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Pedaling for a cause

by Leslee Komaiko

May 14, 2014 | 11:59 am

Kurt Broadhag, foreground right, is among the cyclists who will ride across America on behalf of Innovation: Africa. Photo by Kristy Morrow

Kurt Broadhag, foreground right, is among the cyclists who will ride across America on behalf of Innovation: Africa. Photo by Kristy Morrow

What do competitive cyclists, Israeli technology and Africa have in common? 

On June 14, approximately 200 cyclists will leave the northern San Diego County city of Oceanside, to ride 3,000 miles, through 12 states, to Annapolis, Md., in the 33rd annual Race Across America (RAAM). 

These cyclists have nine days to complete the journey, though the fastest teams will finish in closer to five days. Four of the riders, including Los Angeles-based Kurt Broadhag, are riding on behalf of Innovation: Africa, a 6-year-old nonprofit that brings Israeli technology and ingenuity to Africa. 

To date, Innovation: Africa has completed 76 solar and agricultural projects in Africa, impacting more than 650,000 people, according to Rachel Ishofsky, managing director of the New York-based organization. The bulk of these involve the installation of rooftop solar systems at schools and medical clinics in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi, among them one community in Uganda whose electricity was sponsored by the Los Angeles-based congregation IKAR. 

In addition, more than 300,000 life-saving medicines and vaccines have been issued from Innovation: Africa’s solar-powered refrigerators. The nonprofit also has done work in Ethiopia and South Africa and is currently expanding to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the invitation of Congolese-American NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo.

Broadhag, 44, a gym designer and personal trainer, hopes he and his team, which includes about a half-dozen crew members, will be able to raise $200,000. He’s off to a good start toward that goal, thanks to Los Angeles-based venture capitalist Art Bilger and his wife, Dahlia, both longtime clients of Broadhag, who are not only sponsoring Team Innovation: Africa, but also have offered a $100,000 matching-fund challenge in hope of motivating other donors.

“From a messaging standpoint, it’s a terrific way to get the name Innovation: Africa out there in important circles,” Bilger said. “A lot of organizations have events and get some singer to come. This is so unique, it will capture your attention.”

Bilger met the founder of Innovation: Africa, Israel native Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari, two years ago. The organization’s mission resonated with him in multiple ways. “One is doing good in Africa,” said Bilger, who, along with several family members, visited Ethiopia a few years back with the founder of Charity: Water, another organization he supports.

“Separately, I have been very interested in Israel and the importance of the messaging of Israel,” said Bilger, who is also a board member of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal. “There is so much more that comes out of Israel that benefits the entire globe in terms of innovation.”

Finally, there was Borowich-Ya’ari’s compelling vision and the relative youth of Innovation: Africa. “In my day job, I do venture capital investing, so the concept of startups, young entrepreneurs building something or hoping to build something of significant value, runs through much of what I do,” Bilger said.

Bilger and Broadhag had talked about RAAM in the past. After all, Bilger also used to cycle long distances, though he never seriously considered participating in the race himself, and Broadhag is a competitive cyclist. In fact, the day Broadhag spoke to the Journal, he had ridden 80 miles in the early morning as part of his formal training and had plans to do 50 more in the afternoon. This year, the stars aligned, and when Broadhag told Bilger he thought he could put together a four-man team for Innovation: Africa, Bilger signed on.

The solo version of RAAM — yes there are a few brave souls who attempt it alone each year — has been called the world’s toughest bicycle race. So it held a sort of mythical intrigue for both men. Even for team riders, it is known as a beast. For a bit of perspective, consider that the Tour de France is approximately 2,300 miles and takes place over 21 days with a couple of rest days. Riders sleep at night and are able to draft, which conserves energy. In RAAM, though, generally only one person per team rides at a time, usually for very intense, very fast 10- to 30-minute intervals, 24 hours a day. Drafting is prohibited.

The current plan is for Team Innovation: Africa to rent two vans for the riders, crew members and equipment. The four riders will eat and sleep — albeit not much — in the vans, when they aren’t in the saddle. Supporters and the simply curious will be able to follow their progress on the team’s website (iaraam.com) as well as RAAM’s website (raceacrossamerica.org). Broadhag expects they will have cameras on their bikes and maintain a blog as well.

Although the cause and fundraising are the No. 1 priorities for Broadhag, he’s talking about Team Innovation: Africa winning the race, coming in at 5 1/2 days or less.

“We can do it in eight days and party,” he said. “Or we can seriously suffer and play mental games for five days. It’s a big mental game.”

Does Bilger care if Team Innovation: Africa comes out in front? “Kurt and I know each other very well,” he said. “I like backing winners.” 

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