Three years ago, a group of businesspeople saw a strong need for increased revenue in the Jewish community. They came up with the idea of providing free mentoring to entrepreneurs who are looking to create or grow their businesses, and The Jewish Entrepreneur was born.
Robert Safren has recently taken on the position of Program Director of TJE. He brings almost 40 years of experience with him from the private sector, mostly running operations for a tech company, as well as a degree in electrical engineering and an MBA.
Tell us a little bit about TJE.
TJE is a wonderful organization. It runs strictly on chesed. All our mentors volunteer their time to help others. There is no hidden agenda. We just want to help.
So far we have helped about 500 businesses, and have a roster of about 90 mentors—all successful businesspeople. We want to dramatically increase the number of connections we make in the coming year. We are always looking for new mentors and mentees.
How do you match up mentors and mentees?
We have an extensive database that defines the business expertise of every single mentor. When a potential mentee applies, I personally interview them to find out the area of business expertise that would be most beneficial to their business. This is matched up with our database.
Once the match is identified, I summarize the mentee’s needs and send that summary to the mentor to have them determine their compatibility and availability. Once the mentor agrees to take on the mentee, I introduce them to each other and the process begins.
Our goal is not to make connections; our goal is to increase the revenue of these companies. Most of the time, the match is successful. The key is ongoing communication with the mentee to ensure they get the help they need. In some cases, we will follow up with an additional mentor to make sure that happens. Mentoring sessions are done over the phone, so the location of the mentor and mentees is not an issue.
What’s your favorite TJE success story?
We had a mentee named Aaron Weiner who had started a fashion accessory business called Two 12 FASHION. It was growing, and Aaron needed additional funding. He had the choice between taking on an investor or obtaining a no-interest loan. He had no idea what to do.
Thankfully he did not have to make that choice alone—he had a mentor from TJE! His mentor went over the pros and cons of both options with him. Basically, “When you have a small business, you are only reporting to yourself, so you have total flexibility. If you take on an investor, they have a say in how you run your company. You lose your autonomy.”
Aaron decided to take the no-interest loan.
After he received his loan, his mentor helped him work out a business plan and continued working with him to grow his business. Aaron had someone to lean on. He did so well that he is now a TJE mentor himself!
What’s your favorite part of working with TJE?
I love this job. Every time I make a match I feel great! Coming from the corporate world, where everything is dog-eat-dog, to an organization that is all about chesed—successful people helping others to become successful—is a wonderful thing.
By Jewel Safren