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After Brian Ferguson was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder and imprisoned for 11 years, he and brother Albert Ferguson began developing Startline (originally called Angel’s List), a comprehensive database of available employment, housing, healthcare and other social services for prisoners returning to life on the outside.
Brian, who was handed a list of outdated resources upon his release, saw the need firsthand. “There was no hub,” Albert explains. So the brothers hatched an idea to build one online.
It was just the kind of venture that Halcyon Incubator—a Washington, D.C.-based residential fellowship for social entrepreneurs—was looking for.
“We wanted to find the most talented entrepreneurs that we could, tackling the most hairy 21st-century social problems in the most courageous and innovative ways,” says Kate Goodall, COO of S&R Foundation, the nonprofit that funds Halcyon, which launched in fall 2014.
Halcyon fellows receive a $10,000 stipend, and live and work in a historic Georgetown mansion for the first five months of the program. They continue to work at Halcyon’s communal offices for another seven months, rent-free, then transition to a discounted WeWork co-working space for six months.
The program accepts eight ventures per class, with an emphasis on personal, professional and project diversity. All fellows receive a dedicated mentor in their field, be it solar energy or child malnutrition, plus a leadership coach with whom they can discuss doubts and personal issues they may not want to share with their business mentor. They also receive free PR, marketing, legal and accounting help courtesy of Halcyon’s partnerships with companies like Deloitte and KPMG.
At the end of the residency, 150 venture capitalists, angel investors and philanthropists attend the program’s demo day. To date, 93 percent of Halcyon’s fellows have raised funds from outside investors, Goodall says, adding that the incubator does not take a cut of the businesses incubated.
“It’s the social good that they’re investing in,” Albert Ferguson says. “That, to me, is just phenomenal.”