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Sitting down with Mark Skapinker: entrepreneur

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Mark Skapinker DAVID COLLIN PHOTO

One can be a successful entrepreneur as well as give back to the community, Mark Skapinker, co-founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm Brightspark Ventures, which invests to build and grow promising early-stage software companies, said.

Skapinker is from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he and many of his friends joined Habonim, the Zionist youth movement.  “It was a way for us to be able to express some type of alternative life to what we saw around us”, in apartheid-era South Africa, “without being arrested and sent to jail.”

He was “determined to apply some of the lessons I learned growing into my business life and many of them paid off,” he said. “We know that the more the solid corporate culture the start-up company has, the more successful they are. We understood that part of corporate culture is giving back,”  he told over 100 Jewish young professionals who came out to the House’s latest speaker series event, JEDx Breakaway: The Edge of Entrepreneurialism, on July 20.

In the early 80s, he and his wife decided to spend a year in Toronto, and “it’s been a long year,” he said. “We became very entrenched, enthusiastic Canadians and all of our children live here.”

When Skapinker arrived in Toronto, “the personal computer revolution was beginning. The first PCs came out, the first home computers came out and I was completely enthralled with what was happening. There was a tremendous amount of excitement around what was about to happen with the personal computer industry. I thought I have to start my own company in Toronto.”

On a trip to Israel visiting technology companies, he was introduced to an organization called Tmura.

Tmura works with start-ups in Israel and charities. In this program, a burgeoning start-up company gives one or a few per cent of the company in stock options to Tmura to hold on to those options.

“When you sell the company, Tmura cashes in on the options and together gives that money to charity.” It is a model that has worked well in Israel with companies like Waze. When Google bought Waze, “millions of dollars were given to charity through Tmura.”

Together with a few other venture capital firms, Skapinker started a similar organization called the Upside Foundation of Canada, “where you can share the upside of your company.” The venture motivates Canadian start-ups to give back to society through corporate philanthropy.

“It’s encouraging software companies to be part of the charitable world,” he said. Today the Foundation has 40 companies signed, with the goal to sign on another 100 companies by the end of the year. The Foundation is an “incredible way of creating a platform and giving back to the community around you.”

Rabbi Rafi Lipner, executive director of the House, told the audience, “the entrepreneurial balance is the idea of moving the needle forward, creating something that has never been seen before. At the same time, the counter balance is that there are certain tried values or principles that tether any solid business and vision.”

Those values are Jewish values, such as the value of giving back. Skapinker is “involved in some really creative philanthropic start-up initiatives,” Rabbi Lipner told The CJN. “He balances his involvement in the community along with his growth and success in business.”

Rabbi Lipner saw the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) as the “perfect partner” to host this event. Skapinker is “involved in the tech start-up world and supportive of Israel and its initiatives. JCT is an organization that combines the Jewish lens with the start-up lens. Greatness, in the Jewish lens, is not that you are great at what you do”, says Rabbi Lipner, “but it’s because you do great things with that which you can do well.”

The House provides Jewish programing for young professionals’ through events and speakers.

“The young professional demographic are at the point in their lives when they’re making their most important life decisions,” Rabbi Lipner told The CJN. “It’s the time when they must decide whether to just pursue financial success or to have a broader definition of success.”

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