Name: Adrienne Becker
Company: Level Forward
- Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up always straddling. Wealth and poverty, nuclear family life and everything else, New York City and suburban enclaves of Miami, very white communities and spaces where my whiteness stood out, circles of professionals one day, artists the next. I saw inequity up close and learned how to navigate the contrasts. Maybe these dual experiences fueled my quest for change, and my role as its agent. I’m someone who naturally gravitates to examining systems that aren’t working for everyone and consider what it takes to fix them. No challenge seems too far from being an opportunity; no problem too entrenched for a new solution. Vision is easy for me — the harder work is in attracting the right people who can bring the vision to life and make the reality even better
- What are you trying to accomplish with your work?
Your question reminds me that focus is everything.
- One, create opportunities for economic transformation to spread throughout the media and entertainment industries by demonstrating that social good and profitability can organically align in ethical decision making.
- Next, prove that all investing should be impactful and that the bifurcation of capitalism into two buckets – one which cares about social good, one which de-prioritizes it – must be the new marginalized thinking.
- Lastly, bring visibility to people who have historically had less access to opportunity and resources and illustrate the ways and rewards of sharing power so that others are inspired to find their own.
- What motivated you to take the first step in launching your business?
My motivation comes from many places. From watching the women in my family quell their ambitions through less gratifying pursuits and being frustrated with those outcomes, to seeing injustice repeat itself without enough progress, to having two children who are a daily reminder that the world must change, to being around animals who have no choice but to entrust us with Earth. Level Forward feels like the culmination of unfinished business from prior days, years and even decades, if not more.
- What was one of the hardest or most unexpected obstacles you had to overcome to get your idea off the ground?
I would say that balancing the external work with the internal work is challenging. It’s much easier to write a business plan than to build trust among a diverse group of people, particularly when the bar is set so high at the outset. Countless data and studies have proven that when companies incorporate a variety of perspectives, they produce the best outcomes. Still, we’re all figuring out how to create organizations that blend different languages, experiences, and points of view. Corporate America struggles here, which places even more responsibility with all of us, the entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch. This is where we can lead.
- Tell us about a moment you are particularly proud of in your start-up journey?
Being honored by the ACLU in New York and having Heidi Schreck, the creator of What The Constitution Means To Me, give Level Forward the award was incredibly humbling. We do a lot of work behind the scenes, in other words, not for the recognition. We do it to prove the point that creative excellence, done right, holds great capacity for change. I think Heidi’s play quite aptly illustrates that. Standing on a stage in front of 1,400 ACLU supporters, all listening to Heidi share her fierce intellect, multifaceted talent, and giant heart, and then talk about our company, well, it was overwhelming.
On another note, last year we underwent a private training, something we haven’t talked about publicly, to learn about undoing racism. Yes, it was incredibly difficult. Not kidding, I cried for about a week after it was over. My family thought I had lost it. But that work, combined with our experience on Slave Play, the Broadway show that continues to shift what is possible for black artists, is a great source of pride.
- Did you face any unique challenges as a woman in your field to get your start-up launched?
Yes, for about 30 years. Some of it I saw, other times it was less obvious. It was rarely overt – that kind of discrimination is not as insidious. Certainly, the obvious fault including raising money, balancing work and family/raising kids, being taken seriously, being valued for my brain and conflating a woman’s innovative out-of-the-box thinking with being crazy or naïve. I’m not sure any of these are unique to me, though I am sure that the more we talk about them, the less of a hindrance they will be. That’s part of my individual responsibility in this: to keep looking for ways of clearing paths for the next person.
- What advice do you have for someone thinking about starting their own business?
- Be relentless. You will fail and be rejected over and over though with the right outlook; it will only make you stronger. Teach yourself to see it all as valuable.
- Take care of yourself. Energy is half the battle and what you put into your body, how you move it, and how you rest are critical success factors not to be minimized.
- Find your people and celebrate them, repeat.
- Involve your family as much as they want to be involved.
- Question your assumptions, habitually.
- Why .CO?
- I’ve never been a fan of the status quo. I’m always up for a smart contrarian bet. If everyone is going one way, how can you win? You’ll be stuck. .CO carries less of the baggage of capitalism and more of the promise. It’s a perfect fit for Level Forward.
- What’s next for you?
We have two more terrific films on the horizon: Holler and Topside. Great first-time women feature filmmakers who had very original visions and wonderful male partners as collaborators. And how could I not be excited about Jagged Little Pill, the musical led by Alanis Morrisette, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody, joined by Elizabeth Stanley, Lauren Patten, Celia Gooding and Kathryn Gallagher. The show is captivating entertainment, giving Broadway audiences hope and healing wrapped in the iconic and timeless stories from the Alanis’ prescient and multi-Grammy winning album. Lastly, I’m eager to spend more direct time with our audiences, through our growing network of movie theaters called Screen Forward, and through our online service Rotten Apples which gives audiences more insight into what they are watching.
It’s truly never a dull moment when you don’t feel boxed in by what came before, or what’s expected tomorrow.