In April, the Joshua Venture Group will announce its new batch of eight fellows — each of whom will receive some $80,000 in funding and tens of thousands more in professional development and mentoring service to help build innovative Jewish startups.
The group received 131 applications this winter and has narrowed its search to 18 finalists. Joshua Venture released the results of a study that it conducted into who exactly were its applicants.
The Fundermentalist got a sneak peak at the results, and they may buck some of what we thought we knew about the field of Jewish entrepreneurship.
Some of the more interesting findings:
- When the Joshua Venture was in its initial incarnation early last decade, no one older than 39 could apply, but the group has dropped the age restriction. Of the 131 applicants, a quarter were aged 26 to 30. More than 20 percent were 31 to 36, and slightly less than 20 percent were 36 to 40. About a quarter were over 40. It has been a commonly held notion within the Jewish community that young people won’t join the Jewish establishment, so the best approach is to let them come up with their own ideas about how to engage their peers and then help them build those programs. Well, it seems that Jewish social entrepreneurship is not necessarily the sole domain of the Next Gen. "Our numbers show that innovation occurs at all levels," said Lisa Lepson, the JVGroup’s CEO. Some of the disparity, Lepson said, may have to do with the fact that while some people have ideas in their 20s about what they might like to do with a Jewish project, the proposals may not be fully developed until the innovators are in their 30s.
- A third of the 18 finalists already had participated in other Jewish incubator programs, such as Bikkurim, Jumpstart, Upstart or PresenTense. Lepson sees this as a possible sign of the emergence of a stage-by-stage process for building better projects. "One of the big differences from when JV was first launched and now is that there seems to be a progression of the field that is really exciting. We can see it is clear how things progress through various funding and staging," she said. "We see these organizations as a possible pipeline, and that has happened."
- While the thinking in the Jewish world has been that social ventures should be run as not-for-profit organizations, Joshua Venture opened up its application to nontraditional ventures as well, such as for-profit organizations and organizations embedded within other organizations. In the end, most of the applicants were nonprofits or applying for not-for-profit status — but a higher proportion of the for-profits actually qualified as finalists. According to the JV report, the for-profit models had better business plans.
- Forty-one percent of applicants pitched education projects. Here’s how other categories fared: art projects (21 percent), social justice (15 percent), leadership (13 percent) and media projects (2 percent). It’s important to note that applicants were allowed to identify their projects under two categories. Many who opted for art, social justice or other categories also identified their projects as educational. According to Lepson, perhaps most interesting was that so many of the projects involved community building.
Check Joshua Venture Group’s Web site to see the report for yourself.
Fundermentalist’s take: I would still love to see how many of the applicants and finalists went through the traditional long-term commitment to Judaism pipeline that includes growing up in a strong Jewish home, attending day schools, camps and youth groups.