PresenTense Global Laboratory: Changing the Jewish World as We Know It

Mila Finkelshtein pitches her venture, Talmud Aviv at Global Lab Venture Showcase; photo courtesy PresenTense
Mila Finkelshtein pitches her venture, Talmud Aviv at Global Lab Venture Showcase; photo courtesy PresenTense

by Frayda Leibtag

One of the lessons that PresenTense has taught its fellows over the years is the importance of the ability to upgrade and update a product, idea or organization. PresenTense is no exception to this rule and six years after the founding of the cornerstone Global Institute, the organization announced that the inaugural Global Laboratory would be taking place in July 2013. The Global Lab was developed for both emerging visionaries and returning PresenTense alumni, and consists of two tracks: Seed, for new fellows to learn how to develop ideas into viable ventures that will impact their local communities, and Scale, for PresenTense alumni who have completed a local fellowship or the Global Institute and are looking to scale their venture in the context of an international network.

“The development of the Lab shows the maturity of PresenTense,” said PT Israel CEO Guy Spigelman. “PresenTense itself is evolving and playing a large role in innovation spaces, not just in the seed phase. The Lab includes special methodologies and a curriculum for PT alumni that was created to enable them to take their venture to the next stage.”

Fellows in each track, Seed and Scale, attended separate seminars in the morning. The scale curriculum includes seven new seminars that were created by PresenTense staff to help fellows scale their ventures within their communities and to new communities. In the afternoon and evening the whole group had intensive workshop time with a group of subject matter experts and personal mentors, as well as peer workshop time to challenge one another and share best practices. The experience culminated with a Venture Showcase on July 17 at the “Tzeirim Bamerkaz” center.

“After six years, we knew the Global Institute could use a refresh – after all, we are an organization focused on innovation. First we shortened the program from six weeks to ten days to make the program accessible to a wider range of people. We also wanted to engage our alumni base – now 425 strong – in a second stage curriculum to provide support for scaling their venture,” explained Sara Weinreb, PT Associate Program Director and Lab Coordinator. A total of 13 fellows participated in the Lab, eight Seed Fellows and five Scale fellows.

Jared Jackson participated in Philadelphia’s Tribe 12 2011 Fellowship and is the founder and Executive Director of Jews in ALL Hues, a program that embraces dual-heritage Jews, both as a group and within the larger Jewish community. As his venture matured, Shelby Zitelman, Co-Director of the PT Group, encouraged him to attend the Global Lab as a Scale fellow.

“The Lab helped me change my pre-conceived notions about what my venture should look like,” remarked Jackson. “This was my big ‘leap of faith’ moment. I quit my job so that I could attend this fellowship because I felt that it was that important to the development of my venture. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice by coming here. The seminars are key, but the one-on-one time with mentors, staff and other fellows is the most valuable component of the program. The Lab is an environment of hard feedback, but you know it is for the betterment of your venture and progress as a leader. You learn to take the ego out of it,” Jackson said.

“Fellows are thirsty to learn from each other,” said Spigelman, and the Lab enables these interactions to take place in a productive and dynamic environment. For Scale fellow Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the opportunity to meet, interact with and learn from other participants and their strategies for manifesting their ideas has also been a critical component of the Lab. “Perhaps what I most gained from the Global Institute was the confidence to launch a venture and believe that it could succeed. Now, I hope to gain more confidence in my ability to take the venture to the next level, as well as specific skills that will help me do this. The Laboratory has introduced me to successful, daring people who started organizations that succeeded. From their examples I am gaining insights for my own venture,” said Neril, who participated in the 2010 PT Global Institute and lives in Jerusalem.

Seed fellow Mila Finkelshtein was born in the former Soviet Union and came to Israel in the 1990s. She works as an executive trainer in the fields of public speaking, debate and media training. The focus in her professional life on debate and the ability to have a discourse in an intelligent and logical way led her to create Talmud Aviv with co-founders Bojana Grubeshich and Ran Shabtai Yosef. Talmud Aviv comes to change the way people have discourse and analyze information through a website that uses the method of the Talmud. “We have three target audiences we hope to reach with Talmud Aviv and the Lab helped me decide which to primarily emphasize. Participating in the Lab has taught me to learn how to think in short sentences and get to the core of what I am trying to accomplish with my venture. In addition, being in a process with people going through the same thing you are has a positive psychological effect,” said Finkelshtein.

Emma Boyar came to the Lab as a Seed fellow from Melbourne Australia where she works as the Youth Engagement Manager of Jewish Care Victoria. With her venture, she hopes to bring successful Jewish programming platforms such as PresenTense to Australia to create “a more coordinated approach and formal means of conversation between funders, idea generators and the beneficiaries of our ideas” in the Melbourne community. According to Boyar, her venture will also “promote new leaders – social entrepreneurs – who will have a structured approach to transforming their ideas into reality.” “PT provides you with the tools and space to transform your ideas into action but more importantly they provide you with industry experts, and a personal Mentor to challenge, question and support your projects,” she said.

Based on the feedback from Seed and Scale fellows, it seems that the Laboratory has been a huge success for both the fellows and PresenTense. “The Global Lab has exceeded our expectations in the pilot year. The energy of budding social entrepreneurs working alongside established PresenTense alumni dedicated to expanding programming makes the Lab the perfect place to achieve success in changing our community and the Jewish world as we know it,” concluded Weinreb.