Four Orgs Merge Programs to Lead Next Stage of Jewish Innovation

November 23, 2016 | The Jewish Voice
On Thursday, November 10, UpStart, Bikkurim, and Joshua Venture Group announced that they are consolidating into a single organization – UpStart – to serve as the central resource for Jewish innovation. The newly envisioned UpStart will also include the current U.S.-based programs of PresenTense. The four organizations currently provide the Jewish community’s leading support services for innovators and organizations looking to tackle today’s Jewish challenges with new ways of thinking, and to create meaningful access points to Jewish life. Through this consolidation, UpStart will leverage the best of each organization to house all innovation resources under one roof—delivering a comprehensive, streamlined suite of high-quality services to entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and communities pursuing Jewish innovation.

“Jewish life has evolved in incredibly positive ways due in part to the success of our organizations, our program alumni, and our visionary partners,” says Aaron Katler, CEO of the current and future UpStart. “We come together now out of a shared commitment to build on that success and to expand our capacity to serve an evolving field. Our vision is to provide innovators and organizations at nearly every stage with the services and resources they need to succeed.”

The future Upstart will work to create a more robust platform to empower innovators and institutions to take risks, to develop creative engagement strategies, and to maximize the potential of their community-changing ideas. Current plans for enhancing the field, include:

  • Expansion of programs to nurture innovation at every stage of organizational life;
  • Development of a streamlined Jewish innovation toolkit and methodology;
  • Investment in field-based research and evaluation of impact;
  • Leveraging the power of a larger, more diverse innovation network; and
  • Connecting a growing network of independent cities through regional hubs covering North America.

“The Jewish innovation sector is more mature and more sophisticated than it was 18 years ago,” says Aliza Mazor of Bikkurim. “The new UpStart combines our institutional knowledge and success to deliver more sophisticated, streamlined, relevant services for the community’s needs. As we increase the capacity for innovation through this consolidation, the broader Jewish community and all kinds of organizations will benefit—including people of different engagement levels, backgrounds, and ages.”

Starting four years ago, the organizations built strong relationships and trust working together on The Collaboratory, the largest gathering of Jewish innovators in the country. With support from Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, the executive directors of the organizations gathered for a retreat two years ago to learn more about each other’s programs and to share observations of this changing field. This conversation revealed aligned goals, along with an opportunity for deeper collaboration. Together, with funding from several forward-looking foundations, the organizations retained La Piana Consulting, a leading advisor for non-profits, to conduct a scan of the Jewish innovation field and ultimately to facilitate consideration of the consolidation process.

“It’s rare that organizations in a market niche choose to work together with increasing collaboration, and we are so proud of what we’ve created by leveraging our shared resources to serve the greater community,” says Naomi Korb Weiss, CEO of PresenTense Group. “We are thrilled to combine our work in the U.S. Jewish community with that of our close partners and believe we can create powerful impact for many years to come.”

“The consolidation is a very positive development for the entire Jewish community,” says Jon Woocher, Senior Fellow at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, which supported the retreat with the organizations. “These organizations did their homework to determine the highest-impact opportunities for investing in Jewish innovation.

As one organization, they can develop more coordinated and collaborative activities, while at the same time resourcing more programs, organizations, and leaders. This is a way to refresh, in a thoughtful and strategic way, what it means to foster Jewish innovation.”

The board representatives from each organization underwent a deliberate process to consider the leadership for the consolidated entity. After a thorough review of the needs of the consolidated entity, and of the experiences and backgrounds of the executives of each organization, they decided that Aaron Katler would serve as CEO. During the transition period, each organization will continue to operate its own programs and support the cohorts that are currently underway. The future UpStart Board of Directors will be comprised of representatives from each organization. Bikkurim’s Mazor and Joshua Venture Group’s Lisa Lepson will remain in leadership roles at the future Upstart, with other current staff in appropriate roles as well. PresenTense’s global operations, including its current work in Israel and future initiatives in North America, will continue separately in order to advance the next stage of its global mission under the PresenTense name.

“Together, our organizations have more than 40 years of experience guiding this field, supporting passionate and creative leaders, and developing best practices that help Jewish communities engage people,” adds Lisa Lepson of Joshua Venture Group. “Because we all came into this consolidation process of our own volition, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and a unified vision. Now we will grow together to support new experiments, develop our community’s most promising leaders, and design new types of engagement that will define the next era of Jewish innovation.”

Our purpose is to enable entrepreneurs to bring bold Jewish ideas to light. We help them reach Up to people in new ways that are meaningful, more inclusive, and create a brighter future for our Jewish community and the world we share.

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