Betting on Grit

In his second act, the co-founder of Elite Daily is bringing tech to Brick City.

“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” Tony Robbins articulates the principle upon which Gerard Adams grounds his post-exit career. He sold Elite Daily for $50 million just last year, and now he's on a deeper mission. He wants to turn Newark, New Jersey into "Silicon City" via a social impact accelerator called Fownders.

Adams' is part of a larger pattern of tech stars using their small fortunes to bring ignored urban centers back to life. Silicon ______ [Alley] [Prairie] [Bayou] [Beach]s are popping up in post-industrial cityscapes across the country, signifying a serious determination not to let these places die.

Like his counterparts in other cities, Adams is weaving his own success into the fabric of a place that needs it badly. Newark. That oft-ignored, oft-forgotten little city right next to the Big Apple.

But can Newark really be re-made? We challenged Adams to make us believe.

Why, in your opinion, is Newark positioned to be a tech hub?

As I was traveling around the country to speak, I was amazed by how tech-based ecosystems provide such great resources for new businesses and entrepreneurs. I said to myself, "Why don't we see more of that happening in our inner cities, the places that need it most?" Entrepreneurship, in my opinion, is what's going to rebuild this country.

We've seen a similar pattern in a lot of post-industrial urban areas all across the country. Whether it's Tony Hsieh in downtown Las Vegas or Dan Gilbert in Detroit, a lot of moguls are trying to inject tech into depressed urban areas. Do you really think it's possible that so many of these cities can be reborn as tech hubs?

I would say yes. I always say that not everybody can be a great entrepreneur, but a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere. I believe that there's a shift in happening in education. On college campuses nationwide, particularly the many we have in Newark, students are interested in entrepreneurship. There's a lot of talent out there and, in my opinion, that’s what will move the needle with our GDP and new jobs.

But how?

It's going to be the entrepreneurs that create new businesses and you've seen it, it's proven. I just met with Howard Tullman at 1871 in Chicago, the largest incubator right now in the state. This guy's created thousands of jobs. That happened just in the last few years. Thousands. All through technology and through entrepreneurship. In my opinion, 100% it can happen anywhere and I definitely think that Newark has a huge advantage being the biggest city in New Jersey, having the fastest Wi-Fi, and being one train stop away from New York. I'm really excited about the upside here in Newark and for me, I love betting on grit. I love betting on entrepreneurs who’ve had it tough. Who know what it's like to be at rock bottom and know what it's like to get back up and continue to fight because that's what being an entrepreneur is.

"I love betting on grit."

What’s your connection to Newark?

My parents grew up here. My grandparents immigrated here. My name, Gerard, comes from a church down the street from where Fownders is today.

Jhamar Youngblood, Founder, Blastchat (Fownders Cohort)

Jhamar Youngblood, Founder, Blastchat (Fownders Cohort)

What’s the infrastructure like for building a tech incubator like Fownder’s in Newark?

When I started to look into Newark, I learned that 80% of the youth don’t even have Wi-Fi at home. The average person in Newark is making less than $30,000 a year. I just felt like, "Geez, growing up, I remember hearing how great it was once here, especially during the Industrial Revolution and now it's just completely turned?” The riots happened and the economy tanked.

But, at the same time, I also started hearing about all these new initiatives and I started paying attention to what was happening in University Heights, in Downtown. The Mayor's office is now providing Wi-Fi all over the city. Two billion in investment is coming into Newark via real estate development. Whole Foods is now in town. Eataly is opening up. The Universities are expanding campuses. I started to see change in the past year-and-a-half, especially since I had the idea for Fownders.

Yeah, that same similar pattern you're seeing all over the country...

Yes. The history of Newark is so rich because it was once this unbelievable powerhouse of manufacturing and jobs. Then the wealth got taken away and there was just his complete shift. Then the riots happened and then all the manufacturing stopped. All the jobs got lost. The projects started being built. It all changed and that's why I think now it's going full circle. I feel like now, through technology, we can see the potential of this massive resurgence. That's why I'm really excited to bring tech to Newark.

How how many investments has Fownders made, and what specifically is it looking to invest in?

Well, we opened up our doors about six months ago and finished our first cohort. We’re proud to say that one of our first start ups finally just completed a raise of a half a million dollars, so we're excited about that. Total invested is about four million dollars.

As for what we invest in, we're about driving economic growth in this area, so it's not just about what we're providing inside Fownders. We want to bring cafes and health to the area. We want to bring a production studio to the area. I'm bringing back manufacturing. I'm buying all these 3D printing machines. We’re creating a Fownders Factory, so that we can produce consumer goods and help give jobs to some of the youth here. As far as investing in start-ups, we're just getting started.

Jabari Sills, Co-Founder, Youii (Fownders Cohort)

Jabari Sills, Co-Founder, Youii (Fownders Cohort)

What do you love about mentoring entrepreneurs?  

I just love people. I invest in the founders themselves, hence the name, right? For me it's not so much getting pitched the idea, it's getting to meet these founders and understanding why they're passionate about that idea. What drives them and what characteristics they have that make me believe that they're the right person. I like watching them see it through. It's exciting when I meet young entrepreneurs and find that passion, find that purpose. To me there's no greater feeling than than seeing people succeed. Having them take an idea and bring it to life.

By Isaac Simpson

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