Inspirational leader Gerard Adams (also known as the “millennial mentor”) arrived in Newark in 2016 with bold plans for energizing entrepreneurship in the city. Adams, the former president of Elite Daily (based in New York), sold that platform for $50 million, and was returning to his roots in New Jersey.
With a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, Adams opened Fownders, an incubator for young Newark residents and others who had good ideas, but not enough education about how to bring them to market. He also offered an educational platform to millennial entrepreneurs who were farther along in their journeys.
Along the way, Fownders had many successes, but Adams’ vision of doing good by doing well was being fragmented by his willingness to help everybody with everything. He cared so much about millennial entrepreneurs, he would get the team together help them with their individual business plans, systems requirements or whatever problems they were having.
Also, “We saw so many opportunities and so many challenges both in Newark and all over the country in underserved communities,” said Peter Yobo, acting CEO of Fownders. “We essentially put an iron in the fire for each one of those challenges that we wanted to be a part of solving,”
Fownders needed to get back to the basics. In 2019, Adams decided that Fownders needed a reboot.
By bringing in Yobo, Adams told NJTechWeekly.com, he was able to concentrate on the big vision for the company, and leave the day-to-day to Yobo. Eventually, said Yobo, there will be an even stronger Fownders, one that he will be able hand over to a new leadership that will take the company forward.
“The world, more than ever before, needs conscious entrepreneurs to solve big problems for humanity,” Adams said. “I truly believe that not only entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds, will push humanity forward through innovation, creativity and unique perspectives.
“It’s important that we start giving access, education and belief to underserved communities to support the next generation of conscious leaders. For Fownders, it starts with Newark; and with the leadership of Peter Yobo by my side, we plan on taking this from inner cities to Third World countries globally. This is for legacy.”
Yobo is an experienced strategy consultant with a background in emerging technologies. “The value-added that I bring is that I am very passionate about the millennial generation,” Yobo told us.
“I always knew that I was different in the way I saw work, and then I found out we were called ‘millennials.’ I got excited when I saw research on the impact we would have on the workforce, the economy, our spending and our work habits,” he added. At PwC, Yobo served on many committees focused on how firms can attract, engage and retain millennials; and his job was to know what tech was innovative.
Adams met Yobo right after he sold Elite Daily, and the two hit it off. Their ideas and passion about millennials were similar. Yobo walked Adams through a “strategy session,” and the idea for Fownders was born. Adams put his reputation behind it, put the team together and started the company. Yobo continued to serve as a business consultant.
Future Fownders, the nonprofit arm of Fownders, will continue, Yobo said. “We’re taking everything we are teaching entrepreneurs, and creating a package for high school students. That’s in full swing. We created an eight-week program. We are looking to go into high schools and deliver hands-on training.”
However, there is no longer a physical space in Newark where people can come in and experience what it is that Fownders is building. “It was a partnership between Gerard and a local real estate investor that allowed us to have that physical space. However, the physical space wasn’t bringing all that value, and it was the event piece that was making entrepreneurship real. We’ve rerouted some of those efforts and resources to making great events. We have a new reinforced focus on our events that bring people together in Newark,” Yobo said.
Fownders held its first 2019 Fownders Value Exchange meetup on Feb. 28 in Harrison, and plans five or six more events in Newark during the year. Other events will be held in Miami and Los Angeles, where people will be able to physically interact with the brand.
Fownders is now clearly focused on bringing entrepreneurs through the entrepreneurship journey, Yobo explained, and has broadened its focus from millennials to Gen Z because it has had the biggest impact on people within the group ages 17 to 27. All others are also welcomed at Fownders, he said.
Yobo described Fownders’ offering like this: “When people go to college, they have teachers and advisers who are there to help guide them through that process, so they can get to a place where they are ready for the next step.” Similarly, people who work at large companies have HR guiding them through their career steps.
“College students have professors, executives have advisers and entrepreneurs have Fownders,” he said. “We have essentially positioned ourselves to be the advocate for entrepreneurs. Our job is to advocate for their success, all the way through their journey, until they hit their goal as entrepreneurs.”
Fownders plans to execute this vision by connecting entrepreneurs with the right resources that can help them at any given point on their journey. For example, there may be an entrepreneur who needs to meet someone with a complementary skill set to help make progress on his or her company. “We’ll go ahead and match them up. We are doing that today, but, in the future, our plan is to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make those connections.”
Yobo said Fownders is creating an ever-expanding list of service providers, so that, when entrepreneurs have questions, they can meet with some of those service providers. Fownders is negotiating with the service providers for a discounted referral or sales fee, which it will pass down to its members. “We are helping them get services at a lower cost than they usually would.”
Plus, he added, the members are part of an entrepreneurial community. “It’s easier to go down this path when there are others on the same journey as you.”
Fownders has a subscription model, with entrepreneurs paying $27/month, which gets them access to the community and all the concierge services and events. The company charges for the events. And, Yobo noted, “We are launching a three-month online business school program, with in-person check in.” Those are the company’s three main revenue streams.