education in sub-Saharan Africa, and the opportunity gap for marginalized populations in the US.
  • Akansha Singh ’23 and Khushi Jain ’23 competed in the Map the System Global Finals hosted by the Skoll Center at Oxford University. Their topic, “Education for the Girl Child in Rural India,” explored the root causes of gender inequality in their home country and identified promising gaps and levers of change. Unlike most social impact competitions which reward students for creating new projects or ventures, Map The System challenges participants to research social or environmental problems and study the current solutions landscape, including the power dynamics of stakeholders.

The PCSE hosted three meetups for alumni entrepreneurs and changemakers, featuring conversations between Lexy Funk ’91 and Kwaku Akoi ’15 and Tricia Homer ’03 and AJ Wilson ’18.


Ahmed Badr

Ahmed Badr ’20 is the founder of Narratio, which activates, supports, and highlights the creative expression of displaced young people through publishing, fellowships, workshops, and partnerships. Narratio is one of three 2020 PCSE Seed Grant winners.

Three $5,000 Seed Grants were awarded to fund the launch or early-stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected project, program, or venture. For the seventh consecutive year, this grant was administered in a competition format, and winners were selected from a strong pool of finalists who submitted written business plans and pitched live to an audience of judges and guests. Applicants were assessed on their project design, leadership qualities, and potential for social impact. The 2020 Seed Grant recipients are:

  • Mental Wealth Consulting (Inayah Bashir ’20) – Mental Wealth Consulting expands conversations about mental wellness and mindfulness by offering three services that are adapted to community-specific needs: (a) Educating the Leaders (professional development), (b) Restorative Workshops (community programming), and (c) Curricular Resource Guides (curriculum for activities and classes). Our programming fosters resilience, wellness, and mental wealth.
  • Narratio (Ahmed Badr ‘20) – Narratio activates, supports, and highlights the creative expression of displaced young people through publishing, fellowships, workshops, and partnerships.
  • Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative (Livia Cox ’22 and Nick Wells ’20) – The rate of death due to opioid overdose in Connecticut is twice the national average (NIH, 2019). We provide resources and education to combat opioid overdose in high-risk communities across Connecticut. We form partnerships with local community leaders and offer socio-culturally attuned training, naloxone dissemination, and other scientifically proven grassroots prevention and rehabilitation measures.
Anthony Price '20

Anthony Price ’20 was selected for a 2020 Davis Projects for Peace grant to fund his organization, Be The Change Venture, which prepares young people from marginalized backgrounds for the professional workforce of tomorrow.

Anthony Price ’20 was selected by a committee of Wesleyan faculty, staff, and students to receive a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace Grant to support leadership development programs in Ohio and Nebraska. Although the Davis Projects for Peace program was ultimately suspended for 2020 due to COVID-19, the Patricelli Center was able to offer Anthony an alternative grant to continue his work.

Two students received summer grants from the Patricelli Center to pursue internships or entrepreneurial projects:

  • Ariele Rosker ’21 will intern at The City Bar Justice Center in New York, which is committed to social justice and legal advocacy on behalf of low-income and otherwise marginalized communities. With mentorship from CBJC attorneys in the Legal clinic for the homeless, she will conduct client intake, assist in drafting legal documents, and complete other tasks necessary to running an efficient, client-centered legal services office.
  • Premchai Bunsermvicha ’20 will use his summer grant to organize a Social Enterprise hackathon in his home country of Thailand. Similar to a business hackathon, each team will be asked to select an environmental problem that they want to tackle under the theme “Living Sustainably in Bangkok.” The teams will then be challenged to create a sustainable solution for their selected problem, develop a presentable prototype, and pitch their idea to the judges within 48 hours. The competition will provide expert-led workshops for interested teams to enhance the quality of their social enterprise.
The Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative

The Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative, led by Livia Cox ’22 and Nick Wells ’20, is committed to reducing the number of deaths by opioid overdose through medical education and the free dissemination of lifesaving resources. This endeavor is founded upon three pillars: prevent, provide, protect.

Eight students received support from the PCSE Conference Grant fund. With coaching from the Center on how to leverage these experiences to network and learn, these students attended off-campus conferences presented by Grace Hopper (Caroline Bhupathi ’20), Urban Health Symposium Reimagining Health in Cities (Saakshi Kakar ’20), AD CLUB CT (Abhishek Fakiraswamimath ’20), Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood (Janna Yousef ’20), Afrotech (King Ali Emeka ’20), SOCAP (Andrew Hirsch ’20), North American Drama Therapy Association 40th Annual Conference (Gabriel Brosius ’20), and the Future of Sustainable Investing Convention (Scott McMahon ’22).

Of the 14 projects that received support from the Jewett Center Innovation Fund, 8 are led or co-led by students involved with the PCSE. 


In 2019/2020, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship offered four courses through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life:

  • CSPL239 Startup Incubator: The Art and Science of Launching Your Idea (1.0 credit, fall and spring)
  • CSPL257/AFAM257/ENVS208 System Mapping for Social and Environmental Change (0.5 credit, 3rd quarter)
  • CSPL262 Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship (0.25 credit, 2nd and 4th quarter)
  • CSPL280 + CSPL281 Nonprofit Boards: Theory and Practice (0.5 credits per semester, fall and spring)


It is important to note that the Patricelli Center works closely with numerous on- and off-campus partners to cultivate the social entrepreneurship ecosystem at Wesleyan. These partners include:

  • The Patricelli Center, Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP), Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life (CSPL), Service-Learning, and Civic Engagement Certificate collaborate as a hub of civic engagement theory, research, experience, and practice. We are all housed together in Allbritton Hall in the heart of campus.
  • Academic programs such as IDEAS, Education Studies, and QAC are natural feeders for the Patricelli Center.
  • The Gordon Career Center’s job and internship databases, resume service, and workshops complement PCSE programs.
  • Kai Entrepreneurship Wesleyan and other impact-driven and entrepreneurial groups on campus offer leadership opportunities for students.
  • Digital Wes is the alumni network for startups, tech, and entrepreneurship
  • The PCSE Advisory Board and alumni volunteers provide invaluable advice and support for the Center. Special thanks go out to the alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends who served as presenters, mentors, advisory board members, and grant judges in 2019/2020.
    Melinda Weekes-Laidlow

    Melinda Weekes-Laidlow ’89 presented to the students in CSPL262 Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, after Wesleyan switched to distance learning in March. Melinda is a social change architect, master facilitator, ordained minister, and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder/CEO of Beautiful Ventures, a creative social enterprise that influences popular culture, disrupts anti-blackness and elevates perceptions of Black humanity.

Key partners across Connecticut inform and support the work of the Patricelli Center including the Tsai CITY at Yale, reSET, The Entrepreneurship Foundation, and the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges. 

Social entrepreneurship colleagues from other higher education institutions come together through forums like AshokaU Exchange and the Social Impact Educators listserve to share ideas and resources.

More than 100 students and colleagues have 24/7 ID-card access to the PCSE Board Room. This space is a hub of social innovation on campus, used for idea and venture incubation, service-learning course TA sessions, peer advising, and more.

2020/2021 PREVIEW

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship teaches problem-solving mindsets and skillsets, creative confidence and competence, and the ability to navigate ambiguity. As our students face a once-in-a-century pandemic and a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement simultaneously, these competencies are more important than ever.

This coming academic year will be characterized by flexibility and compassion. The Patricelli Center will continue to offer classes, grants, advising, and shared work space for students as we have in the past, but we will continuously adjust each offering based on the current societal conditions and on student needs.

After a one-year hiatus, we will once again offer the Patricelli Center Fellowship (CSPL264) in 2020/2021. Rather than a full-year/two-semester program, we will experiment with a rigorous one-semester version offered in both fall and spring, so we can accommodate twice as many students.

Other 2020/2021 classes include the Startup Incubator class (CSPL239, fall and spring), the Nonprofit Board Residency (CSPL 280 + CSPL281, fall and spring), and the System Mapping class (CSPL257/AFAM257/ENVS208, spring only).

Of course we will continue to engage alumni and community partners in all of our programs and seek increasing opportunities for collaboration with other Wesleyan departments. We will continue to infuse “fearless experimentation” — opportunities for students to test their hypotheses about social change in lean, intentional, and ethical ways — into all of our programs. This approach will enhance student learning, apply knowledge from the classroom in real-world settings, normalize failure and growth mindset, and – in the best cases – create lasting social impact.