To Build What Might Be, Ventures Need Financial Investment

By Molly Cram, UpStart’s Director of Network Programs, with contribution from Taylor Epstein, former UpStart Managing Director of Learning & Design

Who we are, what we value, and how we approach our work are best described by the UpStart Team Philosophy: To dream with purpose, build the “what might be,” and grow the good. This philosophy guided us through the pandemic with a sense of urgency and responsibility to support the social entrepreneurs that have come through UpStart programs.

In analyzing UpStart’s impact on the field in 2021, we discovered a major theme: without resources to fuel them, ideas are just ideas. To build the “what might be” for the Jewish community, social entrepreneurs and their ventures need money. Participants in UpStart programs learn everything from product-market fit to fundraising, and they have ideas for refining their infrastructure, but they are unable to act without sufficient funds.

So, in our 2021 fiscal year, we increased financial support for game-changing ideas by increasing our grant funding to members of the UpStart Network by more than 5x, representing 34% of our granting dollars, and increasing funding for early-stage entrepreneurs by 50%.

UpStart built “what might be” through financial investments such as the Strategic Partnership and Alliance (SPA) Grants, providing training, specialized coaching, and financial support to ventures in the UpStart Network–and within the broader Jewish ecosystem. These partnerships enabled organizations to increase their impact, leverage their unique talents and capacities, and utilize resources more efficiently.

In raw numbers, UpStart provided the following resources to support exploration of partnerships:

  • $236,450 in grants distributed to 23 ventures
  • 20 ventures in the UpStart Network received targeted coaching
  • Early-stage ventures each received $3,200 per grant; and growth and mezzanine stage ventures received an average of $12,500, with the largest grants reaching $20,000

These funds were an invitation for deeper engagement — a prompt to further develop what the organizations hoped to achieve, and to implement their plans. The venture leaders met previously through UpStart’s programming, but this grant was the impetus for pursuing their collaborative efforts. The impact of this training, coaching, and financial support can be seen not only in the individual organizations and leaders but in the community as a whole.

Wilderness Torah’s collaboration with Camp Newman is one such example of a successful partnership. The redesign and rebuild of Camp Newman following the Tubbs Fire in 2017 provided an opportunity for UpStart Network Member, Wilderness Torah, to deepen an existing collaboration. After numerous conversations and coaching sessions, Wilderness Torah developed a partnership with Camp Newman to open the Center for Earth-based Judaism on Camp Newman grounds. As a result of this collaboration, Wilderness Torah gains a perennial home for programming and events, a new stream of consistent revenue from Camp Newman, and opportunities to engage new audiences. Camp Newman is gaining a new offering for campers, a new program partner, and new facilities that they and Wilderness Torah will build together. This will impact 1,200 campers annually, 10,000 conference and retreat participants, and over 2,000 local Wilderness Torah community participants creating positive ripple effects in the Bay Area Jewish community.

This year, as UpStart hosted our eighth Collaboratory–an annual event bringing bold leaders from across North America to spark bold ideas and seed collaboration– we initiated The Collaboratory Challenge Grant: Grow the Good Together. The challenge grant encouraged UpStart Network members to grow their impact through meaningful collaborations with other Collaboratory participants, resulting in $195,000 allocated to 12 partnerships ranging in size from $10,000 – $20,000. We are excited to see the outcomes of this grant as well as the other opportunities we have in the works for the near future.

In our 2023 fiscal year, we are doubling down on our commitment to dream with purpose, build the “what might be,” and grow the good for social entrepreneurs, as outlined in our Strategic Plan. The plan includes a focus on increased financial investment and support for the leaders in the UpStart Network. And, in partnership with funders, we will increase resources to fuel those ventures with the most potential for impact in our sector. With more funds to fuel them, we hope to bring their bold ideas to fruition, creating a more just, vibrant, and inclusive future.

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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