Kate Goodall, 40, is chief executive of Halcyon, a fellowship for entrepreneurs starting companies aimed at tackling social problems. It’s named for its building, the 18th-century landmark Halcyon House in Georgetown.
You started with the house.
We started the whole thing after my co-founder purchased Halcyon House in 2011. Everyone said, “No one’s doing residence in the social entrepreneurship space.” And here we have this house with eight bedrooms! So we decided we would build a program with that at the core.
The entrepreneurs you select come and live here, like a dorm?
They get to come and live here for five months, and they get a $10,000 stipend, free legal help, advisers, mentor, leadership coach. When they leave us they usually refer to the community and peer group as the best part of this. It’s very rare that their first answer is, “Oh, I loved living in a mansion.” Entrepreneurship can be very lonely. We’re connecting the innovators with the people who need innovation.
What’s an example of a project you incubated?
Up Top Acres. Their vision is to make it so when you fly over D.C., you just see green rooftops. Actual working farm rooftops. They’ve got four acres under management now. There’s one by the baseball stadium.
I want to ask about your background in maritime architecture.
Right, that makes more sense. Sorry. Okay, how does someone get from maritime archaeology to here?
Maritime archaeology actually was a really useful skill-builder for my current position. When you get trained to be a diver in those circumstances — no visibility, or strong currents, or you’re in a dry suit because it’s cold, and dry suits can be deadly because you’re surrounded by air. Or you’re diving deep —
It can be deadly because you’re surrounded by air?
It has the flanges to prevent air from escaping. A wet suit is neoprene, but in very, very cold water wet suits won’t help you at all. In a dry suit, you have almost like a space gasket on. You’re surrounded by air, and that keeps you warm, but the air on your body is an additional danger because as you go up and down it —
It changes pressure.
Point being, you have to be very careful. The only thing that can kill you in those circumstances is panicking. When you’re in a situation you really do learn to shut off your amygdala and assess the situation, figure out what your options are. It becomes a little out of body because you could be facing, Oh my gosh, I’m tangled —
You wish you were out of body.
All of that is to say, I think it’s great training for running an organization. You get those emails that make you react, and your natural response is [panic], but you [say], Okay, I’ll go take a walk. [The connection] sounds strange, but it’s very true. It’s almost a direct path.