Monday, July 06, 2020

What happens when leaders from across the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism decide it’s time to find the fastest, most effective route to solving some of the community’s most intractable problems? They act—by seeking out the best solutions and offering assistance on a path to implementation. That’s the motivation behind Klal Ventures. This isn’t a classic investment fund, where investors search for startups with the most potential profit. Klal Ventures is looking for people with ideas that will help the Jewish community, and if selected, Klal Ventures will help turn these ideas into realities.

Jewish geography is always a fun game. But when people with expertise reach out to the people they know, big things can happen. Ezra Friedberg and Zevy Wolman work together on the Jewish Entrepreneur in Baltimore, and match entrepreneurs with mentors. Friedberg works with Ed Stelzer of Teaneck on the Orthodox Union’s Impact Accelerator Program, which funds and provides support to promising social-impact ventures. “Everyone knew someone on the chain,” said Stelzer. They created a board for Klal Ventures, along with Chayale Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Content Network; Avi Lazar, Mishpacha CEO, North America; and Benzion Zlotnick, a tech entrepreneur and communal leader from Toronto. Each board member brings different skills and experience to the table.

Why now? “The coronavirus clarified our problems,” said Wolman in a phone interview. “Before corona, for all the hand wringing and speeches, there didn’t seem to be a willingness in the mindset of many in the community to make the massive shift necessary to make changes. Now, fundraising probably won’t continue at the same level it has in the past—salaries are being cut and business owners are struggling—and at the same time, infrastructure costs are not going down. We have to do something about the cost of (day school) tuition, weddings and kosher food. The underlying structural weaknesses, papered over by a strong economy in the past, have been revealed to be a problem that demands an immediate solution.”

Wolman said the initial idea originated with Ezra Friedberg, who read an article about a fund for coronavirus research. The fund gave grants to researchers doing “anything meaningful” to find a vaccine or treatment for the virus. The process for approval was shortened to two weeks from the usual six months. “We looked at that and thought, ‘There are probably a number of people out there with good ideas, why don’t we create a program that cuts barriers to entry, and use our funds, connections and expertise to help test ideas and roll them out if successful?”

So start thinking. Do you have an idea that you think can help? Are you willing to put in the work to get it going? Klal Ventures wants to hear from you.

“We’re looking for people with really interesting ideas and a commitment to see them through to fruition,” said Stelzer. “We’ll start to help with some of the rest.” He emphasized that Klal Ventures is not just about financial assistance. “Money might be necessary to seed these ideas but it’s also about connecting the dots to accelerate ideas that have potential to make an impact. We have a great group of people and relationships in Jewish communities across North America. We hope to capitalize on them to see the best of these ideas become reality.” Wolman added that Klal Ventures wants to supplement the work other organizations are doing to bring ideas to fruition and test the viability of an idea to make a “massive difference in a short time.”

The word has been out for only a few weeks now and has already resulted in over 25 submissions. “I’m impressed with the creativity we’ve seen so far,” said Stelzer. “We want to make this as broad a reach as possible. I’m confident many ideas will be coming. If we can make a little bit of a dent to solve problems with powerful ideas and strong execution, we couldn’t ask for anything more.”

If you have an idea to submit, fill out and send the application at www.klalventures.org.

By Bracha Schwartz