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Jewish Journal

Report: Jewish startup sector resilient

by Jonah Lowenfeld

June 14, 2011 | 5:57 pm

Although Jewish startup organizations may themselves be small, a new report presented at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on June 6 says that the Jewish startup sector attracts nearly $200 million in funding every year and, as a whole, is strong and growing.

“The Jewish Innovation Economy,” a report published in April by Jumpstart, the Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, is based on a 2010 survey of 660 new Jewish initiatives around the world.

More than half of the organizations have budgets of $100,000 or less. The survey discovered that founders of Jewish startups are well-educated individuals with strong Jewish backgrounds who are regularly involved in Jewish life. Most startup founders reported having worked in nonprofit organizations before founding their own. More than half of these startup founders also reported having participated in at least one program aimed at building Jewish knowledge and commitment among young people.

The audience of about 50 people at the Federation building included more than a few Jewish innovators, and they welcomed the report’s findings.

Jonathan Greenblatt, co-founder of Ethos Water, appeared on a panel with Rebecca Guber of the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists and Shannon Sarna of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Greenblatt, reacting to the report, said innovation could offer what the Jewish community needed, which was, in a word, “more.”

“We as Jews need more than sustainability,” Greenblatt said. “We need scale.”

Many of the organizations surveyed are focused on increasing Jewish engagement and commitment among younger Jews. “To be able to hear how they spoke about my age group was really interesting,” Celine Yousefzadeh, 17, the co-founder of an annual fashion show fundraiser at the Milken Community High School, said after the presentation. (Yousefzadeh graduated from Milken one day earlier.)

Despite the diversity among Jewish startup organizations, one questioner pointed out the dearth of social service organizations among the startups featured in the survey.

Shawn Landres, who cofounded Jumpstart with Joshua Avedon and edited the report with Avedon and Felicia Herman of the Natan Fund, explained that the perceived absence of social service-oriented Jewish startups could be attributed to three factors. First, Landres said, Jews already do social service work quite well and the impact of a new startup might be limited. Second, although the new generation of Jewish startups might not be focusing on social service provision in their hometowns, many individuals and organizations are doing important work in the developing world. And then there was the ever-important conversation about money.

“To run a good social service agency, you need a lot of money, and that’s not something most startups have,” Landres said.

Federation President Jay Sanderson, who moderated the panel, said it would be difficult for startups to compete with larger organizations — like the one he leads — when it comes to courting donors.

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of JConnect and Jewlicious, welcomed the information contained in the report.

“It’s easy to take for granted what they’ve done here, and sometimes people bore of studies,” he said, “however without critical study and analysis of the issue, how are we to know what’s going on or make communal decisions?”

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