June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

TJE Provides Business Mentorship to Would-Be Entrepreneurs

The Jewish Entrepreneur (TJE) is an exciting new program for the Jewish business community. TJE provides a full-service, pro-bono mentoring program for Jewish entrepreneurs of all affiliations. Our mentors are recruited from across the business spectrum and are available to help both aspiring, as well as existing, entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

An Interview With Zevy Wolman and Shmuel Schnitzer

Being an entrepreneur or a business owner is an incredible study in contrasts. It requires significant sacrifice yet can yield untold promise. It can be challenging yet can lead to tremendous satisfaction. It can be simultaneously draining and exhilarating, frustrating and thrilling.

The Jewish tradition is rife with successful entrepreneurs and business people. From the Avos in Sefer Bereishis and throughout the generations up to and including the modern era, Jewish people have been known for their ingenuity and business prowess. In our time, we have seen a proliferation of young men and women who are moving away from the more traditional professional path and instead choosing to start their own businesses.

While we can all point to people who have successfully navigated this journey, we must also acknowledge that the probability of achieving success as a start-up business is quite low. There is one thing, however, that has proven to be a game changer in helping businesses succeed, namely acquiring a proper mentor. A business that receives mentorship and guidance from another successful entrepreneur or business owner increases its probability of success to over 87 percent!

Zevy and Shmuel are ambitious and successful entrepreneurs who would like to help others in the community. They developed The Jewish Entrepreneur, or TJE, an organization that aggregates mentors from numerous fields of experience and expertise, and matches them free of charge with entrepreneurs who are looking for guidance in starting or growing their businesses.

In an exclusive interview, we spoke to them about their program and how they are helping klal Yisrael one business at a time.

Q: Hi Zevy and Shmuel. Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds?

A: We both attended Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore at the same time. Today, we’re neighbors in Baltimore and good friends. Zevy has been active in the business world since he turned 20, having worked together with his wife to build a toy company from the ground up. Shmuel, who has an MBA from Loyola University, runs a therapy center together with his wife and does private consulting as well.

Q. How did you come to develop the idea for The Jewish Entrepreneur?

A. The idea for The Jewish Entrepreneur (TJE) grew out of our involvement with an organization called Baltimore Business Loans, which provided interest-free loans to people starting or growing businesses. What we discovered is that for every person who needed a loan, there were five others who needed non-financial help, i.e., someone to sit with and discuss their business plans, providing strategic guidance, helping in properly setting goals and putting in motion plans to achieve success.

Q: That’s a great idea. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

A: The concept of business mentorship is certainly not new. In fact, I would assert that every successful businessman (and probably most professionals as well) could point to and credit one or two people who took the time to help them and guide them along their business journey. While there are communal organizations that offer assistance to local businesses, as well as business conventions designed for the Orthodox community, TJE steps forward and helps connect “relevant” people who would otherwise not have the ability to connect themselves through their personal/individual networks. Furthermore, TJE mentoring happens almost exclusively remotely via phone or Skype. This opens up the opportunity for mentoring from multiple geographic locations, spanning expertise in various industries and having a broad array of experiences. We then utilize this powerful base of talented mentors to create an optimal match with business owners/entrepreneurs around the world.

Q: Why do you think that the Jewish community, especially within frum neighborhoods, has gravitated towards entrepreneurship?

A: Aside from the historical general business acumen of Jewish people mentioned in the introduction to this article, there are a couple very important reasons why entrepreneurship and business ownership have become more ubiquitous in our communities.

Firstly, many of our young men and women are not pursuing the academic education and degrees required for successful employment in the traditional professions. Thus, when they are ready to begin earning a parnassah, starting a business is more likely to be an attractive option.

Secondly, in many ways the barriers to entry for prospective entrepreneurs are lower than they have ever been. Amazon and related e-tail businesses are perfect examples, as they have become a very popular (and in many cases, profitable) choice for young entrepreneurs in our community. These types of businesses require relatively little startup capital and can scale quite quickly with limited infrastructure.

Q. How long have you been in operation?

A. We launched TJE four months ago. In that time, we have signed up over 75 high-quality mentors, and over 100 businesses have reached out to us seeking to be paired with mentors. Almost all of this progress has come via referral, and we are now seeking to actively spread the word, encouraging those willing to help as mentors to join with us, and those starting/growing businesses to utilize our organization in requesting a mentor.

Q. What do you charge for someone to be mentored by TJE?

Our services are completely free of charge. We are happy to be of assistance whenever we can. All we ask of our businesses is that they take the mentorship seriously. Our mentors are successful business owners or professionals who are giving of their precious time to guide others toward success. The most beneficial mentoring relationships are built upon a firm appreciation of this generosity.

Q: What are the benefits of mentorship?

A: While a good mentor can provide guidance and clarity for business owners and help them set and reach realistic goals, sometimes the biggest value for our mentees is simply having someone to talk to. So many entrepreneurs operate in a bubble, in that they run a business by themselves without fully knowing what to expect, or whether what might be happening to them is the “normal” course. Having an opportunity to confer with someone who has been in a similar situation or industry can be truly invaluable.

Q: What is the process for someone who wants to obtain a mentor?

A: Every business is different and every individual who runs a business has unique needs. Shmuel is TJE’s director and manages our intake process. After speaking directly with a prospective mentee to better understand the context and requirements of their business, Shmuel will consult our growing database of global mentors to check for a match.

An optimal match between a mentor and a mentee requires a keen understanding of the business and its needs, as well as the personalities of the mentor and mentee. TJE has developed a sophisticated approach to the matching process and continues to refine this capability to ensure the highest probability of long-term success.

Q. Is there a specific business profile of a TJE mentee?

TJE has received inbound requests from men and women of all ages and stages in life. People have reached out from the US.., Canada, Europe and Israel. Our current mentees range from early-stage start-up entrepreneurs to significant established businesses seeking further growth. Some want to know whether their idea is viable, how to write a business plan, procure financing, choose their target market, etc. Others may be considering larger growth plans or strategic transactions including partnerships or sale/exits.

Q: What about your mentors? It’s wonderful that there are so many who want to help others. Why do they do it? Are you seeking to add mentors to your organization?

A: Many of our mentors have benefited from others who were willing to provide them guidance and advice throughout their careers, and feel that joining TJE is a great way to give back. Jewish people, regardless of affiliation, are ingrained with a sense of hakarat hatov and have a strong desire to help other Jews in any way possible. TJE gives them an outlet to help them accomplish that mission. We are actively seeking mentors to join TJE and encourage business owners, professionals and retirees to join TJE, and utilize your knowledge and expertise to help others.

Q. It would seem that retired business owners and professionals would be a natural fit to serve as additional mentors to TJE. Is that an opportunity for growth?

A. That is certainly correct. One of the ancillary benefits of TJE has been the partnership that we have forged with retirees. There are B”H, many individuals in our community whom no longer need to be working full-time, but have a wealth of valuable insights and decades of experience across a range of industries. We have recently partnered with STAJE, an organization devoted to supporting the growth and well-being of the Jewish over-60 crowd, to help aggregate retirees to serve as TJE mentors. We have been gratified to see the mutual benefits that have come from this relationship; mentees can now tap into the wisdom, experience and expertise, while retirees are utilizing some of their time to give back and are making a very real difference in the lives of young families.

Q. I have noticed that there are many people who advertise and market their services as business consultants. Is that similar to what you are doing with TJE?

A. There is a clear difference between a mentor and a consultant. A consultant is someone who is paid to spend time with the business in a way that makes them a pseudo-employee. The job of a business consultant obviously varies widely depending on the specific scenario, but in general the work they do is far more labor- and time-intensive and involves a deep understanding of the business and finances therein. A mentor’s role is to work with the entrepreneur or the business owner as a sounding board. They are there to provide guidance and perspective about the direction of the business or specific issues facing the business owner. A mentor’s role is less time-consuming than that of a consultant. As an organization, TJE provides business owners with mentors, as opposed to business consultants who will take an active role in helping to run the business.

Q. TJE sounds like an incredible opportunity for the community to both give and receive. Can you give us examples of some of the businesses that you have helped?

A. A sample of recent mentoring relationships and profiles of businesses that we have helped include:

Sheitel Distribution Company:

A woman with years of experience styling and selling sheitels wanted to discuss becoming an exclusive distributor for a niche new sheitel brand. We matched her up with a mentor who has industry-specific knowledge and the two discussed profit margins and the costs of distribution, marketing, etc. With the help of the mentor, they built and analyzed cash flows. The mentee realized that the cost for her to hold the exclusive distribution on this brand would be too risky for her liking. Based on the mentoring discussion, the mentee has adjusted her plan and is looking for different vendors with better profit margins. She is in regular contact with her mentor.

Dentist

A dentist with years of experience called us for help. He had owned his own practice for five years and was disappointed with the income level that he was achieving. On intake we understood that he lacked diligence in scheduling as well as assessing value leakage caused by the resulting overtime. The mentee was also concerned with insurance reimbursements, but wasn’t sure how to handle it better. We matched him with a mentor who was a successful dentist with years of experience running his own practice. Over time, this relationship has blossomed, and the mentee is now restructuring some of his insurance carriers and becoming an out-of-network provider to increase reimbursement. Advice was also provided to assist the mentee in filling his schedule via advertising and ensuring better follow-up with existing patients. The mentee is really excited about his new path and recently emailed us saying, “It’s encouraging to speak with someone with experience and success and a similar philosophy…”

Accessories Business

A person, located in NJ, called TJE wanting to start a business with his wife. His wife had a hobby creating accessories for girls, and they were considering turning it into a more formal business. We matched them with a mentor from Toronto, who has years of experience developing products and distributing to retail stores. After several conversations with the mentor regarding strategy and business planning, the couple created a catalog, developed a formal sales strategy and have recently begun to penetrate the retail market. The couple is grateful for the guidance they have received, and feel more confident having an experienced mentor to access for additional advice as the business continues on or off its path to success.

Food Manufacturer

A person contacted us regarding his established food business which was undergoing significant growth. This increased product demand far exceeded his current system infrastructure, leading to forecasting inventory tracking challenges. We matched him up with an experienced mentor who was able to engage in a technical discussion regarding this situation, and provide insight and guidance on the best way to approach this crossroad in his business development.

Q. I am sure people reading this would be excited to join the TJE as mentors, and others will see themselves as candidates for receiving a mentor. How should they best contact you for more information?

A. For both mentors and mentees, Shmuel is available to discuss by email, [email protected], or phone, 1-800-TJE-6120.

We look forward to hearing from anyone looking to grow or start businesses, as well as from successful entrepreneurs or professionals who feel that they are ready and able to give back.

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