NYC Venture Fellow: Adam Green, Social Entrepreneur
By Grace Cheung
Adam Green is founder and executive director of Rocking the Boat, a youth development not-for-profit based at Hunts Point, South Bronx that uses wooden boat building and on-water education to help youth learn teamwork, responsibility and problem-solving skills. He is also an NYC Venture Fellow, one of several social entrepreneurs in the inaugural class.
The NYC Venture Fellows program, a joint effort between NYCEDC and Fordham University, assists later-stage startup entrepreneurs in growing their businesses in New York City, pairing Fellows from around the world with mentors from leading companies and increasing collaboration between startups and established businesses.
From Adam’s viewpoint, social entrepreneurs are similar to for-profit entrepreneurs in that both are running small, growing businesses with shared challenges and experiences. He’s learned much from questions other Venture Fellows ask about managing people, and when or if conditions are right for scaling or growing his social venture. With for-profit entrepreneurs, there is the expectation that businesses will scale – but with the nonprofit sector, the “math is very different.”
For Adam, the primary value of NYC Venture Fellows has been resource development and expanding his networks. The program has introduced him to circles where he didn’t previously have connections. All four of his mentors are from the for-profit sector, and have helped him raise Rocking the Boat’s profile and increase funding sources. Adam has also benefited from the CEO Breakfasts offered to the Venture Fellows. For example, he established a key connection with a Human Resources executive of a major software firm and is now working with them to develop a corporate team-building program through rowing on the Bronx River.
How he started Rocking the Boat
Adam’s idea for Rocking the Boat grew “out of a personal desire to make an impact,” he said. Sixteen years ago, as a college student at Vassar, Adam volunteered at an East Harlem junior high school and led students in constructing an 8-foot dinghy, which they launched in the school’s swimming pool. After college, Adam incubated the first Rocking the Boat after-school program for high school students at Hostos Community College in the Bronx before it grew into an independent nonprofit in 2001. Rocking the Boat now has 12 full-time staff and 14 part-time employees – all former students – serving more than 2,700 students and community members each year.
He chose to locate his organization in the Bronx because of the calmness and accessibility of the Bronx River – ideal for inner-city kids and small wooden boats. The River is also teeming with life and the perfect study for environmental science. The Hunts Point section of the South Bronx is also one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, where students face great obstacles.
His advice to others
If you have a great idea, figure out a way to make it happen. Don’t get distracted by spending too much time planning, strategizing, or prospecting. Just get enough basic pieces in place to turn your idea into a reality. See if it works, and if it does, then work on the planning and strategy. Once he himself did so, the response for Adam was tremendous from both the City and the people he was serving.
“The City was incredibly receptive to seeing me do something real. Everything else [money, media attention] followed.”
Rocking the Boat is holding its annual Whitehall Award benefit on Tuesday, May 17. Learn more, buy tickets, and visit the online auction at www.rockingtheboat.org/whitehall.
Photos courtesy of Rocking the Boat