by Joshua Avedon
Seth Cohen recently challenged us to think about 5 key questions facing Jewish innovation. While we hope his excellent analysis continues to spark a broader conversation in the Jewish world, Jumpstart sees a big picture answer emerging to the “How?” issue he raises. And we’d like to frame it by taking a page from one of our favorite innovators from the technology world, Google.
Google recently announced the launch of the Chrome Operating System, an efficient, distributed platform that is Google’s latest run at Microsoft, purveyor of the market-dominant, yet much maligned Windows operating system. In their press release about the Chrome OS, Google said “It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.”
Jumpstart was created in an attempt to re-think how best to support new Jewish projects, driven largely by the same parameters. We wanted to create something simple, smart, universally-accessible, that uses scarce resources efficiently and works the way its users do – rather than making them plod along with a clunky system designed for a bygone era.
And we aren’t alone. Over the past ten years as Jewish innovation has taken off, a comprehensive support system for creative Jewish endeavors has begun to take shape. In a way, this innovation pipeline is like an operating system for Jewish social entrepreneurs – a platform that supports basic functions so they can do their work more effectively.
The pipeline still has some critical gaps, but there are a number of organizations now contributing to an end-to-end solution that is transforming the way Jewish organizations launch in the 21st century.
Some of the pipeline is focused on developing the human resources to power the innovation sector. That section includes youth fellowships and Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, as well as professional and lay leader development organizations like PLP.
One of the first supporters of the current wave of Jewish innovation was the Joshua Venture, which has re-launched and will be powering new cohorts of Jewish social entrepreneurs in the years to come. Along with support such as the AVI CHAI Fellowship, these kinds of funding enable mature leaders to pursue their goals with substantial monetary support.
Innovation funding is critical to every part of the pipeline, from alumni funds offering seed stage investment such as the BYFI Alumni Venture Fund and The Covenant Foundation’s Ignition Grants, to venture and mezzanine level funders, such as The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, The Natan Fund, and various Jewish Venture Philanthropy Funds, on up to mega funders like the the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life which support large-scale programs like Birthright.
On the direct support side, a number of organizations function as idea labs, incubators and capacity-builders, such as The PresenTense Institute, Bikkurim, UpStart Bay Area, Shatil in Israel and Jumpstart.
The challenges of running a new public benefit enterprise are numerous, and while social innovators tend to know their markets and deliver their products exceptionally well, we know from the study we recently published with Natan and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation (The Innovation Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape) that they struggle with basic operational management and administration. And common sense says that when social innovators can focus on their core strengths and partner for generic management support, their projects have more impact and reach. As Bob Goldfarb rightfully pointed out, many people think that “Building a successful program into a self-sustaining organization may not be as exciting as working with startups but it is crucial to the health of the ecosystem.” But we’d rather think about it the way Tides Center (a leader in nonprofit incubation) puts it: “Infrastructure is sexy.”
Jumpstart has recently added what we see as a critical piece of the pipeline – the first full-service turnkey fiscal sponsorship platform dedicated to supporting Jewish projects. We’ve partnered with Community Partners, a market-leading organization that supports public benefit organizations through fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building. Based in Los Angeles, (like Jumpstart), Community Partners has served more than 550 projects and civic leaders since 1992 through its administrative and financial services, programmatic counsel, and training. Fiscal sponsorship is a well-developed model in the non-Jewish nonprofit world, but up until now no one has provided a turnkey, full service way to bring this powerful “enabling technology” to the Jewish world. Projects operating under fiscal sponsorship receive complete infrastructure support from day one, without having to undergo the lengthy and often costly process of applying for 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. Sponsored projects can accept tax-exempt donations and operate under the corporate umbrella of their sponsor, which means they get complete insurance coverage and access to pooled benefits and payroll services. So becoming a sponsored project lowers barriers to getting started and speeds time to market – solving two critical problems for social entrepreneurs.
One key effect of having solutions like this in place is that not only do they make it easier to launch new endeavors, but they also reduce the cost of failure. Projects can be piloted and tested successfully without spending large amounts of money on building infrastructure first.
The Community Partners/Jumpstart Partnership is one piece of an emerging pipeline for Jewish innovation that includes forward-thinking funders, idea laboratories, leadership networks, established organizations with intrapreneurial programs, and direct support organizations. The pipeline grows bit by bit as gaps become apparent and organizations and individuals move to put new pieces in place. The work is by nature collaborative and distributed – kind of like an Internet-based open-source software project. Google’s Chrome OS comes at a time when Internet technology has provided an entirely new way to go about computing. The pieces that constitute the Jewish innovation pipeline are creating an entirely new way to build Jewish organizations in the 21st century.
Joshua Avedon is co-founder and COO of Jumpstart, a thinkubator for sustainable Jewish innovation. In addition to their work with Community Partners, Jumpstart is also taking the lead on creating J Space, a shared work, resource, and education center for Jewish innovation in Los Angeles.