Just down the street from where his father and grandfather grew up, and less than a mile from the church he attended throughout his youth, Gerard Adams is doing his part to revitalize his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. "Before we got here, it was similar to what you would think of as 'the hood.' They'd never seen anything like this," Adams said in an in-person interview at the new location of his latest project.
Adam's was referring to Fownders, a startup accelerator located inside a brand-new, mixed-use building in Newark's Central Ward, a neighborhood just northwest of downtown. Fownders is Adams' latest business venture, which capitalizes on the growing trend in innovation and entrepreneurship in communities outside of Silicon Valley.
His last venture was online news platform Elite Daily, which he co-founded and ran as President for three years. Adams and his partners sold Elite Daily to the Daily Mail in 2015 for $50 million, marking an incredible achievement for this self-made millionaire.
Focus on Your Character Before You Focus on Your Company
Adams started Fownders to share his knowledge with the next wave of young, eager entrepreneurs. The program is dedicated to developing its founders as people, focusing heavily on the subjects of emotional intelligence, social skills and leadership.
"We consider ourselves more of a 'human accelerator.' Every day, we're working on you as a human being, and really bringing that personal development aspect to our curriculum," Adams said. "You have to focus on your internal self before you can build anything externally."
The program's key value is ownership. Fownders has "own" right in its name, serving as a reminder that a sense of ownership transforms an average entrepreneur into an extraordinary entrepreneur. Ownership is about striving to make a positive impact on other people, whether they're across the globe or down the street.
Ultimately, it's a strong sense of personal ownership that drew Adams back to Newark, and he believes it's a crucial trait for the next generation of innovators.
Stay Open To Opportunities To Generate Your Own "Luck"
After finishing school in Newark, Adams moved to New York City and started working in investor relations, having acquired an interest in finance from his father. His experience building several of his own businesses in the finance industry led Adams to co-found Elite Daily in 2012.
Adams and his partners set out to build a media company for Millennials, by Millennials. They faced fierce competition from similar companies like Mashable, Gawker and BuzzFeed. But Elite Daily utilized a contributor-model platform, and rapidly grew their readership by leveraging the virality of social media.
As the company grew, Adams wanted to raise outside capital from investors and continue to build their audience. But when the offer arose to sell the company to British DMG Media, publisher of the popular Daily Mail publication, the founding team jumped on the opportunity.
In the weeks following the deal, Adams felt inspired to look at the entrepreneurial landscape and start thinking about how to give back and help other founders like himself.
Leverage Your Network To Level Up
"We're not seeing enough education happening with Millennials today--across the nation and especially in underserved communities--to set up our generation for real success. Right now, we need to understand how to build real skills, build communities, and foster the human interaction necessary to get the resources and education people need to become successful," Adams said.
Adams wanted to leverage his success with Elite Daily to bring mentorship, education, and community to young entrepreneurs who needed support and guidance. He still had strong emotional ties to his hometown of Newark, so he knew this was where he had to start his program.
Now known to many as "The Millennial Mentor," Adams has dedicated himself to inspiring and educating his generation to create the successful lifestyles of their dreams. He does so through his social media accounts, his personal blog, and his YouTube series, "Leaders Create Leaders," which recently released its second season.
The Fownders accelerator operates on a live-work-play program modeled after Adams' personal philosophy. The intensive 12-week "Seed to Scale" course teaches entrepreneurs how to prove, launch, and scale their ideas. Meanwhile, program participants are encouraged to participate in activities like meditation, tai chi, 5-on-5 basketball, and community outreach with local middle schools and high schools.
Guiding the entrepreneurs along every step of their journey are Adams and a team of more than two dozen prominent CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Their goal is to help young founders channel their passions into innovative businesses that create positive change in the world.
Adams would love to take Fownders nationwide and even global, given the opportunity. But he started the program in Newark to bring technology and innovation to his struggling hometown, and to empower everyone who grew up there fighting for opportunities to improve their lives.
"I really wanted to show them that success is possible. The same way that they have to fight on these streets, they can fight to start educating themselves and understanding how to leverage technology, how to leverage the Internet, how to leverage their ideas and bring them to life," Adams said.
Luckily, Adams isn't the only one beginning to invest in Newark, and major companies like Amazon and Panasonic are putting down roots in the city. Despite the long road to recovery ahead of Newark--and his own family's belief that the neighborhood is still not safe--Adams is optimistic about the positive effect he can make with Fownders.
With modern technology on their side and guidance from mentors like Adams, young entrepreneurs of struggling communities like Newark may have a better chance of achieving their dreams and making real change in the world.
"I've always said, 'Not everyone can be a great entrepreneur, but a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere,' " Adams said. "We live in a time where it's truly possible."
Listen to the full interview here: