Bonus Episode: UpStart Unbound

UpStart Unbound is our first-ever collaborative podcast episode, recorded in front of a live studio audience in Silicon Valley. [1] UpStart has been the premier accelerator of Jewish innovation over the last decade, and we wanted to explore together the idea that the over 40 organizations [2] that UpStart has helped move from idea to organization could be viewed as prototypes that are field-testing some big ideas about the future of Jewish life. The episode was recorded as part of the UpStart Lab, an annual gathering of innovators from across the country. 

(0:01-2:05): Dan gives a short introduction of UpStart and the special UpStart Unbound collaborative crowd-sourced podcast recording event, which was recorded with a live audience on September 20, 2016, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in Silicon Valley. Dan explains that the event included three components: initial framing and thoughts from a distinguished panel; responses and further thoughts from leaders of innovative organizations currently part of UpStart's accelerator program; and contributions from members of the audience, which included Bay Area lay leaders and supporters of Jewish innovation. 

(2:06-16:23): Dan introduces the opening panel: Aaron Katler, CEO of UpStart; Aaron Britt, who at the time of recording was Senior Editor and leader of the communications team at, which uses human-centered design to create products, services, and experiences that improve the lives of people living in poverty; and Lana Volftsun, philanthropic adviser, founder of White Light Strategies, and member of the board of Slingshot, a collective fund that provides support for a subset of innovative Jewish organizations featured in the Slingshot Guide. Dan invites the panel to think about the organizations that UpStart has accelerated over the last ten years as prototypes "of some kind of new approach to Judaism that we are grappling toward." Aaron Britt explains that a prototype is a "minimum viable expression of an idea" that is put into the hands of users for the purposes of learning. Themes that emerge from the panel include surprising discoveries that have come from being willing to just try things out, the level of risk tolerance of the Jewish community, and the question whether "failure" should be more celebrated in the world of Jewish innovation, seen as a source of learning, which is the dominant attitude toward failure in the worlds of design thinking and Silicon Valley.

(16:24-44:19): Jewish innovators--members of UpStart's accelerator program's three current cohorts--add their views and talk with Dan, Aaron Britt and Lana. The participants in this part of the conversation included Shanel Melamed, executive director of 30 Years After; Alex Jakubowski, founder and executive director of Kahal: Your Jewish Home Abroad; Lizzi Heydemann, founder and rabbi of Mishkan Chicago; Sarah Waxman, founder of At the Well; Rebecca Milder, founding director of the Jewish Enrichment Center; Jane Shapiro, a founding faculty member of the Orot Center for New Jewish Learning; Fred Margulies, co-founder of Pushing the Envelope Farm; David Winitzky, founder of the Jewish Plays Project; and Jeff Kasowitz, co-founder and executive director of the Jewish Studio Project. Topics that arise include empowering people to express their own voices; organizations figuring out how to show instead of tell; the extent to which innovators are driven by creating what they themselves need or whether they actively seek to discover what others need; whether new organizations are being pushed to scale too quickly, potentially inhibiting the process of research and development and refining their "product"; and what can give Jews permission to "play" with Judaism and to look at it the way that artists look at the materials of art.

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(44:20-48:56): Members of the audience are invited to add their thoughts and questions and ideas into the mix, such as the effect of the rapid pace of change in our technological age; how to harvest the best ideas from organizations that did not successfully turn them into organizations; and how to be more honest about failures and struggles without being afraid of losing funding.

(48:57-60:45): Dan, Aaron Katler, Aaron Britt, and Lana Volftsun offer closing remarks. Dan asks whether the frame of entrepreneurship may cause us to overemphasize scale, as opposed to a frame of R&D or art, which would focus on quality; Aaron Britt re-emphasizes the value of failure; Lana offers words of encouragement with regard to finding the right funders; and Aaron Katler emphasizes the great opportunities that are out there and suggests that innovators try to "solve for the opportunity," not the problem.

[1] Due to time constraints, the 90-minute live event was edited down to a 60-minute podcast. You can watch the full unedited version of the event by clicking on the video link below. You can also visit the UpStart Unbound page on UpStart's web site by clicking here.

[2] Click this link to see the full list of organizations currently in UpStart's accelerator program and the list of alumni of the program. Previous Judaism Unbound guests who are UpStart alumni include David Cygielman (Moishe House), Sarah Lefton (BimBam), and Noa Kushner and Yoav Schlesinger (The Kitchen). Benay Lappe (SVARA) is a member of a current UpStart cohort.