A Shared Space: Kate Goodall And Halcyon's Transformative Approach To Business Leadership
By Emily Montague and Monika Samtani
Imagine a year-round adult summer camp specifically designed for entrepreneurs. For several weeks, you’d eat, sleep, work, and bond with business-minded people just starting out on their journey toward founding and running a successful startup. Everything around you would be tailored to the needs and wants of entrepreneurs, with each area calibrated to inspire you and make you the most productive you could possibly be.
For those selected to attend one of Halcyon’s fellowships, that vision is a reality.
Halcyon is a startup incubator that gathers entrepreneurs from around the world and allows them to live together while developing their business models, strategies, and plans for the future. We had the privilege of sitting down with one of Halcyon’s founders, Kate Goodall, to discuss her organization’s model and her goals as a leader and mentor to countless young men and women.
Q: FIRST OF ALL, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO TALK WITH US TODAY, KATE. RUNNING AN ORGANIZATION LIKE HALCYON AND FILLING ALL THE OTHER ROLES YOU OCCUPY MUST BE MORE THAN A LITTLE TIME-CONSUMING!
BEFORE WE DIVE INTO THE MORE OBJECTIVE DETAILS OF YOUR PROJECT AND MISSION, WE WANTED TO GET AN IDEA OF WHO YOU ARE AS AN INDIVIDUAL. YOU MOVED TO VIRGINIA FROM ENGLAND AS A TEENAGER, AND HOLD DEGREES IN LITERATURE, LANGUAGES, AND FILM. YOU ALSO HAVE A DEGREE IN MARITIME ARCHEOLOGY, WHICH IS JUST INCREDIBLY COOL.
HOW DID ALL OF THESE DIVERSE LIFE EXPERIENCES LEAD YOU TO THIS PARTICULAR CAREER PATH?
Kate: Thank you for that lovely intro. As people can probably tell from my background, I’m first and foremost a humanist. I’m intrigued and curious about all that our species has created and our potential to solve complex problems. I’m privileged to work with those who are helping us innovate for the future.
Lastly, as a diver I was trained to intercept and not react to the signals from my amygdala, since the sure fire way to really injure yourself diving is rushing to the surface in a state of panic. This skill also happens to be extremely useful in high-risk business and investment scenarios. I was taught how to pause and assess any situation, no matter how scary, by returning to my breath, and responding with a mindful set of actions. The ability to be thoughtful of your reactions, especially during periods of anxiety and uncertainty has helped me navigate in my role as a leader, especially through the pandemic.
But the path to Halcyon in particular really started with meeting my co-founder, Dr. Sachiko Kuno, who had acquired Halcyon’s headquarters and had this really game changing idea of how to use it to support impact-driven business founders. We shared that vision of creating an inclusive, nurturing haven for a population of startup founders with audacious ideas to solve 21st century challenges, and the partnership has obviously been a very fruitful one.
Q: WHAT KINDS OF JOBS OR CAREERS DID YOU PURSUE BEFORE YOU BECAME A GLOBAL ADVOCATE FOR MINORITY INVESTMENT AND IMPACT ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Kate: I really think founders and CEOs draw on all their past experiences for the skills they need to lead. Prior to Halcyon, I followed the artifact trail from the archaeological site to museums. I was always interested in helping connect people, particularly when it helped give them a voice and increase opportunities. In 2005 I founded Emerging Museum Professionals that continues to this day with tens of thousands of members nationwide supporting the needs of those starting out in the field.
I held several positions that progressively led more and more deeply into strategy and business development – skills I relied on in founding Halcyon and helped to establish WE Capital, a consortium of businesswomen investing in and supporting women and women-led companies.
Obviously, these experiences helped to hone in on the area where Halcyon is focused, but there’s no question every experience helps build expertise, empathy, and confidence.
“I BELIEVE THAT ALL POWER IS CONTEXTUAL, WHICH IS TO SAY THAT WE SHOULD ALL RECOGNIZE THAT ANY POWER YOU POSSESS IS NOT ACTUALLY INNATE, BUT A BLESSING OF CIRCUMSTANCE. IT CAN COME OR GO IN AN INSTANT. IF YOU HAVE POWER, YOU SHOULD USE IT WISELY, AND TO HELP OTHERS.”
Q: THE IDEA OF GATHERING ENTREPRENEURS TOGETHER FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD AND NOT ONLY TRAINING, BUT LITERALLY HOUSING THEM IN ONE PLACE…THAT’S PRETTY REVOLUTIONARY.
WHY IS THE LIVE-IN, 24/7 EXPERIENCE IMPORTANT TO HALCYON PARTICIPANTS? WHAT ARE THE BIG ADVANTAGES THIS KIND OF ARRANGEMENT CONFERS TO ENTREPRENEURS?
Kate: The question of how important the residential component is really came to a head during COVID, when we were challenged to examine this core tenet around space and how it could be extended in a virtual environment.
The answer, of course, is that a mindful community can create space in any number of ways, but at Halcyon we certainly have seen [how] an in-person residential component has a special power to create a bond between entrepreneurs. It enables them to let their guard down and not feel so alone, which is something startup founders don’t often get to do.
Combined with non-dilutive funding, access to networks, coaching, AWS credits, legal advice from Arnold & Porter, or Bracewell, and a Deloitte consultant it allows us to democratize who gets to do this work, because as we all know, great ideas are distributed equally across all people, but opportunity is not.
Q: WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES YOU LOOK FOR WHEN SELECTING HALCYON ENTREPRENEURS?
Kate: Halcyon’s selection criteria are geared towards ensuring Halcyon fellows are in a position to make the most of this program and this community. We look for impact as a core part of their venture, a viable, innovative solution to a real and pressing problem, a venture poised for sustainability and scalability, and a founder with talent, passion, and ability to galvanize the support they will need to lead this venture to success.
A key part of all that, though, is flexibility – talent, scalability, and impact can all look many different ways, and we try to choose founders and ventures that represent the range of pathways in the entrepreneurial journey.
Q: SINCE THESE FOLKS AREN’T JUST WORKING TOGETHER BUT ARE ALSO SHARING A HOME FOR MONTHS AT A TIME, HOW MUCH OF A ROLE DOES PERSONALITY PLAY IN MAKING SURE EVERYONE IS COMPATIBLE?
Kate: Personality is certainly a factor, but at their core each cohort wants the same thing: to make an impactful startup come to life. And they want the support of a community in making that happen, or they wouldn’t be here. So our fellows tend to have an open mind as they approach their time at Halcyon, and we see that in the way cohorts bond across nationalities, lived experiences, and areas of focus.
They may have differences, but more often than not they see those as opportunities for personal growth.
Q: LIVING TOGETHER ALLOWS THESE PARTICIPANTS TO FORGE DEEP COMMUNITY BONDS WITH ONE ANOTHER. HOW DO THOSE BONDS PLAY OUT ONCE THE ENTREPRENEURS GRADUATE AND GO ON TO ESTABLISH THEIR OWN BUSINESSES?
Kate: By the time founders are at Halcyon, they already have businesses they’re passionate about – and while those startups are early-stage, they have demonstrated some traction.. As a result, cohorts can keep in touch and support one another by making connections, providing accountability, and sometimes even finding ways to partner.
They also make guest appearances at each others weddings, and other important life events! The longer Halcyon exists, the more robust our alumni community becomes, and it’s been really exciting to see some of our early cohorts act as mentors and supporters for our newer fellows.
Q: HALCYON DOESN’T TAKE EQUITY IN PARTICIPANTS, SO HOW DOES THE ORGANIZATION SEE A RETURN ON THEIR INVESTMENT IN THE LONG RUN?
Kate: This is such a key idea – Halcyon does not take equity in ventures that participate in our fellowship programs, and that’s so important to us. Venture capital isn’t for everyone, and we don’t want to demand that ventures give up equity in order to get the kind of support Halcyon can offer.
We do have several funding vehicles – an angel network, microloan fund, and traditional fund – that are available to our fellows if they’re looking to infuse capital into their ventures after they’ve completed our program. And in fact, their participation in a fellowship program de-risks the investment so that we can all make sure its the right thing for all of us.
Q: AS A WOMAN WHO’S OCCUPIED MALE-DOMINATED SPACES LIKE FINANCE AND TECH, YOU’VE MADE A NAME FOR YOURSELF THAT TRANSCENDS A LOT OF GENDER BARRIERS THAT ONCE STOPPED GIRLS AND WOMEN FROM PURSUING THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP PATH.
NOWADAYS, WOMEN REPRESENT A MAJORITY OF NEW BUSINESS OWNERS, AND THERE’S A HOPE THAT THIS TREND REPRESENTS A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR ALL OF US. HOW HAS YOUR GENDER IMPACTED YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE WORLD, IF AT ALL? HOW HAS IT INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU APPROACH AND DO BUSINESS?
Kate: I definitely believe being a woman impacts my approach to leading Halcyon. I’m incredibly proud of the facets of my approach to leadership that I think draw from the life experiences of being a woman and a mother, though that experience certainly looks different for everyone.
For me, it’s meant inviting a balance between firmness and empathy, ambition and patience, recognizing that creating an inclusive, successful organization is a marathon and one I’m amply prepared to run.
On a less personal level, I think all women in this space are a part of creating this trend towards more women business founders, more women board chairs, more women CEOs, because we serve as beacons for one another.
Q: TO FINISH UP, WE WANT TO ASK YOU THE SAME QUESTION WE ASK ALL OF OUR GUESTS HERE ON THE FEM WORD. WHEN WAS A MOMENT WHEN YOU FELT TRULY POWERFUL?
Kate: I believe that all power is contextual, which is to say that we should all recognize that any power you possess is not actually innate, but a blessing of circumstance. It can come or go in an instant. If you have power, you should use it wisely, and to help others.
I genuinely appreciate reminders that I am actually very very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but that the beauty of that knowledge is understanding that there are infinite possibilities all around us. In those moments when I’m reminded of my place in the universe (usually when I’m standing in awe of nature), I don’t feel powerless, but rather deeply connected to the whole, and wanting to use my brief time to serve and support.