The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship provides students and alumni with workshops and training, specialized counseling, networking services, grants and incubator workspace on the Wesleyan University campus. The Center aims to support students and alumni interested in creating and sustaining programs, businesses and organizations that advance the public good.
In May 2011, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship was established through a gift from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation. The Center receives ongoing support from Propel Capital, Newman’s Own Foundation and a number of Wesleyan alumni and parents.
“Bob Patricelli is both a business leader and a thoughtful philanthropist,” noted Makaela Kingsley, Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “He and Margaret were the Center’s earliest benefactors and they continue to support its growth.”
Bob Patricelli, Chairman and CEO of Women’s Health USA, has a long association with Wesleyan University. He and many members of his family graduated from the University and he served on the Board of Trustees for 15 years.
“At Wesleyan, there are many socially motivated students who have decided that they want to make the world a better place,” Patricelli said. “This has been true for a long time, it’s not a recent phenomenon. What is new is the interesting blending of social objectives and business structures. I have been exposed to that concept through my board membership on Newman’s Own, which is a classic example of a company earning profits with commercial products and giving it all to charity,” he emphasized.
“All of those pieces came together in this idea developed with leadership at Wesleyan that we should try to create a center that would channel these already existing drives on the part of students into a structure that could provide them with training and networking support, link them with the large alumni body that is also into such ventures, help them get summer internships for learning experiences, and actually try to assist them before and after they graduate in launching new social enterprises,” Patricelli explained.
“There are other such centers in universities around the country,” he added. “This isn’t original with us at Wesleyan, but we think it is very much in the DNA at Wesleyan.”
BUSINESS ENTREPRENEURSHIP WITH A SOCIAL IMPACT FOCUS
Patricelli noted that the Center is a subset of business entrepreneurship. “It’s business entrepreneurship with a desire for social impact, which is a significant element of startup activity these days. This is an example of actually trying to teach kids how to do it.”
“The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship was a natural fit for the university,” Kingsley agreed. “Wesleyan has always attracted students, faculty and collaborators who are interested in social impact and entrepreneurship. We’re not a business and engineering school per se, but we tend to graduate alumni who are trailblazers and innovators of various kinds.”
Like Patricelli, Kingsley is also a product of Wesleyan University. She graduated with her Bachelors in 1998, left Connecticut to work at the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts for a few years, and then returned in 2000 to work at the University, primarily with alumni, for 12 years before becoming involved with the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship two years ago. “I didn’t come to the Center with a business background, but my relationships with the extended Wesleyan and Middletown communities have been key to my work here,” she said.
Kingsley claims that her work with Wesleyan University alumni was definitely an asset. “In this space of entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship, it’s critical to be able to build relationships, make connections, leverage the networks you’re part of and find resources more quickly because of who you know.”
ENTREPRENEURIAL RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS
As director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Kingsley’s role is primarily running the programs that benefit the students. The Center’s programs fit into three major areas: workshops and training, grants and advising, mentoring and networking.
“I leverage my alumni connections in all pieces of what I do,” Kingsley explained. “For instance, alumni donate their time and talents to come back to campus to offer workshops. Wesleyan graduates judge our grant competitions. Of course, in the advising piece, we use a lot of alumni as well as community partners, Wesleyan parents and friends of the University as mentors or advisors to provide counseling to undergraduates.”
While its priority is for undergraduates, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship is available to anyone in the entire school. “We certainly have alumni who take advantage of some of our programs, although they are not currently eligible for our grants,” Kingsley noted.
“We’ve had faculty and staff who have tapped in a little bit. I’ve even had people from outside the Wesleyan community plug in for one thing or another. But our priority is to support students.”
Whether it’s through mentorship, workshops or training, many Wesleyan University students are involved with the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship in one way or another.
“We are engaging about 10% of the Wesleyan student body, which is about 250 to 300 students,” Kingsley confirmed. “Some of those people may attend one workshop or one training if there’s a topic that’s especially interesting to them. Others may receive multiple grants from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship or come in for advising once a week.”
In addition, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship offers enrichment grants to students seeking to attend conferences or similar enrichment experiences. For example, in 2014 and 2015, a dozen students received funding to participate in Startup Weekends in Hartford and New Haven.
“Some went with their own ideas to pitch; others listened to pitches and joined a team that inspired them,” Kingsley explained. “Kehan Zhou and Julian Compagni-Portis used their time at Startup Weekend New Haven to incubate their idea for TechBucks, an upcycling company that reduces electronics waste among college students.”
Another student, Alex Garcia went to Startup Weekend Hartford with an idea for a peer-to-peer language learning app and “he ultimately merged with a team working on a peer-to-peer study app,” says Kingsley.
“These weekends provided a significant learning experience for Wesleyan students, and we are excited to be hosting Startup Weekend here at Wesleyan this fall.”
DEFINING SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
The term “social entrepreneurship” doesn’t necessarily have one widely accepted definition, and Wesleyan University has its own way of defining it.
“Wesleyan takes a very broad definition of ‘social entrepreneurship.’ You certainly don’t have to be an entrepreneur launching a new venture, for instance,” said Kingsley.
“We firmly believe that not all students will be best serving the greater good by starting something new. Many of them should be learning skills and best practices so they can support existing organizations as interns, employees, volunteers or partners.
“We work with some students to figure out how we can do a pilot program that may or may not ever become a new venture. They still consider themselves entrepreneurs because they’re innovating strategies, just not full-out programs,” Kingsley continued. “We really want to ensure that our work doesn’t just favor students who are going to launch a venture.”
WHAT MAKES THE PATRICELLI CENTER FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP DIFFERENT?
The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship differentiates itself in other ways, too. Kingsley noted that some similar centers at other colleges and universities use a fellowship model that identifies the most promising students on their campuses and helps incubate those particular students, or those students’ ideas.
“At Wesleyan—at least so far—we’ve been very deliberate about not limiting our services to just a group of fellows or apprentices. Instead, we open all of our programming to all students at all times.”
STUDENT INSPIRATION AND INNOVATION
Kingsley is both committed to and inspired by Wesleyan University’s students. “They are incredibly passionate about tackling social issues. They’re super smart. They may need to learn some of the nuts and bolts of how to operate in a business or professional environment, but they look at the world through a critical lens and they have both the hearts and the heads to try to fix problems. I admire them and I love working with them. They’re great fun.”
ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND SOCIAL IMPACT IN CONNECTICUT
Kingsley said it’s hard to choose the best thing about being a part of Connecticut’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“There’s a really vibrant ecosystem through organizations like reSET and the MetroHartford Alliance. The University of Connecticut, Yale University and other academic institutions have key players as well. I have found that it was easy to make connections and people are eager to be supportive and develop partnerships. We are lucky to be a part of this community."