Nonprofit hopes to nourish next generation of Jewish innovators

No matter how many books she read about how to write a business plan, Rabbi Bridget Wynne couldn’t quite understand how to craft one for her Jewish startup.

At the same time, Rachel Brodie, an educator, had already written a business plan for her Jewish nonprofit, but had nowhere to meet clients because she was working out of her home.

“People would say, ‘I’ll meet you at your office,” and I’d say, ‘It’s a P.O. box on College Avenue. We’re not going to fit,’” Brodie joked.

Had these women — Wynne of Jewish Gateways and Brodie of Jewish Milestones — started their nonprofits today instead of years ago, a new San Francisco organization could have transformed their start-up processes.

UpStart Bay Area is focused on supporting, training and linking Jewish innovators who want to start nonprofits of their own.

Toby Rubin left her post as associate director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco to launch UpStart with a multi-year grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

Her effort began in 2006 as a BJE project called the Jewish Professionals Co-Op, of which Brodie and Wynne were a part. The co-op provided resources, support and networking for individuals starting a new organization or a local chapter of a national group.

They had the right ideas, Rubin said, but didn’t know the fundamentals of nonprofit management: fundraising, marketing, accounting, strategic planning.

“No one tells you how to do this kind of stuff, and it is crucial to being a responsible and effective organization,” Brodie said.

Five organizations from the co-op will continue to work with UpStart’s staff: Rubin Barbara Reiss, Maya Bernstein and Jonathan Kurshan.

Beginning this month, UpStart is looking for new applicants — people hoping to start nonprofits that will “engage more Jews in Jewish life.” For a fee of $1,000 or 1 percent of their organization’s budget, UpStart will work with Jewish innovators for up to three years.

The fee “is part of disciplining them to be effective consumers,” Rubin said. She estimates the services and resources UpStart provide would cost up to $20,000.

“UpStarters,” as Rubin affectionately calls them, will have access to weekly personalized consulting about their infrastructure and programming. They also get meeting space, Internet access and a mailing address.

For people working on a startup, their “primary need is to have their isolation broken,” Rubin said. “To get them out of their basements so they aren’t alone in their efforts.”

Added Brodie, “The connections I made through [the Jewish Profess-ionals Co-Op] were totally vital to Jewish Milestones’ capacity to thrive.”

UpStart is most interested in encouraging Jewish startups that reach out to young adult Jews, but won’t restrict its focus to only one demographic. Rubin believes the best way to invigorate Jewish life in the Bay Area is to keep an open mind.

“If any of us knew what the answer is to engage the 80 percent not engaged, it’d be happening,” she said.

She acknowledged that some institutions, such as synagogues or other centers of Jewish life, might view her attempt to create more opportunities for Jewish engagement as discouraging people from tapping into what’s already there.

But that’s not her intention.

“This is not about supplanting the Jewish community, it’s about enlarging it,” Rubin said.

UpStart is the third organization of its kind, following in the tradition of Bikkurim in New York and Jumpstart in Los Angeles. Bikkurim, the first Jewish incubator, helped launch such organizations as Hazon, Jdub Records, Sharsheret and Storahtelling.

Wynne, the founding director of Jewish Gateways, is all for Upstart’s goals.

“We need to break down barriers if want to have a more engaged and exciting community,” she said.

Are you the next ‘UpStarter’?

The staff of UpStart Bay Area wants to incubate leaders who exhibit a variety of qualities, including those who:

• Articulate a clear vision for their organization.

• Demonstrate creativity, curiosity and interest in learning.

• Are unafraid of taking risks.

• Have innovative ideas to engage more Jews in Jewish learning, ritual, community and service.

• Can secure human and/or capital resources to get started.

For more information or to apply, contact UpStart Bay Area at (415) 536-5918 or via e-mail at [email protected]. Applications are due Feb. 13.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.