On Tuesday, March 3, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship presented a Structure Lab run by Joy Anderson ’89, a former high school teacher who went on to become an entrepreneur in social change.
Anderson founded and is currently the president of the Criterion Institute, which brings together stakeholders in navigating economic structures to create good in the world. The three-hour program was a condensed version of a six-hour lab that the Criterion Institute holds at various law firms for anyone interested in how profits and non-profits work.
The University’s connection with Anderson is not just through her status as an alumna; she teaches a seminar-style class every year called “Money and Social Change” in which students learn about various ways that capital can be used to enact change and work together to donate a $10,000 grant to various non-profits in Middletown.
“‘Money and Social Change’ was the single most influential class in my four years at Wesleyan,” said Bobby Cunningham ’15. “[Anderson] is very comfortable navigating the complex, and she really gets how structural inequities, power, and capital move through systems in the world of social change. Structure Lab was a fun vignette of what it’s all about.”
Anderson has launched six companies since the beginning of her entrepreneurial career, and she currently sits on the board of the only Fortune 500 that is a non-profit. She used her extensive experience not only to share advice about starting a business but also to provide small anecdotes throughout the lab about mistakes she has made or seen colleagues make, precarious conversations she has had with business partners, and crises that she learned how to handle and prevent in the future.
The lab was structured according to a set of cards, which were provided by the Patricelli Center and distributed to each attendee at the beginning of the session. The cards, organized into packets, represented subcategories of each segment that Anderson discussed. The categories themselves were also grouped into three stages of starting a business: Assessment, Formation, and Loops.
Although each step contained many tiers of categorization, Assessment was the most relevant to Anderson’s audience of students. This stage focused on evaluating entrepreneurs’ own desires, goals, and needs before beginning to take action, a stage common for most college students aspiring to start a business.
Each group of cards could be rearranged and written on so that aspiring entrepreneurs could manipulate them to figure out the characteristics of their future business. Anderson explained that there are very few universal rules, and the cards were interactive to indicate that many decisions depend solely on the entrepreneur’s own preferences.
The Formation segment focused mainly on the various business models that are available for entrepreneurs. Anderson discussed the advantages and drawbacks of for-profits compared to non-profits, as well as hybrids of the two designs. While neither model is proven to be better, she did stress that a non-profit can actually be more lucrative than a for-profit.
Finally, during the Loops stage, which was the shortest segment of the night, Anderson discussed growth and how to maintain all the aspects that had been established through the previous stages of starting a business.
Since the overarching theme of the lab is that legal structures manage relationships, Anderson stressed the importance of relationships with people, reminding attendees that while the idea of a company is abstract, it involves individuals with whom founders must form amicable relationships.
Anderson communicated how to strike a balance between the many seemingly conflicting aspects of the business world. She shared various ways in which she attempts to find this balance, and how difficult it can be to maintain.
“I care about social change, not money or growth,” Anderson said. “This can sometimes be a fault because my employees don’t always trust me. If I’m not concerned about making money for myself, that means I’m not necessarily going to make money for them.”
Not all attendees of the event were set exclusively on starting a business. Some members had a vague plan in mind for the future, while some were even just curious about how legal structures work. A few students, however, were much further along their path to entrepreneurship.
“I’m working on a bunch of ventures and looking to break through the wall of sustainability,” said Joaquim Benares ’15. “I want to figure out how best to monetize and also master skill management, knowing if the venture is stable enough to continue.”
This event was Criterion’s last Structure Lab, as they are transitioning the program into a finance lab for both entrepreneurs and investors. Anderson mentioned that the institute is currently seeking interns to help organize this new program.
“The PCSE relies heavily on Wesleyan alumni to offer most of our workshops, mentoring, and other programs,” said Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Makaela Kingsley ’98. “We’re grateful to [Anderson] and the others who volunteer their time and expertise to support students interested in social impact work.”