Professional Development
Accelerators / Baltimore / Communities

How I Got Here: Anthony Watters discusses his journey from community entrepreneurship to accelerator leadership

The director of Johns Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab talked about his pathways to his current role — and how working on his grandfather’s pickup truck inspired the moves he makes today.

Anthony Watters. (Courtesy photo)

This is How I Got Here, a series where we chart the career journeys of technologists. Want to tell your story? Get in touch.

“I’m not really in tech per se,” casually remarked Anthony Watters, 31, when we reached out to him for a feature in our How I Got Here series.

These stories are all about helping tech and related professionals navigate their careers by exploring unique journeys. Watters’ path is a standout example of someone having jumped from entrepreneur to ecosystem builder.

Watters, a Baltimore City native and one of’s 2023 RealLIST Connectors, is the director of the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Social Innovation Lab (SIL). He’s currently diving into his second year in this role. In his first year, he successfully guided his first cohort, infusing thousands of dollars into Baltimore’s entrepreneurial scene. Importantly, he bolstered resources for passionate, cause-driven innovators who are either JHU students or part of the community.

Being immersed in the tech world isn’t the only criterion for featuring someone in How I Got Here. Some are out there, bolstering the technologists. Watters’ hopefully story serves as inspiration for the up-and-coming wave of innovators and ecosystem architects.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

Once I got back home from Howard University in 2014, myself and a colleague started a nonprofit. And then, from there it was, well, how to take my skill set that I went to school [for] — which was health and human performance, and exercise science as well — and apply it to what I’m good at, which is community. And that’s kind of where the concept for More Watters Co. started. I used exercise to help people with chronic conditions recover. It also was through my experience of working in the healthcare system, working with patients trying to recover from having a stroke, and how that can play a role through physical therapy and rehabilitation. So I give that as kind of a precursor to how I got here in the first place.

Some may not know this, but you’ve participated in various programs that could be categorized as accelerators or incubators (like SIL). How would you describe your initial encounter with the concept of accelerators, and could you share your first experience with one?

Brittany Young from B-360 was the first person to tell me about applying to an accelerator, and that was for Baltimore Corps Elevation Awards in 2018-2019. I think I was rejected the first time I applied. But when I was accepted into the opportunity, it kind of walked me through the basics and also gave me unrestricted funding in the form of $10,000. That allowed me to explore More Watters Co. when there was still not a lot of infrastructure. I bought my first batch of merch. What I was trying to do was still very ambiguous.

I got into SIL next. Social Innovation Lab was like my undergrad experience while Baltimore Corps was like my high school experience. Those accelerators kind of helped me stack knowledge on top of the experience that I was gaining. They gave both myself and other folks to a system to hold each other accountable to the work, and [I] gained an understanding that I can learn a lot from my peers.

And then, before becoming director of SIL, I did one more accelerator and that was the Innovation Works and Miller Center (IW+MC) Accelerator, which I think was where I really got into everything — from mission statement all the way through an HR plan or our five-year financial projections. So with IW+MC, you really get to the nitty-gritty of the infrastructure of your social enterprise. That accelerator wasn’t necessarily attached to funding but it connected me to opportunity and allowed me to operationalize a concept that I had to build out over the last few years.

What are your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities for SIL?

So I’m usually hopping on calls connecting cohort members to other people that can help them, or going out and just meeting new people to build the SIL network and ecosystem. I’m often learning of other programs and going on. Figuring out who good mentors might be. I personally make sure the curriculum is ready for the accelerator. I  make sure the applications are live and answer questions for future cohort members. As director, I make sure we do info sessions about the application and how to apply trying to make it more accessible and more.

What was the first job you ever had?

I grew up in a family of hustlers, individuals with a strong entrepreneurial spirit focused on making a living. My great-grandmother owned her own store in North Carolina and was involved in running a daycare. My grandparents relocated here in the 1950s and my mother was also born in North Carolina. Despite my grandfather having only completed the sixth grade, he possessed remarkable skills in land work, including landscaping and farming. In Baltimore, he ventured into his own off-the-books landscaping business, a venture he successfully sustained for many years. My initial job experience involved working on the back of my grandfather’s pickup truck, performing landscaping tasks in picturesque suburban neighborhoods in Baltimore. That exposure to the world of entrepreneurship marked the beginning of my journey in this field.

Who is an ecosystem builder you admire, and what is the reason for your admiration?

Two people I really look up to are Jamye Wooten of CLLCTIVLY and Bree Jones of Parity Homes. They were both in the Social Innovation Lab accelerator alongside me in 2018-2019 and not only are they folks that I looked up to during the accelerator program — because of what they were doing then — but watching how much they’ve grown since, with Jamye raising over a million dollars for Black grassroots organizations and Bree impacting communities at scale redeveloping homes in West Baltimore. Watching it all in real-time has been inspiring to me and there’s so much of a balance between being [a] very pragmatic, focused, serious entrepreneur, but also having this level of empathy, concern and purpose around the community and the people you want to serve.

What interests/hobbies/activities do you enjoy outside of work?

I operate a running collective known as “Runner’s Run,” where we arrange running events within the Baltimore community to introduce people to running. I’m currently in training for my second marathon set for this October. Running serves as my way to de-stress and take care of my mental health as a founder, and it also helps me stay in shape.

Additionally, I’m a passionate Ravens fan and have a strong love for football. Although I no longer play the sport, I’m still a devoted fan of the game.

Social Innovation Lab applications are open through Oct. 1.

Companies: Social Innovation Lab / Johns Hopkins
Series: How I Got Here

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