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New School for Social Entrepreneurs in Philly, Watson Institute

April 6, 2015 Category: Method

Rashaun Williams isn’t your stereotypical 20-year-old college dropout. He’s an award-winning social entrepreneur, active community organizer and outspoken environmentalist, who recently became the founder and executive director of Watson Institute Philadelphia.

The Institute is the first official offshoot of Watson University, a nonprofit based in Boulder, Colorado, which launched in fall of 2013. Through partnerships with existing universities, Watson takes young entrepreneurs ages 18-23 under its wing to train them in skills such as bootstrapping and fundraising.

“It’s the only university in the world where you spend the majority of your time building yourself professionally and your business,” he said.

The plan for Watson in Philadelphia is run a series of “institutes,”or short two-week accelerators for young entrepreneurs, while Williams tries to develop a partnership with a local university to help make the programming permanent.

But he’s working on a tight deadline. Watson Institute Philadelphia is taking applications with high hopes of executing their first accelerator here in July. Williams said Watson Institute Philadelphia will work with 15-20 “Scholars,” aka students, this summer, helping them through the process of “starting, scaling and succeeding in their personal lives.”

Watson Institute Philadelphia already has a few of these mentors and teachers booked, including Ycenter Learning Founder and CEO Dhairya Pujara, Science Leadership Academy Founding Principal Chris Lehmann, and Femme & Fortune Editor-in-Chief Melissa Alam.

“Every person should find people that know more than them and know better than them and want them to do better,” Williams said. “Any mentor should want you to do better than themselves.”

How did Williams, a budding entrepreneur himself, come to spearhead the entire Watson initiative in Philadelphia?

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“After Watson University had become interested in expanding what they offer to the world, they were looking for individuals to help them through that process,” he said. “I was recommended by a friend of the founder of the university.”

As Williams puts it, Watson Founder Eric Glustrom “just happened to know” StartupCorps Founder Christian Kunkel, one of William’s first mentors.

“I’m learning as I do, just as much as you would with anything,” Williams said. “Partnerships and relationships have been what’s carried us through.”

Since the initial accelerator this summer will only last two weeks, Williams hasn’t gone into the process of making it so the Institute can offer college credits. In the future, students will complete the program with a Bachelor’s Degree in the “science of entrepreneurship,” according to Williams, like the students who are enrolled in the program in Colorado.

“I’m ready to build the Watson Institute and welcome Watson to Philadelphia because my community is ready,” he said, adding that he couldn’t turn down the job even if he wanted to. “The people I work with and serve [in my community], they need it. I don’t have the luxury of saying no.”

Applications are now being accepted for Watson Institute Philadelphia’s summer program, with an early application deadline of April 15 and a final deadline of May 15. For more information on the application process, visit the Institute’s site. For questions, email

“Whatever [Scholars] want to do professionally to make the world a better place, Watson is going to make sure that happens,” Williams said.

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