This piece originally ran September 13 in the Times of Israel.
NEW YORK — “I was born in Kiev. There was no food, it was really bad and there was anti-Semitism,” said Kira Radinsky, Chief Technology Officer for Sales Predict, Inc.
The 30-year-old Radinsky, who developed the software at the heart of the Israeli-based analytics company, is one of 15 Jewish entrepreneurs featured in a new educational video series “The Bible of Business — The Strategies, Experiences and Ethics of Jewish Entrepreneurs.” She tells that story not to kvetch, but rather to drive home the point that without perseverance a business idea will remain just that — an idea.
The series, which will be offered free of charge to Hillel educators at 550 Hillels worldwide, shows would-be entrepreneurs how to launch and market a business. Yet, more than simply explaining how to hone one’s business acumen, the series emphasizes how Jewish ethics shaped their behavior.
“We [Jews] have an aura of being successful. There’s an attraction and a curiosity about what it is in our culture that creates success. Part of what creates that success is the idea of giving back and so we talk about the ethics of our entrepreneurship in the videos,” said Harold Klein, whose New York-based company Teletime Video Productions produced the series in collaboration with Hillel International.
The 32 videos are organized into 15 chapters, two of which are devoted entirely to that prospect: “Legacy of the Jewish People” and “Ethics of the Founders.”
As Uri Levine, the founder of Waze, said in one of the videos, “If a company will not have a spirit, it will not exist.”
Each video features commentary and interviews with CEOs such as KIND Healthy Snacks’ founder Daniel Lubetzky, Michael Steinhardt of Birthright, Seth Goldman of Honest Tea, and Sheila Bonner, president and CEO of the Bonner Group, which started as a one-woman business and now has offices in a 12 states. There is Adam Neumann of WeWork, and 15-year-old Noa Mintz, founder of Nannies by Noa.
“We sought entrepreneurs who have achieved business success, and attribute it at least partially to their Jewish identity, values, and history. In order for the entrepreneurs to be relatable, we wanted to create a lineup as diverse as the students who will consume the content,” said Oren Persing, Director of Entrepreneurship at Hillel International.
“The entrepreneurs are Americans and Israelis. They are men and women. They are veteran business leaders with many years’ experience, and those who just recently launched a business straight out of high school. They come from a wide variety of Jewish backgrounds,” he said.
Professors from several business schools including Harvard University, Babson College, Northwestern University, and MIT introduce each session.
Professor Dave Roberts, the David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology Chair and chair of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship & Innovation MBA Program, participated in the series because as a committed Jew, he wanted to help aspiring Jews perform better.
Nevertheless, Roberts said the series, with its bias toward success, would have been more balanced had it included stories of entrepreneurial failure.
‘Only small percent of new companies survive for many years, Jewish or not’
“Data from my own research shows that Jews have been disproportionately likely to start new companies, relative to their Protestant and Catholic co-workers in the US. But the same data do not indicate a disproportionate percentage of successes from those startups,” said Roberts. “Only a small percent of new companies survive for many years, and even fewer become great successes. So the wrong lesson might be learned that success follows attempt. That is only true in a small fraction of cases, Jewish or not.”
Klein, who runs his business with his wife Nan, is also something of an entrepreneur. The couple started their video business about 40 years ago. Together they produced educational and corporate videos. Throughout the decades he worked with several business publications including Inc. Magazine, Business Week, and Fortune.
“It hit me when I heard that 50 to 80% of students in college want to start a business and that about 11 or 12% of Americans are self-employed. I’d been doing every other segment of the population but Jewish, and this was my way of giving back,” Klein said.
Indeed the entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in America’s youth. According to a recent article in Entrepreneur.com, 72% of high school students and 64% of college students are interested in launching their own business someday. Due to that, Hillel International felt it was a worthwhile investment to provide $100,000 in seed funding for the project, Persing said.
“We want to connect with students where they are. We don’t want this to feel like another lecture, we want it to facilitate deep conversation about what it takes to start a business,” Persing said. “It shows how to start it, scale it and run it. But it’s also applicable to school work, to life. There is so much in there, and it also shows how to root those lessons in Judaism.”
Fifteen students at Hofstra University, Jewish and non-Jewish, participated in a test run of the series last spring under the direction of Rabbi Dave Siegel, Hofstra’s Director of Hillel.
Siegel said it’s important to note the series appealed to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. He shared this note from one non-Jewish student.
“Being non-Jewish, I felt as though this course had enough information for anyone from any background. I also learned a lot about Jewish culture, which was a great, added bonus,” wrote Briona Caruthers, a business major at Hofstra, in her course evaluation. “The materials that the course covered are beneficial to everyone, even non-entrepreneurs, because it offers life lessons like ‘failing forward,’ and it’s motivational for anything you might do in the future. Seeing other people who have ‘made it’ and are now successful makes me believe that I too can be successful one day as long as I have a vision and am dedicated and focused.”
Aside from teaching business skills, the series, with its emphasis on giving back, can bridge cultural and religious divides.
“This idea of exposing more people to the Jewish community is a good thing. In many ways we are creating allies,” Siegel said.