Seven student concepts have been announced as finalists for the University’s Patricelli Seed Grant. The grant, which consists of $5,000 from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, is designed to fund the early growth of a University-related social enterprise. The three winners will be announced on Friday, Feb. 28.
The seven finalists are Filmmakers to Changemakers, Joomah, the Middletown Food Initiative, Wishing Well, the Germinal Fund, Summer of Solutions Hartford, and Boundless Updated Knowledge Online. Each group must prepare a second application to continue in the selection process.
Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Makaela Kingsley ’98 described the purpose of the grant.
“The seed grant is literally meant to seed an idea,” Kingsley said. “It’s not necessarily going to be enough money for a full launch of a new venture. It’s the first-stage funding for an idea that’s intending to tackle some problem in the world, in an innovative way, a way that nobody else has tried, or if somebody else has tried it, they haven’t done it right.”
Kingsley discussed how the Patricelli Center Seed Grant is different from other social entrepreneurship grants that students can apply for.
“Many seed grants out there in the world are wonderful, general grants for social impact,” Kingsley said. “This one is really unique because it’s through the Patricelli Center. We care very much about how it will plug back into the Wesleyan community. So will it create internships or jobs for Wesleyan students or Wesleyan alumni? Will it bring some set of academic research or data or enrich the life here on campus in some way for those students who are still here?”
Jennifer Roach ’14 described her proposal, Summer of Solutions Hartford, as the expansion of an urban agriculture internship program into the summer to give students the ability to continue their work past the end of the school year.
“Starting this year, we’re…running an intern program,” Roach said. “So most of our gardens are at schools. In the past we’ve gone and built the gardens in the schools and we’ve built in the summer gap for them and taken care of it over the summer. But we’ve identified what a really powerful change we can make is by going from April through October, so that we can not only work with kids who are in summer school over our nine-week program, but with most student bodies.”
The grant application topics span a wide range of goals and purposes. Joaquin Jose Vicente Benares ’15 is hoping to receive the grant for his project, Boundless Updated Knowledge Online.
“We’ve programmed a cheap computer, Raspberry Pi, to save HTML content that we’ve lifted from educational websites and broadcast that content over a WiFi signal,” Benares wrote in an email to The Argus. “You connect to the server just as you would to any WiFi signal. You use your browser to access the content too, so it has the same look and feel as using the Internet but you can only access the sites that we’ve saved. We like to call it ‘the internet in a box’. We’re deploying the server to schools in the Philippines who can’t afford Internet access to level the educational playing field.”
Max Winter ’16, who is applying for the Seed Grant for the Germinal Fund, emphasized the role the Patricelli Center has played in the growth of the Fund.
“The Patricelli Center has been a pivotal resource since our founding,” Winter wrote in an email to The Argus. “It has connected us with experienced alumni and advisors in the industry, thus providing us with training on best practices and social enterprise work.”
The Patricelli Center focuses not only on funding grants, but also on expanding social entrepreneurship across campus.
“They brought back some Wesleyan alumni who had run successful startups to do a Q&A and work-shopping sessions so that people who had projects that were five years old, or who were starting things could come in and say, this is what I’m trying to do and work out a whole system and that was really cool,” Roach said. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Roach described the application process.
“Everyone gives presentations…to practice giving a pitch and there’s a panel of people who have seen the applications and will also get additional information from the presentations,” Roach said.
This selection process is different from previous years, which used to not include a speech component in the application process.
“This year we decided to conduct it as a two-stage process,” Kingsley said. “Round one was the same as last year essentially. In stage one the judges also gave extensive feedback to each applicant, whether or not they’re advancing to the finals and so that was sort of an added value to the process…. We decided to do this one as a two-stage process, and those who did advance now have a chance to turn in a second packet of materials that’s more extensive and to do a public presentation that’s a week from Friday, as well as private interviews with the judges so judges have the chance to ask questions that didn’t get attention in the other materials.”
President Michael Roth elaborated on the judging process.
“They get volunteer judges and they let them do their thing,” Roth said. “…They have a good exchange with the folks who…need funding. [The finalists] want to get their things off the ground, and I think the University faculty and staff should stay away [from the judging], because it’s money and…if it’s somebody from outside [the University] who doesn’t know [the students involved], then that seems better.”
Kingsley noted that the Patricelli Center will continue aiding students who do not receive the grant.
“I also feel confident that students who do not ultimately receive grants have such promise,” she said. “That they’ll find funding other places and the Patricelli Center is here to help, the alumni mentors here through the Patricelli Center are here to help, and so part of the design of this grant process is to push these students to develop materials that they then could adapt or repurpose to apply for moneys outside the Patricelli Center.”
Kingsley feels that all of the proposals have potential and reiterated that if a proposal does not receive a grant, it does not mean anything negative.
“I really do think the process of preparing for this second round has gotten several of them so much more organized than they were before,” Kingsley said. “[It] completely puts them at a different level in terms of applying for other moneys. So I met with several of them to talk about if you don’t get the seed grant, or even if you do get the seed grant and you need other funding, how might you do that.”
All candidates agreed that the level of competition between all of the groups was high.
“There is definitely tough competition with lots of great ideas, but we think we are right up there with the best of them,” Winter wrote. “Right now we are solely focusing on our project and preparing for the next stage of the grant process.”
Kingsley stressed how difficult the decision process will be.
“I am just dreading [the final decision process] because each and every finalist deserves this grant,” Kingsley said. “I was just telling one of the finalists this morning that I don’t know how we’re going to make these decisions. There’s no doubt in my mind that each of these ventures is worthy of a grant, so I’m really excited to hear from all the finalists.”
Winter spoke to the point that even if not all the groups can receive the grant, at least the groups that will are going to make a notable impact.
“While we don’t know what exactly will decide the winner, we know that whoever wins the grant will make great use of the funds,” Winter wrote.