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The Jewish Venture Mentoring Service: Working Toward Zero Degrees of Separation

Rony Shapiro

Rony Shapiro, founder of JVMS, meets with interested ventures. Photo provided.

Continuing along with my series on incubators and accelerators, I’ve decided to include an unconventional new program called the Jewish Venture Mentoring Service in my lineup, otherwise known as JVMS, which may have flown under your radar.

JVMS is a new resource providing free support to entrepreneurs in the greater Boston area and creating a unique, highly impactful way for accomplished entrepreneurs to give back. The program is based in the Kehillath Israel temple near Coolidge Corner and boasts the only co-sharing space in Brookline, appropriately named “KoShare.” While based on Jewish principles like tikkun olam (“repair the world”), the program is inclusive and open to anyone in the community no matter what their religious affiliation. Their Mission Statement reads:

The Jewish Venture Mentoring Service (JVMS) provides free support and mentoring services to entrepreneurs in the greater Boston area. JVMS exemplifies the Jewish tradition of tzedakah by the giving of our mentors’ time and skills to those pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities. We encourage entrepreneurship which promotes economic development and we provide needed services to entrepreneurs who we believe will ultimately give back to the community.

JVMS was founded about two years ago by the organization’s Chairman Rony Shapiro, an angel investor who had heard about MIT’s Venture Mentor Service (MIT VMS) from their Senior Venture Advisor, Lou Goldish. Shapiro had been thinking about putting together a business mentoring program for years and, after a meeting Goldish, he got very serious about putting together a similar mentoring program. He assembled a group of founding advisory board members and completed training at MIT, which included an immersion program within the MIT VMS mentorship model.

“I knew it would be good for the Jewish community to do something like this,” Shapiro says. “We know we are successful when we can engage people who have never been part of the community and we are able to become a place where they can be part of ours.”

JVMS is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis. As far as mentorship organizations go, the application process could not be more simple. After completing online applications, all applicants are guaranteed at least an initial discussion. Some ventures will also go through an in-take meeting, after which they will be set up with a group of mentors or an extended network, depending on their needs. All of this is provided free of charge to entrepreneurs because of philanthropic donations from JVMS supporters.

Mel Prenovitz, CEO of EndoSphere Surgical, a company who received JVMS mentoring, says of the application process: “Go for it. But be prepared. There’s a lot of local networking groups and online help to identify the key issues you need to address when laying out a good business proposal. Feel comfortable going through the process but be prepared with the kind of things you need to present. They are very receptive of new ideas.”

JVMS has mentored 70+ ventures so far (and at least twice number if you count the individuals who just want to talk about their business ideas). They will soon be expanding their operations to include additional services for ventures like a JVMS network recruiting service, mini courses including (a crash course in entrepreneurship), and replicating the KoShare co-sharing concept through a network of other temples and incubator friends in the Boston area.

“Boston being a hub of life sciences, we find ourselves being in a unique position to help entrepreneurs from those fields,” Shapiro says. “The Jewish values, the principle of helping people to succeed in business so that they can feed their families. It’s about economic empowerment.”

Alexis Turjman is the CEO of Cognition Medical, an early stage company developing the next generation of stroke devices to improve health outcomes. “We were impressed by the breadth and depth of expertise brought by the JVMS mentors,” he says. “The mentors that we interacted with are serial entrepreneurs, top businessmen, lawyers and innovators. We got outstanding advice on the strategy and great connections. Half of Boston knows Rony Shapiro and it’s the good half.”

All of the companies I interviewed quickly pointed to the high quality and effective mentorship they received through the program. In fact, every single one mentioned the deep network of executives at the highest levels of healthcare and business.

“What the X-Box is to video games, we are to surgery,” Prenovitz says of EndoSphere Surgical. “We weren’t an idea or a concept. Rony pointed us to one individual who was probably the best individual I could have gotten. We had met with this person before but when Rony brought us there with the introduction, it made a big difference.”

“We feel that every venture itself has merit and if we can help them to take the next incremental step in their development, that is the important thing,” Shapiro says, noting that this is how the organization measures its success. “The real benefit to ventures is that they become part of the JVMS community. They have the association with high quality mentors, some available office space, and the benefits of the network. We are working towards zero degrees of separation between everybody.”

Robert Schultz

Robert Schultz

    Robert Schultz has an MBA in Information Systems from University of Massachusetts-Boston and a BS in International Business from Northeastern University, where he served as Business Manager for the university’s largest student publication, The Northeastern News. Schultz is an experienced healthcare technology startup enthusiast who was involved with the patient monitoring company Aware Engineering through the MassBio MassCONNECT program.

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