Q&A with STOKED’s Steve Larosiliere
For those who may not know who or what STOKED is, it is simply, "a non-profit youth development agency that creates opportunity for undeserved youth through action sports culture." Not so simply, Stoked is a hands-on, boundary-pushing, incredibly unique and fresh approach on mentoring through a four year program that engages youth and helps them grow through creativity and values learned from team sports and action. Why action sports? What were the motivational factors in creating STOKED? DUMBO BID intern Rachel Hamburger chats with founder Steve Larosiliere on STOKED's passions, motivations and hopes for the future.
STOKED's success as a company and a nonprofit is remarkable. Tell us, how did STOKED get started?
Steve Larosiliere: Thanks so much! I came up with the idea over 8 years ago while snowboarding in Whistler. I was mentoring a kid who had never left New York City and I thought wouldn't it be great if I took him snowboarding. The next thought was that I should start a snowboard mentoring program. Most mentoring and afterschool programs that work with students take place in a space - a school, community center, or in a neighborhood. I found that by "doing things" and experiencing new environments one can grow. It was happening to me at a rapid pace while snowboarding and I just wanted to share that with the kid that I was mentoring. So we started a snowboard mentoring program, then we added skateboarding, and surfing. I met Sal Masekela, our cofounder and we started to dream of doing something bigger than just NYC. All of the sports mentoring programs match low income students with positive adult mentors in a group setting to learn life skills such as resiliency, self reliance, and how to build community. The students end up becoming more accountable, confident, and develop healthy relationships. We then started doing after school programs 4 years ago where students after school do project based learning around building their own skateboards. The students increase critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. Now our program is a multi year program that aims to get students college and career ready in high school.
We are happy to have STOKED's New York home base in the neighborhood. What attracted you to move your offices from Manhattan to DUMBO?
Steve: We've been in Manhattan since we started in 2005. We were lucky enough to get space donated from Marc Ecko & Zoo York. We then bounced around for a few years in the Flatiron area. When we outgrew our office on 21st Street - I started looking for storefronts in Brooklyn. I honestly started looking in Bushwick and Crown Heights to be closer to the kids that we were serving. I had an idea to have part skateshop and part offices. Kind of like an 826 of action sports. I just couldn't find the right space and to make it work. It didn't occur to me to start looking in DUMBO until an employee said, there are storefronts in DUMBO. I never found the storefronts but I was the first person to call and visit our office at 10 Jay on the 9th Floor. I couldn't believe it. It was my dream office. I visited the space at least 6 times before putting a deposit down. I wanted to find a place that we would never leave that we can grow in. Someplace that's inspiring and motivating and really creative. As soon as I told people we were moving to DUMBO everyone said, "DUMBO is good for STOKED." I couldn't agree more. One of the best decisions I've made was moving here. It's a neighborhood, it's a community, it's entrepreneurial and there's creativity everywhere. I've been much more productive, inspired, and creative since moving there.
We hear you are partnering with local businesses such as Aegir Boardworks and local startups such as Prolific Interactive. Can you tell us a little more about these partnerships?
Steve:Aegir was a natural fit. Those guys are awesome! So generous and giving. Last year we hosted a volunteer meet up and recently they started carrying Brink Skateboards - a skateboard brand created by our students at City Polytechnic High School near Metrotech. They're very supportive of us as we are of them. We hope to collaborate more with them in the future. We plan to host events, do join snow trips together, and sell more products out of their store.
Prolific Interactive is another partner that we're hoping to work with. Devon George, the COO reached out as soon as we moved into Dumbo. I met with him and Bobby, the CEO, to talk about ways we can collaborate. The first thing they did was help co-create our Build A Skateboard Brand curriculum that we piloted at 3 high schools. This program happens with our Year 2 students, our sophomores and during the course of the school year, they conceive and develop and build their own skateboard brand. They engaged their designers, Dan, their Managing Director, and a host of others over the course of a few months to help us get it right. Then they essentially adopted a high school and sent a few employees afterschool to help students develop their brand, communications plan, and sales strategy. They are awesome and they have set the template for the type of relationship we want to develop with companies in the area. Devon is on our Board of Stokers which is a junior board of STOKED.
We also hear you are getting ready to launch an entrepreneurial center. Tell us a little more about the center and what we can look forward to with this opening.
Steve: Yes! This is something I'm really excited about. Since moving to DUMBO we had plans of building out our space. We're lucky enough to be on the top floor and all our neighbors build up. We knew we wanted to build a 2nd floor loft and didn't have ideas what specifically we wanted to do with it. Last year, I started talking with a woman who's son passed away a few years ago. His name was Patrick Elasik and he happened to be the cofounder of Mass Appeal Magazine and Colossal Media (who makes all the hand painted billboards in the city). Meanwhile, we were noticing a few things with our kids. Once they caught the bug with action sports - they were more creative, self starting and entrepreneurial. From building a skateboard, to building a skateboard brand, our kids wanted to do more, they wanted to build, and create things. So I had the idea to build a lab to help manufacture ideas, businesses, and projects. STOKED was started because as an entrepreneur and I'm obsessed with the idea of using action sports culture and creativity to help create opportunities for low income youth to make them more successful in life. Our community of mentors, volunteers, supporters, schools, and youth are all driven by this desire to build and create things that create opportunities for others. So in partnership with this woman, Colleen, and the help of a few others we created and built out the Patrick Elasik Entrepreneur Lab. We just finished it. We envision it being part incubator, coworking space, training space, creative agency, workshop space, and hosting entrepreneurs to collaborate with our youth and community. We are planning to first use it as a workshop and training space for our youth for the remainder of the year. Primarily it's for our Year 3 - juniors who are our class of 2015. We're planning full programs in early 2014.