Creative Thinkers and Bold Visions

by Lisa Lepson

Every two years, Joshua Venture Group (JVG) offers eight aspiring social entrepreneurs in the Jewish community the opportunity to participate in the Dual Investment Program. Out of more than 150 applicants, the eight Fellows chosen through our rigorous selection process will receive $94,000 in direct funding, subsidies for travel and conferences, JVG cohort retreats, and individualized coaching and training support over two years.

JVG issued a call for applications this past March, and we were not disappointed. Beyond providing strong candidates for our Program, these applicants speak to the state of entrepreneurship in the Jewish community. We have compiled a profile of the applicant pool, Creative Thinkers and Bold Visions, which we invite you to review. Some key takeaways include:

  • Entrepreneurship continues to be of strong interest to a growing number of Jews. We received more applications this year than in the past, and they reflected greater diversity in terms of geography and age. Our Program requires not only a great idea, but deep commitment – we require participants to work full-time on their projects. Our applicants demonstrate that these ideas are ventures that they are so passionate about, they will devote their life’s work to it.
  • Entrepreneurs require ongoing support and nurturing to succeed. Our partners in this work, including ROI, PresenTense, Jumpstart, Upstart and Bikkurim, are fostering an amazing pool from which we can draw. Alumni of these programs advanced to the second stage at a disproportionate rate.
  • Issue area-specific outreach leads surfaces innovation on the ground. This year, we piloted working with co-investors to support three of the eight Fellows. When asked for creative thinking about areas of passion, entrepreneurial thinking abounded. We issued a call for the Ruderman Fellow, focused on inclusion and disabilities, and within three weeks, we had received 20 applications. Likewise for the Jewish Day School Fellow, supported by the Avi Chai Foundation, we heard from over 30 educators and technologists with innovative ideas.
  • Aspiring entrepreneurs can be found in multiple types of venues. Intrapreneurs and other organizational structures continue to be well represented in our applicant pool. Choosing an organizational structure that allows for the best use of resources and financial viability is essential for sustainability.

Clearly, there are not enough resources to support all of the ideas presented. JVG looks forward to continuing to participate in the communal discussion about how to best identify and support talent that will make our communities more just, vibrant, and inclusive. Great ideas and leaders may be incubated in many frameworks, and long-term sustainability may require that where an idea starts may not be where it finishes. We were heartened by the intensely difficult decisions we were forced to make in selecting our latest cohort – and see a bright future ahead. We look forward to introducing you to the 2012-2014 Fellows in the next few weeks.

Lisa Lepson is Executive Director, Joshua Venture Group.