Beltser works with members of the 2018 OU Impact Accelerator cohort.
Beltser works with members of the 2018 OU Impact Accelerator cohort.

Launched during a time in which startup accelerators were booming in popularity, OU Impact Accelerator quickly filled a need for business support in the larger Jewish community.

Jenna Beltser has always been inspired by the idea of innovation.

As the director for the Orthodox Union’s Impact Accelerator, a program that identifies and helps grow new Jewish nonprofit organizations, Beltser, 31, of Southfield, seeks out startups that address critical issues in the Jewish community through innovative ways.

“What I really love about the program is that it inspires innovation,” says Beltser, who helped launch OU Impact Accelerator in 2018 after a year of developing it alongside leadership and coworkers. “It allows people who are passionate about different causes to step up to the plate.”

Finding a National Reach

Through the accelerator, OU receives some 50-80 applications a year from nonprofits nationwide interested in joining the program. This year, they received 72 applications that spanned numerous industries and causes related to the Jewish community.

Jenna Beltser
Jenna Beltser

Out of the dozens of applications, four to six are selected each year to participate in a cohort experience that includes a nonprofit curriculum, coaching mentorship and an initial grant to help grow the business.

“We’ve received applications from all across the country and from different issue areas,” says Beltser, who recently moved back to Michigan with her husband, Lev, and their two children, “like Holocaust education, seniors and technologies that address certain issues.”

So, what does OU look for in the perfect applicant? Beltser says it’s all about scale.

“We look for organizations that have either a national reach or potential for national reach,” she explains. “Things that could be replicated in different communities.”

The startups themselves, of course, must be innovative as well, offering something new that hasn’t been done before — a key contingent of the OU Impact Accelerator. In the future, Beltser hopes to expand the program’s reach to also help Jewish nonprofit startups with more local angles succeed, such as through facilitating connections to the right parties.

“They are still in our fight pool, so to speak,” Beltser says of localized nonprofit startups.

‘Start Where You Are’

Working with Jewish nonprofits, Beltser says, has always been an interest for her. She began her career working at two financial technology startups, Visible Alpha and Novus. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s in international relations and economics. 

“At first, I was just volunteering with a project at the OU,” she recalls of first connecting with Orthodox Union, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the United States. “Then, OU wanted to do something working with Jewish startups, new Jewish organizations.”

The need prompted Beltser to officially join OU, shifting from working in financial technology to working on building an accelerator that could help Jewish nonprofit startups succeed. At OU, she was able to use her knowledge of the startup world to develop a successful program that numerous businesses have now benefitted from.

“It was a collaboration of everyone at OU at the time,” she says of bringing the accelerator program to life. “We have a poster hanging on our wall that says ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.’ It was really thinking through what models exist right now and what do we have available?”

Filling a Need in the Community

Launched during a time in which startup accelerators were booming in popularity, OU Impact Accelerator quickly filled a need for business support in the larger Jewish community. As the program’s founding director, Beltser designed the cohort experience, along with the curriculum and format of the program. She also works with each startup one-on-one.

Throughout OU Impact Accelerator’s nonprofit curriculum, Jewish startups learn about fundraising, marketing, operations, leadership and anything else necessary to run a successful nonprofit organization. In return, OU gets a unique view into the larger needs of the Jewish community nationwide, one that Beltser doesn’t take for granted.

“Every year, we learn about what’s going on,” says Beltser, who is also involved in her local synagogue and Jewish community. “We have so much data about what people are doing in the community and also where we need help.”

For example, she continues, “Can we connect all five organizations that are working all over the country that deal with mental health? Through our program, we’ve developed a bird’s eye view.” 

Previous articleEssay: Memories of Pesachs Past
Next articleLooking Back: 50 Years of Fiddler