By Steve Winter
Every year at SXSW, the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership leaves its imprint on Austin by playing host to the WeDC House, a venue for special events, parties and showcase activities while also serving as a place where people can relax, unwind and recharge from the intensity and excitement of the five-day interactive festival.
One major element of the WeDC House programing is the DC Startup Showcase, which connects new and emerging companies with potential investors, analysts and Washington, D.C., decision makers in a creative and welcoming forum that clearly demonstrates the active, vibrant and constantly-evolving nature of entrepreneurship in the Nation’s Capital. More than 20 different featured companies attend events at the WeDC House, and right in the middle of all that energy sits the Halcyon Incubator – a fellowship program housed in an 18th Century Georgetown mansion, designed to equip early-stage social entrepreneurs with all the tools they need to get their promising ventures off the ground. Halcyon Incubator demonstrated, first hand, the tangible benefits that their program offers to budding start ups, with five ventures that have either graduated or will soon graduate from the program featured at SXSW.
“Our mission is to support social entrepreneurs who are building businesses that are sustainable financially while creating a positive impact in their local and global communities,” said Halcyon Incubator Program Coordinator Mike Malloy. “Over the past three years, we’ve had more than 45 companies come through the program across all different industries; everything from taking ugly fruits and vegetables and cold pressing them into delicious Misfit Juice to growing coral 50 times faster and planting it back into the ocean to rebuild reefs.”
According to Malloy, the Incubator selects eight companies each year from among a candidate pool that can number well into the hundreds. After selecting the winners, the founders actually relocate to Washington, D.C., to live and work in the magnificent Halcyon House at 34th and Prospect Streets, where they get the rare opportunity to advance their program from concept to fruition.
“The venture can be anything from an idea to an ‘MVP’ – a minimally viable product,” Malloy said. “We’re really looking for that early stage venture, and we provide resources to help them develop while they’re here at Halcyon.” In addition to housing the founders for five months, the Incubator also provides a $10,000 stipend. “This allows our fellows to have money for food and clothes,” Malloy said. “Once you have your basic needs covered you can focus higher up the pyramid … to build a venture that’s going to have a positive impact the world.”
According to one recent graduate, the program truly works.
“The Halcyon Incubator was a wonderful experience for a company like ours,” said Carey Anne Nadeau, founder and CEO of Open Data Nation, a woman-owned D.C. business that takes municipal data and public health records and predicts where the next great risk to public health and safety are likely to occur. Having recently graduated from the Incubator program, Data Nation opened their own offices and added their first male employee to expand their staff to six. “Halcyon deserves a great deal of credit for helping us launch our company,” Nadeau said. “To be surrounded by the culture of DC entrepreneurs – women owned businesses, small businesses and those that are coming into their seed stage like we are – was just an incredible experience. And hey, we also got to live a beautiful mansion.”
Applications for Halcyon’s next fellowship program are now open through May 4, with the accepted startups announced later this year; but, there’s more to Halcyon than just the Incubator program.
Developed by founders Sachiko Kuno and Kate Goodall through the success and evolution of the S&R Foundation, Halcyon spun off into its own, independent non-profit just last month. In addition to the Incubator, the organization also operates Halcyon Arts Lab, Halcyon Stage and Halcyon Dialogue, programs that all foster and catalyze creativity in their respective fields.
Regardless of whether the programs focus on entrepreneurship or the arts, one thing is clear: Halcyon has formed a powerful hub where socially engaged creatives can collaborate and experiment in a safe and thought provoking environment.
By Steve Winter, Brotman|Winter|Fried, a Sage Communications Company and Capitol Communicator sponsor