This kosher knock-off of the long-running ABC reality show Shark Tank may not have the same glitz, but the (usually) shomer Shabbat entrepreneurs are just as enthusiastic about their pitches, and the similarly observant “moguls” are almost as hard-nosed.
BizTank, which came to Montreal for the first time in November, was launched in New York in April 2016, to give a leg-up to budding chassidic businesspeople, who are not raised in an entrepreneurial culture.
BizTank founder and producer Joel Klein is an ordained rabbi from Brooklyn’s Satmar community, who recognized the need to encourage entrepreneurship among Chassidim. He found he had a knack for bringing together those with money to invest with those looking to take their fledgling enterprises to the next level. Klein said there are many investors looking to get in on the inside track of the next good idea, wherever it originates.
In the process, he has created a business for himself, as well, and now employs 20 people.
BizTank’s live shows are held monthly in New York. Five or six people, usually men (although women are permitted), come before a panel selected from a roster of about 20 investors “with deep pockets.” Other potential investors are often in the audience.
As it grew, BizTank opened up to all Jews, of any age, but activities conform to strictly Orthodox practices. Would-be presenters apply through the BizTank website, or come through word of mouth. They audition and, if selected, they’re coached on how to make the greatest impact on the moguls.
Since its inception, BizTank has given a platform to over 60 budding entrepreneurs, who have come away with a total of more than US$6 million ($7.7 million), said Klein.
Fully half leave with “a tangible offer” of either investment or in-kind support, according to Klein, who has $13 million more “in the pipeline.”
Although some Canadians have traveled to New York to appear on the show, this was the first time BizTank came to this country, at the invitation of the Montreal Jewish Commerce Network, a new initiative specifically tailored to the Orthodox community’s employment needs, in collaboration with Agence Ometz.
Held in a reception hall in an industrial park in the suburb of Mount Royal, the four local moguls were: Gad Bitton, founder, president and CEO of Holand Automotive Group; Sam Drazin, owner of Splash Home; Louis Newman, CEO of Logix Works, a technology company; and Aaron Herzog, CEO and owner of Curtis International, a consumer products manufacturer.
The presenters included: Shimon Lang, 45, of Montreal, founder of Coloring Book Warehouse, a wholesaler of promotional colouring books; and Shmulie Schochet, 28, a Toronto native who is the CEO of East Point Systems, a developer of software for property management services, based in East Hartford, Conn.
At the request of one of the Montreal partners, this session was men-only, meaning that this CJN reporter could not attend.
Coloring Book Warehouse, which Lang started in 2006, is a one-man online operation. He works with a manufacturer to produce bulk colouring books that businesses can customize. To date, he has sold over a million books, mostly in the United States.
“So far, it has been self-financing through sales.… This (is) the first time I looked for an outside investor. I’m want to grow the business and I feel more comfortable looking within my community,” said Lang, who describes himself as frum. “This is a tremendous resource for anyone looking to kick-start their business.”
He was seeking $150,000 for 49 per cent equity. He got a $10,000 “initial” investment from Bitton, to be put “toward what is expected to be a larger engagement moving forward.”
‘We are trying to empower as many Jewish entrepreneurs as possible.’
Schochet, who is a Lubavitcher, describes East Point, which he launched in August 2016, as “Uber” for real estate companies looking for contractors. Through its application, they can locate and dispatch services in five northeastern states, he said.
Schochet was looking for a whopping $2 million. He left having aroused the interest of two moguls, who are now doing their due diligence.
As Klein noted, whether a deal is made or not, no presenter ever “goes away empty-handed”: all of them receive mentoring and referrals to other sources of financing.
Those who are successful may get exposure in BizTank’s slick magazine, B-Tank. The current issue’s cover story is about BizTank’s very first presenters, WaiveCar co-founders Isaac Deutsch and Zoli Honig, whose car-sharing startup recently signed a deal with Hyundai.
Klein is not sure when or where the next Canadian live session will be held, but vows that this was just the beginning of his global outreach. He has had inquiries from in Europe, Israel, Argentina and Australia.
“We are trying to empower as many Jewish entrepreneurs as possible – wherever they are,” said Klein.