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Community as Creative Cohort: Words from a PresenTenseLA Fellow

Sarah Gershfeld was recently selected as a 2013-2014 PresenTenseLA Fellow. The following is a personal account of her first group training with The Jewish Federation’s social entrepreneur fellowship.

When I arrived, the room at CrossCampus (a co-working space for tech startups) was warm and welcoming—filled with talented mentors, coaches and supporters for the launch of PresenTenseLA’s second cohort. As a fellow in this latest group of social entrepreneurs, dreamers and visionaries working toward various passion projects, I was looking forward to refining my project’s concept—a providers’ list for the special needs community—and working with the other fellows in a focused way, building and launching our ideas toward the greatest possible impact.

Meeting the other 2013-2014 fellows was inspiring; each of them has such passion. From Jonathan Bubis’s enthusiasm for inspiring others through his Tefillah Transformed Initiative to Leah Weiner’s interest in decreasing the pay gap of women in leadership positions and other conversations through the Emma Project, the fellows have diverse backgrounds, but we are united by our commitment to tikkun olam. Each of us comes to PresenTenseLA with the goal of making the world a better place.

That first day of training we started at the beginning, creating a group “agreement of values.” In a display of commitment to the process as well to our fellow participants, we promised to provide support and feedback, and to communicate openly and honestly with one another. Under the guidance of Naomi Korb Weiss, the CEO of PresenTense Group, and Julia Moss, the coordinator of PresenTenseLA, the program also highlighted Jewish metaphors that corresponded with business concepts and ideas, as part of PresenTenseLA’s commitment to integrating Jewish learning into the curriculum. Connecting Jewish values with our work makes it that much more meaningful.

PresenTenseLA—supported in part by The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund and through a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles—is expanding and making adjustments to the program in its second year. Over the next eight months, we will become a close-knit entrepreneurial community, learning the basics of venture development—everything from effective visioning and pitching, to understanding your market context, to budgeting and operation. Mentors and coaches will help guide us through the development of our projects. During monthly roundtables, we’ll learn from some of LA’s leading social entrepreneurs and business leaders. Before we know it, it will be time for May’s Launch Night, a large community-wide event where Fellows do “fast pitches” about their ventures, and explore community responses and potential partnerships with individuals and organizations.

At 10:30 that first morning, I had nervously walked into a room, just one of 12 individuals who all wanted to succeed. But by 5:30 PM that evening, we had become a cohort, and together, we walked into another room—a kick-off cocktail reception where we met the members of the PresenTenseLA community: over 50 mentors, coaches, donors and steering committee members, all of whom are rooting for us to go out and achieve the things we are most passionate about.

In every venture, there is always the risk of failure. But the support of the PresenTenseLA and Federation communities makes this project a challenge that I’m excited to take on.

Sarah Gershfeld is the founder of Love My Provider, an “AngiesList” for families who have children with special needs, enabling them to share resources, providers and information.

PresenTenseLA is The Jewish Federation’s social entrepreneur fellowship that gives leadership skills, business tools and connections to those with creative ideas for engaging, inspiring and transforming the Jewish community. Over the 8-month part-time program, fellows learn how to take a rough idea on paper or a proposal to revamp an existing program and build it out to be a successful venture that will impact our community, our city, or our world. Each venture will support our Federation’s work in one or more areas of our life-changing work caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future. This is PresenTenseLA’s second year.

For more information about the new cohort of PresenTenseLA, please see www.PresenTenseLA.org or contact JMoss@JewishLA.org.

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