Post-Start-Ups Need Support, Too

by Nina Bruder

The news that JDub Records – one of the largest, most successful, and heavily funded Jewish non-profit start-ups of the past decade – is closing due to lack of financial support is sending shock waves throughout the Jewish innovation world.

JDub Records was an early entrant that helped shape the field of Jewish innovation and start-ups. From 2003-2008 they were part of Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas.

While not every start-up organization – not every organization! – can or should last forever, some are, indeed, poised for genuine growth. In my opinion, post-start-up growth and sustainability are the next frontier for the Jewish innovation ecosystem.

Many of us eagerly await JDub’s wind-down report detailing their circumstances and decisions; there is much to learn from their experiences. Additionally, a forthcoming study in honor of Bikkurim’s 10th anniversary, conducted in partnership with Wellspring Consulting and funded by a consortium of 6 funders, will shed light on some of the underlying forces that may have contributed to JDub’s demise.

The Bikkurim study examines the state of start-ups and post-start-ups in the Jewish world and notes distinguishing characteristics of each in terms of leadership, scope, structure, and need.

For example, post-start-up organizations have a different magnitude of financial need than start-ups. An aggregate model of budgetary growth based on Bikkurim groups shows an average budget size in the start-up stage of $250,000 per year. In the post-start-up stage, the average budget is over $1 million per year. While a grant of $40,000 comprises 16% of the stylized start-up budget, that same $40,000 makes up only 4% of the stylized post-start-up budget.

JDub’s closing exposes systemic flaws in the current innovation ecosystem, particularly on the funding and support side. While there are now a handful of known sources of funding and capacity-building for start-up organizations in the Jewish community, there are next to no such resources focused on the post-start-up phase. JDub was extremely successful in raising startup funds – and their financial model was admirably diversified, with a growing individual donor base and around half of their income coming from earned revenue. Yet, in their post-start-up phase, neither their revenues nor their fundraising were sufficient. The reasons for that will hopefully become clearer in the wind-down report. What is already clear is that, more often than not, communal support drops off at the exact point that post-start-up organizations’ needs increase.

One of the core recommendations of the Bikkurim study calls for a new communal function focusing specifically on the growth needs of post-start-ups organizations. After surviving the start-up years, these organizations are in many ways the safest bets for funders – they have the strongest track records, demand for their content is high, many of the common pitfalls of the early years have been weathered, and the leadership has learned from experience – what is missing is growth capital and capacity building.

It is time for the community to step up to the plate. We have seen a tremendous burst of creative energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and success at building strong, generative Jewish communities. It is now incumbent on the Jewish community – in all its iterations – to think creatively about the structures and platforms that are needed to sustain this success. Let’s not let the most promising innovative initiatives fall by the wayside. Let’s instead build a system that supports growth beyond the start-up phase and enables those organizations with the greatest potential to maximize their impact and build a strong and vibrant Jewish future.

Nina Bruder is Executive Director of Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas.

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