In a 18th century mansion, once believed haunted, a new life has begun in the 21st century: A local nonprofit of innovative social enterprise and entrepreneurs with global impact that is getting wide attention — with more programs and places to come.
Washington, D.C., named the nation’s number-one city for social enterprise? Ahead of San Francisco, Austin and Boston?
That likely-to-rankle ranking appears in a study by Halcyon Incubator and Capital One, “From the Ground Up: Defining Social Enterprise Ecosystems in the U.S.” The data are from a 2015 survey of 388 social entrepreneurs nationwide. With regard to the “four pillars of a social enterprise ecosystem” — funding, quality of life, human capital and regulation/receptivity — D.C.’s composite score was 71.7 out of a possible 100.
San Francisco came in at 65.2, Austin at 63.6 and Boston at 61.6.
What gives Washington its edge in the social-enterprise arena? “This type of expertise we have in D.C. that we really don’t have anywhere else in the world,” says Kate Goodall, COO of the Georgetown-based S&R Foundation, which launched the Halcyon Incubator fellowship program in 2014.
The most convincing evidence in the case for D.C. may be S&R’s own track record: 32 ventures nurtured in two short years. On the way are another eight, focusing on coral reef restoration; digital platforms for rural artists, immigrant chefs and East African farmers; the application of data-science techniques to public agency operations and college debt reduction; personalized crowdfunding for K-12 students; and the use of messaging apps to send free stories to families without books.
Collectively, the 11 new Halcyon fellows — eight men and three women — have MBAs from Georgetown, Stanford and IE Business School in Madrid and degrees from Yale in computer science and environmental studies, in city planning from M.I.T. and in urban education from Johns Hopkins, among others. Their resumes include stints at 3M, HSBC, Yelp, the Brookings Institution and Head Start and in the U.S. Army, plus overseas experience in Belize, Cameroon, India, Mauritius and Peru.
“We get to disrupt who gets to be an entrepreneur,” says Goodall, a Cleveland Park mother of two who was born in England, moved to Alexandria (the one in Virginia) when she was 14 and studied literature and marine archaeology in North Carolina.
A public introduction of the new fellows will take place at Halcyon House, 3400 Prospect St. NW, S&R’s headquarters, on Sept. 8. Space is limited, but the public is welcome.
Purchased in March 2012 for $11 million, Halcyon House is one of three Georgetown landmarks owned by S&R Foundation. Evermay, 1623 28th St. NW, another Federal-period estate, was purchased a year earlier for $22 million. As with Halcyon House, this was less than half the original asking price. The former Fillmore School, 1801 35th St. NW, acquired by George Washington University along with other Corcoran assets, was added to the foundation’s holdings for $16.5 million — $2.5 million above the listed price — last year.
The S and the R behind all this repurposing of Georgetown real estate are Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno, Japanese pharmaceutical entrepreneurs who moved to the Washington area 20 years ago. The pair created the nonprofit S&R Foundation in 2000 to support creativity in the arts, the sciences and enterprise, especially international projects with a social-benefit component.
Both have doctoral degrees, and Ueno has a medical degree. Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, the company they started here — in proximity to the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — went public in 2007 and is headquartered in Rockville. Married in 2002, Kuno and Ueno, now in their early 60s, filed for divorce in February.
Ueno’s father, founder of a chemical company, passed his love of music on to his son. S&R has sponsored a concert series, Overtures; a chamber music ensemble, Evermay Chamber; and an artist in residence, Canadian pianist Ryo Yanagitani. Under the foundation’s wing, Evermay’s 1801 mansion and three acres of gardens — owned by the Belin family from 1923 to 2011 — have been the setting for numerous performances, talks, seminars and receptions.
At this year’s S&R Washington Awards Gala, held at Evermay June 4, the grand prize of $10,000 was awarded to composer Lembit Beecher. Three other artists received $5,000 awards: violinist Luosha Fang, mixed-media artist Jorge Mañes Rubio and saxophonist Jonathan Wintringham. The selection committee included local arts luminaries Jenny Bilfield of Washington Performing Arts, Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post, Jason Moran of the Kennedy Center and Klaus Ottmann of the Phillips Collection.
Kuno, one of the first women to attend Kyoto University, where she earned a doctorate in biochemical engineering, is S&R’s president and CEO, its main motivating force and a mentor to Goodall. A rewarding post-doctoral year she spent at the Technical University of Munich helped to inspire the Halycon Incubator program.
“Halcyon’s risk-tolerant environment encourages individuals with audacious ideas to apply to the program,” Kuno has said. “Applicants aren’t required to know if their idea will spawn a for-profit, non-profit or government solution, but simply be committed to applying new thinking to empower social change.”
In a Washington Post story on the inaugural cohort of seven fellows, Halcyon House, about three blocks from Georgetown University’s main campus, was described as “an elegant, exclusive graduate school of sorts for social innovators.” (Less respectfully, and probably inaccurately, the headline labeled it “The fanciest dorm in Washington.”) In fact, the house’s large, easy-to-get-lost-in interior has a minimalist, high-tech esthetic, with hip touches such as contemporary art, sack furniture and, in one room, walls you can write on. Pitch sessions, with invited guests, are held in the library.
Inside and out, there are reminders of the property’s layers of ownership. What is now the stately garden façade is the mansion’s original front, high above the Potomac. Albert Clemens, a nephew of Mark Twain, purchased Halcyon House in 1900. A compulsive remodeler, he added the Prospect Street façade and countless extensions. In 1966, after several years as a Georgetown University dorm, the property was bought by Edmund Dreyfuss, who began major restoration work. His son, sculptor John Dreyfuss, completed the task to much acclaim in the mid 1990s. The family sold Halcyon House — built in 1787 by the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert — to S&R.
Dreyfuss’s large, light-filled studio remains with some refining. Above it is a garden terrace with a swimming pool — “inspirational space,” according to Goodall, who notes that Halcyon House functions as residence, workspace and communal retreat, with opportunities for meditation and yoga. The suitability of the house’s name for an incubator is an uncanny coincidence; in Greek mythology, the halcyon is a bird that lays its eggs at sea during a brief period of windless calm.
Program Manager Ryan Ross explains that, while most incubators are horizontally structured, seeding many projects and hoping that a few will take, Halcyon is vertically structured, nurturing small cohorts of young entrepreneurs in “a much more immersive way.” Each fellow receives a $10,000 stipend and free housing in Halcyon House for the first five months of his or her 18-month fellowship. During the remaining 13 months, the members of a cohort continue to use the house as their base of operations.
Each fellow also gets an official mentor, a peer mentor and a leadership coach. Financial, legal and marketing advice comes from Deloitte, Arnold & Porter and Sage Communications, supplemented by guest speakers and one-on-one matchups.
Observing the fellows and former fellows scattered about the house, even in the dead of summer, one appreciates the value of what might be called Halcyon’s “overlapping cohort” approach. It has the feel of a start-up, but with two twists: almost everyone, while facing similar challenges, is working on a different project; and the core group not only works there but eats and sleeps on site.
Ross is careful to point out that the Halcyon Incubator program is not proprietary and that S&R has no equity in the Halcyon fellows’ ventures. He and Goodall are hopeful that their promising methodology will become a model replicated elsewhere.
In a sense, S&R’s vision for the former Fillmore School is to adapt the Halcyon Incubator model for artists, creating the Halcyon Arts Lab. S&R, says Goodall, sees “human creativity as the linchpin of the 21st century.”
(The Fillmore School is not to be confused with the Fillmore Arts Center, which moved in 1998 to nearby Hardy Middle School. Children from several public elementary schools have arts enrichment classes at the center; the future of this program is in doubt. After the center relocated, the Fillmore School became the Georgetown campus of the Corcoran School of Art and Design for about 15 years, with classrooms for drawing and painting, printmaking, jewelry making, graphic design and digital media design.)
The Halcyon Arts Lab is to be fully up and running in the fall of 2018. Currently, there are 12 artists, four male and eight female, in an eight-month pilot called the Studios Program that wraps up in December. An end-of-pilot exhibition is scheduled for Dec. 7.
Goodall is looking forward to the removal of the property’s “asphalt sea,” the parking lot off 34th Street behind the school. Barnes Vanze Architects of D.C. and Campion Hruby Landscape Architects of Annapolis lead a team that will design a residential structure for future Halcyon artists and a “landscaped path filled with nature and art” between the buildings. The existing playground will be revamped — its possible loss was a community concern — and the artists in the program will mentor high school students while working on their own projects.
Also on the arts front, S&R announced last May that longtime Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre had been named the foundation’s artistic director, tasked with creating an innovative Halcyon Stage performing-arts series to start early next year.
S&R, in other words, has its hands full. When asked if there is yet more expansion on the drawing board, Goodall responds: “We’re only limited by our founders’ imaginations.”