Welcome to the Forty Over 40 blog. We frequently spotlight one of our honorees and their thoughts on reinvention, mentorship and momentum…plus a peek into what makes them tick.
This Q & A is with Adina Levin, Co-founder of Collab—a Fabrication Lab, Innovation Studio and Do Tank in NYC. Adina is innovating her field of work by going beyond a traditional co-working space at Collab by providing space, technology, and manufacturing equipment for artists, architects, fabricators, engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and others to work on their ideas while collectively developing socially and environmentally conscious solutions.
1) What was a pivotal moment of reinvention for you?
I was 28, and in a bad business partnership. I had started the company with no money and a desktop computer in a shared studio apartment in the West Village, growing it into a business that employed 18 people and generated more than $2 million in sales. In choosing to walk away from the business, I realized that sometimes you have to let go in order to move forward even if that means deciding to leave a monetarily successful business. This moment has been a constant reminder to me, and one of the guiding refrains that defines my business life — I can always make more money, but I can’t make more time.
2) Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?
In any professional life, there are countless people who are valuable mentors. Yet my father is the person who helped shape my imagination, curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit most. As I kid, I watched him connect the dots, and turn ideas into action. He taught me that generating sales solves most problems in business. He showed me the importance of maintaining good relationships with employees, vendors, and clients.
3) What is your biggest goal right now?
My biggest goal now is expanding Collab into a much larger location, transforming it from a fabrication lab and innovation studio into a 100K sf space that democratizes innovation. To continue to push the ecosystem beyond a meritocracy for passionate people with good ideas to collaborate, design, build and thrive into a model that allows these inventors and entrepreneurs to succeed, while giving them the infrastructure to mentor underserved women and children, teaching them the 21st Century skills required for this new era.
4) How did you get your first job? How did you jump to your second job?
I was 14. My parent moved the family from California to Florida. It was fall, in the middle of the school year, and I had just left all of my friends in California. I was miserable and decided I wanted a job. I went to the local mall, walked from store to store to the food court asking if anyone was hiring. I filled out an application at a place called Dream Burger. They called me later that afternoon. I was so young my mom had to go with me on the interview. I got the job and they started me working on weekends. They asked me to work evenings too. My mom said no. After three weeks, they promoted me to Tater Junction. They told me it was an opportunity because as I got older I would be able to run both restaurants. One night, after about a month of working there, the manager kept me until 10pm to clean and then drove me home. When I got home, my mother was panicking. She screamed at the manager and made me quit. That was beginning and end of my first job.
5) What time do you typically wake up? What do you do every morning?
I’m an early bird. I usually wake up between 4 and 5 and read, research and catch up on the news. I get out of bed around 6, and my husband and I take to our dogs, Annie and Otis, to the dog run.
6) How did you feel on your 30th birthday? What were you doing at that time?
At 30, I was designing and producing products for companies. I was doing millions of dollars a year in business, working with Fortune 500 companies. But I was a complete mess. I didn’t have the infrastructure, experience or tools to handle the pressures. I worked non-stop. I was constantly anxious. It was a rough time, but I consider those my MBA years. I learned what is truly needed in order to be successful.
7) What cause do you most want to advance?
I’m torn by this question. I think if I had to devote my life to one cause, it would be abolishing human trafficking, and helping these women stay safe, develop, learn, and empower themselves.
8) What song can’t you get out of your head?
I don’t know if there is a specific song, but I’m always singing to myself. Natalie Merchant, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Madonna – those are the standards.
9) What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Consider the source.
10) What is your “keep me going” quote?
When I’m in a difficult negotiation or situation, I hear my grandfather telling me, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” He was a tough, loving, highly intelligent man who grew up in the depression and lived a remarkable life. It sounds a bit harsh when put into writing, but when I hear him saying it, it puts things in perspective. It reminds me of my grandfather, and reminds me of what is truly important.
11) Who on the list of prior Honorees would you like to meet?
I would like to meet all of the women. If there was a gathering of honorees, that would be wonderful. To name a few, I’d like to meet Tereza Nemessanyi, Jacki Zehner, Joanne Wilson and Ruth Ann Harnisch.
Check out Adina Levin’s full profile here!