Community-building entrepreneurs

PresenTense Global Institute holds a program that aims to foster innovation among Jews here and abroad.

By
July 25, 2013 11:31
Elizabeth Weingarten founder of Tribelle.

Elizabeth Weingarten founder of Tribelle 521. (photo credit: Courtesy PrenTense)

They stand in single file, shifting their balance, anxiously waiting their turn. The signal is given, and the first person steps up in front of the audience.

“There are queer people everywhere,” says Sara Weil, presenting her company The Women’s Gathering.

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Weil is one of 13 fellows of the first 10-day PresenTense Global Laboratory in Jerusalem, a mentorship and business development program that aims to foster innovation in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad.

Weil made aliya from California eight years ago and in November 2011, started producing events for the Queer and LGBT community in Jerusalem. Her goal is to “offer compelling content in a safe and loving space.”

On the night the Global Laboratory launched its showcase of graduates and their ventures, Weil is missing her own event that is taking place in downtown Jerusalem.

“I decided it would be worth my while to get connected with all the people who are involved in PresenTense,” she says of her decision to apply for the fellowship. “[The] people [here] are involved in all kinds of different things, any aspect of the Jewish world all over the globe.”

Founded seven years ago, the PresenTense Global Institute has produced an alumni base of more than 400 social entrepreneurs operating in the fields of profit or nonprofit ventures that include environmental, educational or cultural connections between Israel and the Diaspora.

First launched in Jerusalem, the program draws young entrepreneurs from all over the world – the fellows hail from Australia, the US, Russia, France and Israel – to focus on building Jewish community.

Sara Weinreb, associate program director and coordinator of the Global Laboratory, says, “PresenTense was founded on Zionism, pioneering and creativity to realize the potential of the Jewish people towards building a stronger future.”

She says that keeping the program in Jerusalem is the true embodiment of these ideals and gives the fellows a deeper understanding of what they are working towards.

Known for its part-time, six-month Global Institute Fellowship – it operates in 11 cities in four countries – the long-term program evolved into a concentrated six-week program in Jerusalem.

Weinreb explains that PresenTense reimagined how the institute could reach more entrepreneurs and support successful alumni, giving them the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and meet with industry experts to further promote their ventures.

The concentrated program allowed Dara Frank, an American-Israeli who lives in Jerusalem, the opportunity to focus on her venture – in between university finals and returning from a joint Muslim-Jewish conference in Sarajevo, just one day before the PresenTense workshop.

As the Israel director of TRIP (Tiyul-Rihla Project in Hebrew and Arabic), Frank’s organization has brought Israelis and Palestinians together on two- to three-day educational tours within Israel and the West Bank since 2011. The trips focus on sites of historical importance, traveling to Jericho and Bethlehem in the West Bank, touring Jerusalem and visiting Haifa and Tel Aviv. It is an alternative educational tour, focusing on discussions of history that may not match up.

“The point is that we have these vast misunderstandings in our narratives and our dialogues,” Frank says. “We learn about the history of the other in order to have better conversations and more productive conversations about the conflict.”

Frank was a participant on the Laboratory’s SEED track, designed for first-time participants in the PresenTense curriculum. She says the program taught her the skills to delegate responsibility and manage her project more effectively.

“I applied with the specific goal of taking this project and making it into something huge,” Frank says. “I really feel I learned those skills. People sat with me and helped me perfect my business plan.”

A SECOND track, unique to the 10-day program, was the SCALE track. It invited five alumni back to go deeper into skill-building and reach new levels with their ventures.

It brought back Elizabeth Weingarten from Washington, DC, the founder of Tribelle, a jewelry collective that aims to support and cultivate female entrepreneurship in Israel.

She graduated from the SEED program in June in DC and has sold a few pieces. She is now looking to expand her venture into boutiques and online sales.

Tribelle is innovative because it aims to reinvest part of the profits from sales in programs that train low-income female entrepreneurs. Weingarten is first focusing on the programs that have helped train her jewelry suppliers but hopes to encourage and support more entrepreneurial training programs for women across the board.

Weingarten had to come to Israel for Tribelle, but it also provided her the opportunity to participate in the SCALE track of the Laboratory. At the end of the 10 days, Weingarten says she has a greater understanding of the tools necessary to sustain her business, such as a focus on budget and projected longterm revenue. In discussing the benefits of the SCALE program, she cites the one-on-one time with mentors and PresenTense Israel CEO Guy Spigelman.

“What he really helped us with and emphasized was building a sustainable business model. And he gave us a lot of support in mapping out our budget and expected business revenues,” Weingarten says. “It was incredibly helpful.”

Jared Jackson, a Philadelphia native, also described SCALE as providing invaluable experience. The combination of meeting with Spigelman and in small groups allowed him to think much farther ahead than he could have before, he says.

Jackson is the founder of Jews in All Hues, a community education and leadership training organization geared toward “dual-heritage Jews,” people who come from mixed families, are converts or were adopted. Jackson, who is bi-racial – his mother is an Ashkenazi and Sephardi mix and his father is Native American and African American – says the first time he was ever called a racial slur was by a rabbi. He started his organization to build connections among Jewish people of all backgrounds.

He had participated in the six-month fellowship program in Philadelphia, meeting one Sunday a month and attending seminars on weekday evenings. He says it was a great experience that challenged the way he perceived the vision for his organization.

But in participating in the 10-day Laboratory program, Jackson says the experience was “tachlis” (Yiddish for “right to the point”).

“They’re not afraid to tell you the truth,” he says. “They’re going to tell you whether or not they think you [or your venture] will succeed… but also to give you encouragement to give you skills that, even if you fail, you’ll have to go on in other fields.”

Gili Finkelstein, director of strategy and marketing, says she believes that in the 10-day program they have found an interesting formula to bring people for an intense track that also enables them to acquire the tools they need to get their ventures started or to ramp up their existing ventures.

“All of us – the Israeli and the global team – sat with them, worked with them on our different professional subjects [and] helped them with whatever they needed to get their projects running,” she says.

The guiding principle of PresenTense is the belief that entrepreneurs build communities, and communities build entrepreneurs, Finkelstein says.

“We believe these two forces in the field can empower each other… when they come together, and we give them the right tools. They know how to work together and bring their projects to life for the good of the greater community.”


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