Core18 project selects two fellows from Bay Area

Eva Sasson isn’t your average 21-year-old. The entrepreneur from Orinda already has a few years of tech experience under her belt. A senior at Barnard College in New York, she co-founded a tech company shortly after finishing her freshman year in college.

“My dad says I caught the tech bug,” Sasson said in a phone interview.

Eva Sasson

Sasson and another Bay Area native, Aaron Taxy of Oakland, are among the 36 fellows — chosen from hundreds of applicants — who are part of a new venture called Core18 Leaders Lab. Co-chaired by actress Mayim Bialik, the program is working to promote a new generation of Jewish leaders.

Sasson’s company, called TappMob, is run by a team of 12 students at colleges around the country. Their first app, Tapp Check-In, allows users to share their location with their friends with one touch. Though no longer available for download, the app did help TappMob win a People’s Choice Award at the 2011 MobileBeat conference.

“We were the only student team and I was the only female,” she said. “We went from being just a few kids with an app to a few kids who started a company.”

Core18 is a $1 million initiative described as an “entrepreneurial boot camp” for Jewish innovators from 18 to 25. It is co-chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom; Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar; and Bialik, the actress from the television hits “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

The 36 fellows who make up the first cohort in the two-year program come from North America, England and Israel, and they take part in two-hour Web conferences once a week. This summer, they will spend two months in Israel, doing internships with Israeli high-tech companies.

In phase one, which began at a conference in Philadelphia in January, the fellows are working on business plans for their new ventures; the top 18 will be invited to phase two, where they will get sponsors and seed money.

Aaron Taxy

A self-described Zionist with a passion for education, Sasson admitted that she had lost her focus on Judaism in the past few years while she’s been busy launching her company.

“I am really excited to be able to combine these two things that are at the core of who I am,” she said.

Joanne Papir, strategy director at Core18, said the program is a “tremendous amount of work and a labor of love.” Because it’s in its first year, Core18 is a bit like an entrepreneur itself, she said, which is something Sasson enjoys.

“[Being in the first cohort] allows the fellows to have a say in the program and the shaping of it,” Sasson said. ”At the same time, it has made me more determined to create something that has a strong impact because it’s new and I want to be part of the success.”

Though Bialik called the Core18 Leaders Lab “a mad scientist’s dream” after it was announced last year, the program includes entrepreneurs beyond the science and tech worlds.

Taxy, for example, has been heavily involved in political causes, serving as an intern for former Rep. Howard Berman and helping to found Trojans for Israel at the University of Southern California, where he is a senior. He was also president of the USC College Democrats.

“Most kids spend their time skateboarding down their dorm hall,” said Taxy, 23, a 2009 graduate of the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. He said he prefers to spend a good portion of his time campaigning for causes in which he believes.

Being involved in politics is a form of entrepreneurship that many people overlook, he said. “It’s not a money-making venture, but it is a social one. It’s creating the world we want to see.”

Working with the fellows over the past few months, Papir said that seeing the diversity in the type of work the applicants do is inspiring. “Investing in these young people is investing in the Jewish future,” she said.

Abra Cohen