Orthodox Union launches ‘Impact Accelerator’ program

The US's oldest Orthodox group says it is seeking to boost entrepreneurs.

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April 11, 2018 16:42
3 minute read.
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NEW YORK – A new mentorship program aimed at cultivating the next generation of Modern and ultra-Orthodox social entrepreneurs is offering $25,000 to gifted innovators seeking to strengthen the community.

The Orthodox Union, the oldest and largest umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox community, recently said it has launched a funding program called the OU Impact Accelerator, designed to “rapidly identify and invest in solutions for current and future Jewish communal needs.”

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The program will run over 18 months and is built on mentorship-based growth and early-stage funding for Jewish nonprofit entrepreneurs.

Between four and six projects will be awarded up to $25,000 each.

“The Torah teaches us that we have a shared responsibility for each other... and that the needs of others should always be our own concern,” OU president Moishe Bane said.

“Orthodox Jewish social entrepreneurs all over the country are finding innovative ways to address the needs and challenges in our communities,” he said. “With the OU Impact Accelerator, we can now help scale these important projects to have greater impact and positive change.”

The program will band together members of selected projects with experienced professional mentors and supply them with OU resources, network and knowledge base.

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Winning entrepreneurs will take part in a customized curriculum of business skills, coaching, funding and implementation strategies to accelerate their ventures that are addressing the community’s most significant needs.

Moreover, they will participate in virtual training and group town halls every other week, with in-person retreats and programming every six to nine months.

“The Orthodox Union has had 120 years of building successful Jewish nonprofit organizations,” Jenna Beltser, assistant director of innovation, told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.

“In order to support the community from the OU’s collective strength and knowledge base, we want to support entrepreneurs who are operating in the nonprofit sector,” she said. “Please note, we are open to accepting traditional entrepreneurs so long as the for-profit business has a social benefit.”

The OU said the program is designed to tackle some of the biggest challenges plaguing the community as a whole, including mental health issues and at-risk youth.

The NGO noted, however, that a holistic approach is being taken to evaluate each application in order to allow a spectrum of ventures with the greatest potential impact to be accepted into the accelerator.

The Orthodox community, the organization believes, generally lacks support and resources, which has created an opportunity for the OU to bolster untapped talent and ingenuity.

“While there exists a Jewish innovation space as a whole, it is very difficult for an Orthodox entrepreneur, especially if catering to an Orthodox communal need, to receive funding, mentorship and support to grow their venture,” Beltser said. “As the main resource for the Orthodox community, we want to ensure these innovators receive what they need in order to grow.”

The Orthodox Union said it has access to almost every community in North America where experienced professionals work in all areas of Jewish life, along with networks of successful mentors and a willingness to commit necessary funding to help “grow these ventures from good to great.”

The application process includes completing an online form, an interview with the OU innovations team, and pitching the venture to the OU Innovations Board.

Selected ventures will begin learning with a cohort of social entrepreneurs in August-September.

Along with Beltser, the OU Innovations team is composed of chief innovation officer Rabbi David Felsenthal and Impact Accelerator chairman Charlie Harary.

“Since its inception, the OU has accelerated programs that address the needs of the Jewish people,” Beltser said. “The mission of this program is to transform the landscape of the Jewish future, by building on our history of innovation and leveraging the entrepreneurial nature of this generation.”

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