Three More “i” Words: Innovation in Isolation is Irrelevant

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

A recent article on the eJewishPhilanthropy site, (Innovation Isn’t Dead, It’s Working February 5, 2013) raised concerns that last year’s merger of Hazon with the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center has sparked casual conversations about the end of the innovation era. The authors of that post, my colleagues Lisa Lepson and Will Schneider, correctly argue that there is continuing evidence that Jewish innovation is going strong, and, more importantly, beginning to make a real impact on the broader Jewish world.

Like my friends from the Joshua Venture Group and Slingshot, I also believe that funding Jewish innovation should not be a zero sum game in which the community is forced to choose between supporting startups or more mature organizations. They articulated what worries them about the current moment – as a fellow traveler in the same space, let me share what worries me. I am less concerned that an emerging awareness of the need to fund second-stage organizations might cause community focus to “shift completely away from support of early-stage entrepreneurial initiatives.” For that to be happen, first there would actually need to be a demonstrable focus on funding new Jewish initiatives, and then some evidence that money was shifting away from it. I’m much more concerned about the total dollars available to Jewish innovation in all shapes and sizes.

While it may get a good deal of ink and airtime, the data suggests that Jewish innovation, of both the startup and post-startup varieties, remains underfunded in proportion to both its reach and its growth. The 2010 Survey of New Jewish Initiatives in North America (published as The Jewish Innovation Economy by Jumpstart with The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation) found that Jewish startups engaged more than 9% of the North American Jewish population with less than 2% of the roughly $10 billion spent annually in the Jewish nonprofit sector. The average year-on-year growth rate in the number of Jewish startups between 2002 and 2010 was 29%. The amount of funding available to them does not seem to be keeping pace with that trajectory.

In 2011, the Bikkurim report From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest issued a clarion call for second stage funding, based on data that showed a sector-wide recognition of the need, and an increasing number of deserving organizations that are ready for scaling investment. Over a third of respondents to Bikkurim’s survey indicated that funding for both startups and post-startups was inadequate. While there has been a growing interest in the creation of mezzanine funds, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s Second Stage Fund is the first that I know of to have made grants with that explicit focus. The Bikkurim report also highlighted the persistence of a philanthropic preference for newness, and that funding often falls off for projects once they’ve reached that awkward adolescent stage of growth, just when they need it most. This is especially unfortunate since reaching that stage is usually a sign of market relevance and programmatic success.

Of course, innovation isn’t limited to newer organizations. Support for innovation within larger, more established Jewish organizations seems to have increased over the past few years. This is evidenced through collaborations such as the PresenTense Community Entrepreneur Partnership, through targeted funding/microgrant programs, and via new intrapreneurial efforts. The Slingshot Guide is a good indicator for this. The ’12-’13 publication includes more projects operating under the auspices of established organizations than ever before. Although it is more difficult to quantify this type of innovation than it is to survey startups and autonomous initiatives (where a sample can be easily defined by founding date and organizational structure), there are promising signs that innovation is making inroads where it is needed most.

The Jewish innovation boom has happened in spite of limited monetary resources, relying mostly on the ingenuity, skill, and social capital of its leaders. Given that passion seems to fuel new Jewish initiatives more than money, there is no reason to think that innovation is dead, or even slowing down. But the nature of innovation is changing, and the organizational forms it takes must evolve in the new epoch to meet the needs of the community. When a promising new idea comes along, the question is not only whether it will get traction in the market, but also whether it needs to be an independent entity, or might better be pursued in partnership with, or even as a project within, an existing organization.

Innovation in isolation is irrelevant. It’s the transformative potential of Jewish innovation to shape and define the Jewish community in the 21st century that gives innovation its resonance and power. No one I know who works in and supports Jewish innovation is saying that innovation is on its way out. But most of us believe that a maturing marketplace requires a more strategic approach to funding as well as an increased focus on collaboration and consolidation. My colleagues and I agree that innovation is working, precisely because the established community is increasingly adopting it as a priority. Once we have succeeded at making innovation a central principle of the entire system, I’m optimistic that the community will find the resources to fund it at all stages – and in all forms – accordingly.

Jumpstart at the White House

Jumpstart Co-founder Shawn Landres speaks to White House gathering
of faith-based social entrepreneurs

Jumpstart presented a Jewish perspective on social entrepreneurship at the July 11th White House Faith-Based Social Innovators Conference. The afternoon’s discussions offered new insights about the important role that faith-based social innovators play in expanding opportunity and addressing social issues.

Senior White House directors Jonathan Greenblatt of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and Joshua Dubois of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships convened the gathering of more than 100 leaders from a diversity of faiths and organizations.

Jumpstart at the White House: Emily Leventhal, Shawn Landres, Jonathan Greenblatt, Joshua DuBois, Joshua Avedon, Paul Vandeventer
Emily Leventhal, Shawn Landres, Jonathan Greenblatt (White House), Joshua DuBois (White House), Joshua Avedon, & Paul Vandeventer (Community Partners)

Shawn was one of only nine featured “spotlight innovators” chosen to address the entire conference because they and their organizations “are finding innovative ways to make a positive impact on our society and economy.” His remarks were about Jumpstart’s work, and about bridging the gap between faith-based and secular social entrepreneurship.
“Faith-based need not mean faith-bound,” Shawn reminded the room. “And secular social enterprise need not isolate itself from faith-born creativity.”

Jumpstart was represented by Shawn and Co-founder Joshua Avedon, as well as board members Emily Leventhal and Rachel Cohen Gerrol (who just started her term as Chair this month). We were joined by Paul Vandeventer of Community Partners, with which we operate the Project Partnership, a joint venture to fiscally sponsor emerging Jewish and interreligious organizations. Also present was Perry Oretzky, President of the Angell Foundation.

Learn more:

Media & Blog Coverage
Follow the conversation on Twitter: #WHInnovation, #FBSocInn

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.

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.”