UJA Federation last week unveiled its program to bring together Jewish professionals by – what else? – bringing together Jewish professionals, as it unveiled its Jewish Technology Entrepreneurial Circle (JTEC).
“Our mantra,” explained Elik Jaeger, the Israeli-born entrepreneur and brains behind the venture, is “connecting the community through technology.”
The result can be “magic” as entrepreneurs, employees and others meet, network and mentor while creating new business ventures. JTEC will connect a new generation of community leaders and philanthropists to ensure a thriving Jewish community, he said.
About 150 people attended the sold-out event at 111 Richmond St., itself an innovative office building and collaborative work environment that serves as Google Canada’s headquarters.
A panel of high-tech heavyweights, moderated by technology journalist Marc Saltzman, outlined their perspectives on the role technology and innovation can play for Jewish businesspeople.
The panel consisted of John Albright, co-founder and managing partner of Relay Ventures, an early stage investment fund focused on mobile connectivity; Daniel Debow, co-founder of Rypple and Workbrain, who now is senior vice-president at Salesforce.com; and Gary Lipovetsky, co-founder of Dealfind.com.
Saltzman kicked off the discussion by noting the importance of creating a strong technology and entrepreneurial community while encouraging mentorship and networking, “with a Jewish thread.”
“We need a way to work together and solidify relationships,” he said.
Saltzman said his visits to Israel highlighted the differences in the way high-tech business is done there compared to Canada. People in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem seemed to stick together more and “leverage their tool-set to work together.” Canada’s cultural diversity and geographic magnitude seems to breed a lack of togetherness, he suggested.
JTEC, he added, could be the birth of a technology-focused entrepreneurial community.”
The speakers in turn described their entry into the world of business, each recounting in various degrees the importance of “commonality” and “collaboration” in producing successful ventures.
Sharing something you have in common, whether your school, a friend, a neighbourhood, or your Jewish heritage can open doors and at least warrant hearing their business pitch, Albright said.
Lipovetsky suggested that “Israel is like a big kibbutz,” with plenty of collaboration. “I think that’s what happens when you have a lot of Jews together.
“JTEC could be the kibbutz of technology in Canada,” he added.
Debow noted that personal relationship in his life – including one with his babysitter – opened doors to him later in life.
“Investing is about trust,” he said.
In his experience doing business with fellow Jews, failure is not an option. Falling short on a business deal or not coming through with something that was promised can kill a reputation, so “they only work their butts off,” Debow said.
People pitching a product must show why their idea is worth an investor’s cash. An idea alone is not good enough. You have to at least provide a prototype. “You have to come to a meeting with something done,” he said.
Turning to the question of mentoring, Debow said it has to be a two-way street. The person being mentored should not just take, but also give something back to their mentor, perhaps even something as simple as a reference to an interesting article.
Lipovetsky said he sees “an entitlement mentality” among some young businesspeople, who expect investors to shower them with money for their projects.
Responding to a question from Saltzman on whether the focus of Canadian startups was too local, Albright said capital markets are global and they seek out products that are global. “Our biggest competition for local deals in Canada comes from outside Canada,” he said.
Tech businesses should expand their scope, leave behind a local or regional perspective and think globally, Saltzman added.