Aspiring Jewish entrepreneurs compete for funding

One team of entreprenuers works with The Jewish Federation of St. Louis Accelerating Community Entreprenuers program to make their innovations positively affect the St. Louis community. Photo courtesy of Ben Remis. 

BY BEN REMIS, Junior, John Burroughs School

This past year, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis created incredible opportunities for local Jewish entrepreneurs and leaders in social change. Now entering its second year, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis Accelerating Community Entrepreneurs (JFACE) program supports innovators and change-makers through a series of workshops and seminars to help them create and establish ideas that can positively impact the community.

Although JFACE is relatively new, its mission of promoting innovation in the community has been a focus of the Federation for a long time. 

“About six years ago, when Jewish Federation did its strategic planning process, something that was really important to the board and the leadership at the time was innovation and ensuring that our community continues to be innovative in the work that they are doing,” said Emily Bornstein, coordinator of the JFACE program. 

Before the creation of JFACE, individuals seeking funding could apply for a Federation grant of up to $10,000 to implement a new initiative or program. However, according to Bornstein, this process did not work out as everyone had hoped it would. 

“One of the challenges was that these community members weren’t necessarily trained to be social entrepreneurs and run these programs,” Bornstein said. 

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In its first year, JFACE partnered with Washington University’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship to help improve the effectiveness of the program. Nine JFACE people were involved in the 2015 program, which consisted of a 22-week training period.

The initiative also contains an element of competition. The innovators competed to receive funding for their program. Of the 120 teams in the competition, five were JFACE teams. 

“The competition had three rounds,” Bornstein said. “The first round was pitches, so five of our participants pitched in that round. Only three of them made it to the second round. The second round was an executive summary. Then the final round was a business plan and a 20-minute pitch.”  

Two JFACE teams made the final round, and one was among the winning ventures that received funding from the competition. That winner, Rozzy Learning Company, which is run by Yaira Gordon, secured funding for its Discovering Israel through STEAM Careers (DISC) program, which focuses on promoting careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math while teaching about Israel. 

JFACE is currently accepting applications for its next group of community innovators and entrepreneurs. The deadline for applications is Oct. 28; JFACE will select 12 to 15 members of the St. Louis community to take part. 

“There are two kinds of people who can apply,” Bornstein said. “(Ones) who already have ideas, and they can apply with that specific idea, or people who are just really passionate about changing the Jewish community in St. Louis or in the larger community in the world. (They) can come with a passion for a specific gap that we have identified through the (2014 St. Louis) Jewish community (demographic) study.”  

Although the focus is the same, this year, the JFACE program will be different because of the introduction of the Jewish Community Accelerator program. The Accelerator program takes place over six months. Each month, innovators will attend one or two three-hour seminars led by local community members who have been trained by the global Jewish accelerator group PresenTense. 

“This year we are partnering with PresenTense,” Bornstein said. “All over the country and in Israel they do Jewish Community Accelerator programs.” 

Regardless of the fact that the minimum age to apply is 21, it is never too early for teens to start thinking of ways that they can impact others. The JFACE program is a great opportunity for members of the St. Louis community to change the world in which we live.

For more information on JFACE, visit jfedstl.org/jface. The deadline to apply for this year’s program is Oct. 28.