UpStart takes it up a notch with new services for all

When UpStart Bay Area — a 2-year-old nonprofit that supports, trains and links Jewish innovators — was ready to move into new territory, inspiration came from an unlikely source: the two dozen or so applicants that were denied in the agency’s first two years.

Toby Rubin

While most of those who were turned down were “passionate, creative and committed,” UpStart CEO and founder Toby Rubin noted, “we didn’t have a real capacity to offer support.”

Not anymore. UpStart recently expanded its menu of programs and services, with the aim of providing benefits to anyone within the Jewish community working on innovation or change. Before, the assistance was limited mainly to those accepted into the UpStart program, which currently includes eight Jewish social entrepreneurs (either agencies or individuals).

The new opportunities include classes, specialized training and advice. The services are being made available to Jewish individuals, entrepreneurs, professionals and lay leaders, anyone who “need[s] our help to launch new ideas or take them to a new level,” Rubin said.

Fall programming began Oct. 20 and will continue through December. Rubin deemed the new services “an experiment,” so they will continue into 2011 only if successful.

Courses include “Twitter for the MishPacha” (a look at how congregations and Jewish professionals use Twitter); “Innovation in Philanthropy: the Funders’ Perspective” (leading donors in conversation about emerging trends in philanthropies); and a free “Second Friday Shabbat Shmooze.”

The aim is to develop creativity, advance collaborative expertise and allow access to specialized training and coaching.

“We’re offering programs that present relevant elements of what it takes to be successful in creating or advancing an idea in Jewish life,” Rubin said. “Just like any startup, this first set of programs is serving as a pilot to advance our understanding of how best to meet the learning needs of innovators.” 

UpStart also will continue to offer “Hot Desk,” a program that provides people with a small workspace, WiFi and access to UpStart team members (before and after scheduled programs) for informal consultations.

“For people attracted to our courses but who work far from our office, we welcome them to come for the day,” Rubin said. “We feel that we’re stewards of this physical and virtual space for the community, and want it to feel owned by people interested in innovation.”

Rubin left her post as associate director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco to launch UpStart with a multi-year grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

Her effort began in 2006 as a BJE project called the Jewish Professionals Co-Op, which provided resources, support and networking for individuals starting a new entity or a local chapter of a national group.

UpStart was launched as its own entity in July 2008 and has since assisted 13 Jewish nonprofits. Current UpStarters include Moishe House (social and living communities for Jews in their 20s), Zeek Media (which addresses Jewish current affairs) and In the Market (sustainable food collaborations within the Jewish community).

While UpStart and its seven-person staff are most interested in encouraging early-stage ventures that reach out to young adult Jews, it won’t restrict its focus to only that one demographic. Rubin believes the best way to invigorate Jewish life in the Bay Area is to keep an open mind.

“People who aren’t Jewish should come and participate,” Rubin said. “Yes, it’s mostly Jewish content, but a lot is secular. The programs are more about the people and the ability to share with colleagues. If someone’s not Jewish and wants to be part of the Jewish community, we would welcome their participation.”

UpStart Bay Area is located at 332 Pine St., Suite 600, S.F. Registration is required for all programs. For list of events and more information, visit