Bill Lukashok, Co-founder of the Madison Square Park Conservancy
“I’m endlessly fascinated by the notion of change in the City and gentrification. And I think very long and hard how in the world gentrification can be more of a force for good without negative repercussions. I don’t have the answer for that yet.”
Meet Bill Lukashok. Bill has been involved in a variety of non-profit organizations including those focused on public school education issues, supplemental education programs for disadvantaged communities, hunger relief, New York City parks, and wrongful imprisonment. He is also a co-founder of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Bill is excited at the prospect of advising and supporting entrepreneurs at Civic Hall who are focused on applying technology to civic issues and hopes that his experience in the private, civic and non-profit world can assist in helping great ideas become effective and forceful agents for positive change.
What Does He Do?
In addition to being the Managing Director of Velsor Properties, Bill is the Vice-Chair the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s board.
“Madison Square Park has been an essential part of my life. A labor of love. It’s been a phenomenal learning experience. I’m an urban person. I spent a lot of time in college studying the growth and development of cities. I thought I was going to do into urban planning — not that I knew what that meant — but I went into real estate, thinking that I’d still be attached to the urban scene. One of the lenses on Madison Square Park is that it’s been an unbelievable economic development phenomenon. It has created billions of dollars of value. And restored a great, vibrant neighborhood that was dead.
I’m endlessly fascinated by the notion of change in the City and gentrification. And I think very long and hard how in the world gentrification can be more of a force for good without negative repercussions. I don’t have the answer for that yet.”
How Did He Get Into This Work?
“My mother wasn’t a bra burner, out on the front lines. But she got on the board of Planned Parenthood of New York in the sixties, and to this day, at the age of 91, she goes to the clinic once a week to minister to women who are having abortions.”
While Bill was clearly inspired by his mother’s early support of women’s reproductive rights, he’s been actively and passionately involved in his community and various issues throughout his life.
After studying American History and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania — his honors thesis was on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) — and getting an MBA in finance and marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Bill embarked on a career in the real estate industry, starting out as a banker before spending the bulk of his career on the principal side, owning and operating real estate and managing investment funds, which has given him particular expertise in fundraising and finance.
From the beginning of his career in New York to this day, Bill has been deeply steeped in the community. When he returned to NYC after B-school, he found himself getting involved in Community Board #5, becoming a longstanding member of the Executive Committee and eventually becoming its Vice-Chairman. “It was a great way to learn how the City functions and how to advocate for a variety of issues, as well as gain comfort with public speaking and how to organize and run meetings.”
What Project Is He Working On?
In addition to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, Bill has participated in a variety of non-profit organizations including: Student Sponsor Partners – which mentors kids from tougher neighborhoods; Pencil’s Principal for a Day, which enabled him to likewise mentor a principal for 18th months; Centurion, a predecessor of sorts to the Innocence Project; and Horace Mann‘s Summer on the Hill – a year-round program designed to offer supplementary educational enrichment to promising, disadvantaged public school students from the Bronx, Washington Heights, and Harlem.
Bill is quick to claim his work on the Pre-Business Advisory Board of Hunter College as particularly close to his heart: “I love the Hunter College student body, which can be broadly characterized as kids from immigrant families, many of whom are first-time college students in their families. Their enthusiasm for getting a degree and achieving the American Dream (assuming it’s still available :)) is as inspiring as working with the Civic Hall folks.”
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
Bill and Civic Hall co-founder Andrew Rasiej had been circling each other for years.
“In the late ’80’s we were both very involved in transforming Union Square. At that time, Andrew was still at Irving Plaza. We lost track of one another for many, many years. We finally reconnected because we both two of Union Square Cafe’s best customers. I would see him, he’d say hello. Two months ago, I was having lunch with someone he knew and he was dining with someone I knew. We finally agreed that we really ought to have lunch. Out of that conversation, he told me about Civic Hall, and here I am.”
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
In the nanosecond that Bill has been part of Civic Hall, he’s given one-on-one office hours to several of our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.
“It was incredibly stimulating. the energy and passion that most of these folks have been so cool, admirable and inspiring. these folks are so completely invested in their projects and care so much about both the mission and their solutions. it is so much fun to work with people who are burning at a very high energy level.”
While it’s early days, so far Bill has a few initial takeaways that are applicable to the greater community:
“It’s clear to me that to get to the point that these folks are at, so much of their energy and focus has been on creating their great idea/tech/project. This makes perfect sense. However, to realize their vision, to get their idea out into the world and exploit the opportunity to its fullest extent, requires adding dimensions to their effort that many of them are not so familiar with. For example, while it’s one thing to create a great idea, it requires a different set of skills to fund it, activate it and manage it. It’s wonderful for me — as someone who has the perspective on all the other things that are needed to go from a great idea to a viable and activated business — that these folks are so enthusiastic about learning these other skills and hungry to take them on.”
Bill is committed to offering advice of this sort going forward:
“I expect I will continue to offer office hours, although I am also happy to set up meetings outside those hours as it is very easy for me to get to Civic Hall. I also want to plug in a little to the cycle of these folks. Presumably, there will be another class coming down the pike, and, giving what I am already learning about some of the needs of these folks, there are probably some seminar topics that might be useful for the new group to hear.”
Finally, Bill imparts these instructions for our startup founders:
“Be able to clearly and succinctly:
present the key problem that needs solving/addressing;
define the scope of that problem;
create the financial model that shows what can be gained financially by solving/addressing that problem;
determine what resources you need to achieve your objective i.e. how do you staff your enterprise to achieve your (near/intermediate-term) objectives, and how much will that cost.
This is a model that works for both for-profit enterprise and non-profit enterprises.”