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The great incubator debate continues

It’s getting colder here in New York, but the debate started at JTA by my former colleague Daniel Sieradski over funding for Jewish innovation remains burning hot.

In case you’ve missed it (and haven’t spoken to anyone in the world of Jewish social entrepreneurs during the past few weeks): After attending an information session about the Joshua Venture Group, Sieradski came away with the sinking feeling that if he wanted to pursue building one of his many innovative Jewish projects through a Jewish incubator, he would have to quit his day job — something he says he can’t afford to do as he contemplates starting a family. He wrote an opinion piece arguing that Jewish incubators are not doing enough to accommodate the financial needs and realities of many social entrepreneurs.

Sieradksi’s article triggered plenty of debate, and the reactions continue to pour in.

Among those joining the fray: Adene Sacks, the program director of one of the world’s largest Jewish grant-making organizations, the Jim Joseph Foundation. In an opinion piece for JTA, Sacks says that while funders in the Jewish world seem very interested in launching new projects, the Jewish world’s track record is pretty poor in helping to sustain them.

"Based on what I have observed in my work at the Jim Joseph Foundation, it feels, however, as if the discussion in some ways misses the point," Sacks writes. "The Jewish community is growing more adept at identifying early stage ventures, even if we’re not supporting them to the necessary degree. The bigger challenge is the absence of a rational capital structure that nurtures these early stage ventures into maturity and supports the growth of individual entrepreneurs into full leadership. Few would counter that the Joshua Venture alumni have made their mark on our community since emerging from the program over a decade ago, but the remaining 10 stand-alone ventures (five are now embedded elsewhere) have struggled to identify funders that will actively help them grow to maturity.

"Much of this has to do with a funding sector that is not set up to nurture entrepreneurship. When JDub gets a grant for two concerts or Keshet is supported for teacher training but not for their work with GLBT students, then we, as funding entities, are not increasing impact. Rather, we are pushing these entrepreneurs to fulfill only a portion of their vision and retarding organizational growth. This is not just about undesignated funding. This is about committing to funding entrepreneurs through a process of growth and being explicit about our skills as funders in that process."

Sacks goes on to outline several ways that Jewish foundations should be emulating venture capitalists. Her bottom line is that Jewish social entrepreneurs need more transparency, guidance and benchmarks from their funders. Read Sacks’ full Op-Ed at JTA.org.

 
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