Don’t forget about the old new organizations in the incubator debate


Also weighing into the incubator debate is Rabbi Sid Schwarz, a self-described "serial entrepreneur" who spent much of the past two decades launching a synagogue (Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Md.), a national Jewish educational organization (the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values) and a national interfaith initiative (the E Pluribus Unum Project). His take:

When I founded the first two of the above in the late 1980s, there were no organizations around to incubate and support innovation in the Jewish community. The re-launch of the Joshua Venture Group along with several other Jewish social innovation incubators represents an important development and signals the realization on the part of funders that one of the Jewish community’s greatest assets is the creativity of the younger generation. Notwithstanding the impressive array of services and programs provided by the organized Jewish community, younger Jews have to be given the chance to reinvent the Jewish community for themselves.

Still, I always fear a stampede. In the rush to put a spotlight and throw resources at new Jewish ventures, we can, without prudence, end up doing more harm than good.

First, we must be careful to balance the encouragement of the new with support for those organizations that have worked hard and have a proven track record. Second, without the right kind of mentorship and support, young entrepreneurs may invest several years of hard work only to "crash and burn" when they are no longer the freshest face on the block and the attention turns to the next new thing.

Some serious research must be done about the trajectory of Jewish startups over the past 30 years in order to better understand what made some succeed while others failed.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer observations on three critical yardsticks that I learned from my years as the founder and leader of two projects that succeeded and one that had a huge impact but could not be sustained. The three yardsticks are impact, sustainability and succession.

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