As startups go, YEDI has done pretty well. In only two years of existence, it has matched about 100 budding entrepreneurs and non-profit innovators with people to fund them. It has helped a good number of Russian immigrants improve their education, find their legs and get started in Canada. And earlier this month it was recognized for all it has done by being named the number one ranked business accelerator in Ontario and number three in all of North America at an award ceremony sponsored by UBI Global and Ontario Centres for Excellence.
Of course, YEDI – York Entrepreneurship Development Institute – is not a startup in the conventional sense of the term. It’s not a for-profit company, with a new product that it is trying to sell. YEDI is the brainchild of Russian-born businessman Marat Ressin. It is intended to act as an accelerator of startups – an organization that helps kickstart the careers of its participants by offering first class business education, mentorship and access to investors.
It also fosters a sense of social responsibility in those advancing commercial concepts and it trains innovators in the non-profit sector in the importance of making balance sheets actually balance.
Ressin, who has extensive expertise in growing small businesses and turning around failing companies, approached Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman of the Jewish Russian Community Centre (JRCC) of Ontario with the idea of pitching the program to members of his community.
The program fit neatly into what Russian Jewish community leaders had been pushing.
“They want us to provide services that he haven’t in the past. That is, get people into business at a high level,” Rabbi Zaltzman told The CJN when YEDI was launched. In doing so, “we are creating the leaders of the next generation.”
The JRCC advertised the program extensively and many in the Russian Jewish community responded.
So far, about one-third of the program’s students are Russian Jews, Ressin said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong.
However, the selection committee, which determines which of the applicants is chosen, does so without knowing the names of those it selects, Ressin noted.
There are plenty of success stories in the Russian Jewish community, Ressin said. One is that of former student Judy Chaimov, who created Laser Weld Creation, which employs laser welding in the medical, aerospace and automotive sectors. On the non-profit side, you can find Wheel Dance, which provides wheelchair ballroom and Latin dance classes to individuals with ambulatory disabilities and their able-bodied partners.
Ressin said students benefit from high level education delivered by the Schulich Executive Education Centre, one of the partners in YEDI. Graduates earn a certificate from a prestigious business school and come to understand the importance of a workable business plan to making their ideas become reality, he said.
While in Hong Kong, Ressin spoke at two universities about YEDI and expects to create programs for them as well. More than that, he said, there is the opportunity to create an international network into which local YEDI graduates can hook in and find “soft landing opportunities” for their concepts.
In addition to the Schulich school and the JRCC, other partners in YEDI include The PresenTense Group, a volunteer-based organization that fosters social entrepreneurship in Jewish communities around the world, 3V Communications and the Ontario Trillium Foundation