News & Publications
The College Magazine - Summer 2008
FROM HUMAN SERVICES TO SOCIAL SERVICES
Adrian Bordone (AGI96)
Adrian Bordone (AGI96) never expected to be a software entrepreneur,
but his work in human services led to him to a new career
Baltimore native Adrian Bordone (AGI96) was eager to leave his hometown behind when he enrolled in the Graduate Institute in Santa Fe. Popular television shows such as Homicide and The Wire have dramatized the city's problems for a national audience, but Bordone could see for himself how social problems such as drug use and unemployment were hurting the city.
It was a little ironic, then, that the classic texts Bordone read at St. John's ultimately led him back to Baltimore, where he would work for seven years in human services before helping to launch a company devoted to helping nonprofits operate more efficiently.
Bordone attended the Naval Academy for two years before deciding a military career wasn't for him. He studied history at the University of Baltimore, where he discovered a desire to read and learn more. "The first seminar I did at St. John's was on Lucretius, and it was everything I hoped it would be," he says. Books such as Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics inspired him to think about justice, citizenship and social engagement, he says. "I wanted to be a more active citizen."
He transferred to the GI in Annapolis and finished his last semester while working as a teacher for disadvantaged youth. Later, he joined an organization called the Learning Bank, where he developed and implemented coursework and activities designed to foster personal accountability and other employment-related skills in his students. "It's unfortunate that in Baltimore, individuals and families can be beaten down by the challenges they face," he says. "We were able to show folks a path through which they could move with our assistance to a more sustainable and long-term employment opportunity."
Bordone left the Learning Bank to help start the Maryland Center for Arts and Technology (MCAT), dedicated to improving training and education for Baltimore's underemployed residents. Along the way, he reconnected with Steve Butz, a former colleague from the Learning Bank, who told Bordone about his efforts to develop software to help nonprofit agencies better track their efforts and outcomes.
Bordone had been trying to do the same thing at MCAT, where he became chief operating officer. He supervised six teachers, five case managers, a job developer and fundraisers, and spent much of his time tracking outcomes and crunching numbers for reports and grant applications.
Butz and Bordone started out by adapting off-the-shelf software and from there developed their "Efforts to Outcome" program, a Web-based application that enables organizations to measure the effectiveness of their programs. They released their first version in April 2002 and today have 25,000 users in 5,500 nonprofit and human service agencies. Their clients include the Girl Scouts, United Way, the New York City Department of Education, and Casey Family Services.
As vice president, Bordone works with new clients, customizes the software to their needs, conducts training workshops, writes proposals, manages legal affairs including contracts, responds to requests for proposals, hires and manages staff, and does anything else a small business requires.
Starting a new business just when the tech bubble was bursting meant Bordone and his business partner had to work harder to attract funding and prove their business model was viable. They launched Social Solutions in a warehouse that was leaky, windy, had no air-conditioning, and very little heat. "I spent the first year working in a coat—and loving it," he says. "As a small business that was entirely self-funded, we've remained lean, and that's helped us remain close to our client base. We've always been very respectful of the few dollars we have."
Human service agencies typically have small budgets for administration, so the company has to demonstrate that their software will help them serve their clients better. "We're a tech firm by default, but more importantly, we are a firm that has a social venture," he says. "Everyone who works with our clients is a former practitioner of human services, and we understand the work that they do."
Social Solutions now operates in better quarters in an emerging technology center in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood. In 2006, the company was named Maryland Incubator Company of the Year, and in 2007, one of 50 incubator companies nationwide.
The tough part of Bordone's job these days is frequent travel, long hours away from his family (his wife, Catina, and three young children) and building a business with a very lean budget.
"I'd love to say that I spend my spare time re-reading my copies of Moby-Dick and the Brothers Karamazov," he says. "Right now, I work a lot."
By Rosemary Harty