The Jewish Innovation Pipeline: A Google Chrome OS for New Jewish Organizations?

(This item by Joshua Avedon is cross-posted from the blog at eJewish Philanthropy.)

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.

One part of the pipeline acts as a catalyst for creativity. Organizations like REBOOT, Jewlicious, Jewcy and ZEEK seed the clouds with new ideas and inspiration.

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.

Other organizations create the peer networks of innovators, like ROI, Selah, and RIKMA in Israel.

On the direct support side, a number of organizations function as idea labs, incubators and capacity-builders, such as The PresenTense Institute, Bikkurim, The Paideia Project Incubator, 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.

The Art of Sustainable Innovation

Jumpstart founders Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres presented on the culture of innovation at last week’s ROI Summit. This item is crossposted on the ROI Community blog.

Joshua and Shawn at ROI in Israel
At one of Jumpstart’s sessions at the ROI Summit last week, one participant wondered if the idea of “sustainable innovation” is an oxymoron. Certainly history is filled with punctuated periods of new thinking and new approaches, but yesterday’s creative upstart often morphs into tomorrow’s stale establishment. It’s worth thinking about why and how some organizations manage to maintain their culture of innovation, while others use innovation to rocket to prominence, and then settle into a groove of doing the tried and true.

Apple Inc. is maybe the best example of an innovator that has never lost its edge. Notice their name is no longer Apple Computers Inc. – which makes sense now that they are a power house in the music and mobile phone business. That kind of responsiveness to an evolving marketplace, and an understanding of how to apply current skills to future challenges is the hallmark of a sustainable innovator.

The Jewish world often has difficulty recognizing how the market place has shifted, and even organizations with deep skills and significant accomplishments sometimes coast on inertia rather than find a way to innovate sustainably. Which is why when most people think of innovation, they think of new organizations. In that same session, we defined “innovation” as being operationalized creativity, which shouldn’t be the sole provenance of startups – we all know plenty of creative people who work within the mainstream Jewish world.

So while some folks in the establishment fail to support innovation, they also complain about the proliferation of new initiatives, arguing that there is too much duplication and all this innovation is fragmenting the marketplace. Then they usually go on to recommend that any vaguely related projects really ought to merge with one another, despite the fact that most mergers in the for-profit world lead to a net loss of shareolder value (and the Jewish world has had some less than favorable results in that realm as well). But many of us believe that argument is a red herring – a distraction from the fact that established organizations are not doing enough to reinvent themselves internally.

Sustainable innovation is a choice that leaders make when they know that their vision is more imortant than sticking to their original mission, or even more important than the existence of their organization. Sometimes completely reinventing yourself or even putting yourself out of business is the only way to build a future that isn’t just about organizational self-preservation. The young innovators at ROI are part of a tidal wave of innovation sweeping the Jewish world. And networks that cultivate long-term peer relationships (think ROI, PLP, Selah, BYFI Alumni, RIKMA, etc.), are critical to sustaining their work as innovators. Whether these leaders start their own project, transform an existing organization, or just work to change the conversation about where Jewish life is headed, all of them are learning the art of sustainable innovation.

Spotlight on Jewish startups

Jumpstart Research Report 2.09 - Key Findings from The 2008 Survey of New Jewish OrganizationsWe’ve had a busy few weeks, and as our first post to the official Jumpstart blog we’d like to invite a discussion about the recent release of our first Research Report, Key Findings from the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations

Jumpstart partnered with The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation for this first of its kind study of the Jewish startup sector. A conversation about the key findings from the report has already sprung up on a number of blogs and other news outlets. 

eJewishPhilanthropy’s Dan Brown previewed the survey’s findings, noting startups are “transforming our communal landscape” and highlighting Los Angeles’s growing prominence as a center for Jewish innovation (Jewish Startups: LA’s Increasing Role,  Jewish LA in the Spotlight).

Tamar Synder at The Jewish Week offered that “While startups are more vulnerable — they’re younger and in many cases haven’t built up large reserves of cash to get them through hard times — they’re also more adaptable” (Start And Stop For Jewish Startups?). 

Esther Kustanowitz tweeted in realtime and then blogged after at My Urban Kvetch about Jumpstart’s presentation of the key findings at the LA Federation, where she compared institutional resistance to change with “GVH (graft-vs.-host) disease, when a transplant patient’s body treats the transplanted tissue as enemy cells and begins destroying the very organ that may have been its salvation” (Jumpstart’s New Jewish Organizations Survey: Tweeting and Reflecting). 

Bob Golfarb gave his reaction to Jumpstart’s suggestion that the new startups represent a Jewish communal form of the “Long Tail” phenomenon by asking “Is that the case with new Jewish organizations? Or are there simply a great many small organizations that show up as a long tail on a graph, without any special economic efficiencies resulting from new media?” (Survey of New Jewish Organizations – A Response) posted at 

Jacob Berkman, writting at JTA’s philanthropy blog The Fundermentalist gave a rundown of reactions to the study (New study looks at new Jewish nonprofits). 

Capping an eventful first week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Ben Gose highlighted the study’s findings for the secular nonprofit world, noting especially the diversity of the people involved in Jewish startups, from the relatively unconnected to the deeply involved, all seeking options they had not found in established Jewish institutions  (New Jewish Charities Have Attracted Diverse Clients, Study Finds). 

Overall the response has been encouraging and informative. As we consider potential policy recommendations and other next steps, we really do hope to hear additional comments, reactions, and feedback from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible (see, and please fill, comments box below).  

To receive updates about the survey project, including new findings, additional analysis, and policy recommendations, as well as other news about Jumpstart and its work, please sign up for the Jumpstart Email List and indicate your interest in “Jewish Startup Survey.”