Pitch perfect

PresenTense fellows pitch their ventures

The fourth Jerusalem Launch Night brought 15 social entrepreneurs and a crew of investors together to hear about community-based projects

The latest batch of PresenTense fellows (Courtesy PresenTense)
The latest batch of PresenTense fellows (Courtesy PresenTense)

“My speech is 22 seconds,” admitted Ariel Braun, founder of Amutat Yishai, a non-profit dedicated to specializing education in the typically large Israeli classroom. Seven seconds too long, that is, for the prescribed 15-second-long pitches being offered by the crowd of social entrepreneurs to a crew of investors at the fourth Jerusalem PresenTense venture launch event.

PresenTense — a largely volunteer-run community that trains social entrepreneurs creating new ideas for the Jewish world in more than ten cities across the globe —  brought investors and entrepreneurs together for its Jerusalem launch evening, at the city’s renovated train station complex.

More than 100 entrepreneurs had applied for the most-recent six-month fellowship program, but only 15 were admitted. The fellowship, said Gili Finkelstein,  PresenTense’s marketing director, “gives [the fellows] the tools they need to mentor and coach.”

The programs selected this year strengthened the community in various ways, from educating youth about sex education to fostering a community of peace and tolerance.

Karen Saar, one fellow, along with co-founder Liat Frenkel, long ago had the idea for Meshulavim, an integration program for autistic children, but said she hadn’t known what steps to take to move her idea forward.

“They took my hand, and said ‘you should do this,’” said Saar of the PresenTense assistance. Her program tries to integrate autistic children into society with supervised play-dates, as well as shift the public and government view of the treatment of autistic children.

PresenTense fellows Batel Haham and Ariel Braun at the launch event (Courtesy PresenTense)
PresenTense fellows Batel Haham and Ariel Braun at the launch event (Courtesy PresenTense)

“Integration is not just a favor, it’s a must,” she said. “One in 88 children are autistic, they aren’t going anywhere.”

Another organization, the Sipurenu project, helps honor the elderly population by recording their personal stories — about Israel’s founding and other important historical events — and then putting them all online.

“When we get enough bodies involved, it could be an important tool for researching and understanding Israeli society,” said Shai Roessler, one of the project’s founders. The project plans to get as many voices as possible, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, in order to obtain a fuller and more personal picture of Israeli history.

Other projects, such as Aklim, founded by Nina Barhum and the HaMartef Theater in Jerusalem, hope to reach out to kids-at-risk through environmental farming and performance arts. Wusla, which already operates in Beit Shemesh, hopes to bring bike-riding clubs to East Jerusalem.

“There are 24 kilometers of bike paths in West Jerusalem,” said Harley Stark, a Wusla organizer, “but only two kilometers in East Jerusalem.”

Pitch perfect at the PresenTense launch event (Courtesy PresenTense)
Pitch perfect at the PresenTense launch event (Courtesy PresenTense)

Tent of Abraham, part of Eretz Shalom, the social movement working toward dialogue between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants in the West Bank, is looking for a location in which to bring together community leaders from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths.

The goal, according to Daniel Fidelman, a Tent of Abraham organizer, is to create interreligious schools where these leaders can both learn together and acquire the tools to make peace in their own communities.

“The solution to the conflict must come from the ground,” said Fidelman about his peace-making venture, “not [from] some sort of politician.”

The end-goals of the ventures were all idealistic and far-reaching, as have been most of the PresenTense projects until now. But some 70% of past PresenTense ventures are still running, and the goal of the organization’s Ground-Up Nation initiative is to transform communities “from the ground up.”

The company hopes to help create more than 200 more venture programs in the next two years.

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