Sowing the ‘Seeds’ of Social Change

Chicago Jewish innovators compete in live pitch competition to help fund their efforts to improve the world

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Seed613 pitch competition winners Miriam Ament (No Shame On U), Jessica Katz (The Safe Haven Network) and Devorah Richards (Continuum Theater). Photos courtesy JCC Chicago.

A select group of socially-minded Jewish entrepreneurs got the chance to pitch their ideas for social change and win $1,000 to make it happen at JCC Chicago's Seed613: The Pitch on June 22. A joyful spirit of renewal, persistence and vigorous energy filled Sidetrack in Boystown as the audience listened to the entrepreneurs and even played a part in determining how the prize money was awarded.

Formerly known as JCC PresenTense, Seed613 is JCC Chicago's social entrepreneurship incubator for those hoping to create social change. Events like The Pitch, which featured Seed 613 alumni, are meant to foster community through a vibrant dialogue around ideas. Each "seed" represents a unique point of view highlighting the strengths of the individual at the helm, but in a way that radiates forth to help the larger community in a myriad of dynamic and exceptional ways.

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Jessica Katz, founder of The Safe Haven Network, which provides foster homes for pets, gives her pitch.

All the ideas were different in aim, but the significant thread was their need to support and better sustain the lives of those they aspire to touch. In total, eight presenters delivered their venture's mission to the crowd. A few even involved relaxation of the mind and spirit in an effort for a more balanced and centered lifestyle.

The mind-body connection is especially important when it comes to fitness, and Joseph Prosnitz brings this concept to life with Up-Ride, which helps people convert their old bicycles into elliptical machines, making it easier for those with physical difficulties or anyone in need of a low-impact fitness option. This interpretation of upcycling is an exciting prospect for a variety of communities.

Sharing a meal with like-minded, community-oriented individuals is a sure way to feed the body and soul. That's the aim of A Wider Bridge Chicago manager Laurie Grauer's Bridging Across Tables initiative. It stands apart from other meal-sharing community initiatives in that it works to bring together local LGBTQ leaders with LBGTQ advocates visiting from Israel to share cross-cultural, international conversation.

Another food-minded pitch was that of Chicago's Farmers, presented by Scott Beslow. This startup aims to make the best local produce available to a wider range of residents in Chicago.

The greater search for peace, communication and understanding was a theme of another subset of pitches. Karen Berk Barak's one-woman show "The Gift and the Curse" is a musical journey about growing up the child of Holocaust survivor through powerful songs and direct, compelling speech; and Michelle Mantel's Early Tikkun Olam/Tikkun Olam Adventures focuses on the development of core values of kindness, caring, volunteering and "helping the world" at an important, impressionable age to create memories with a lasting impact.

The winning pitches, as chosen by the Seed613 judges and voted on by the audience to receive $1,000 for their ventures, serve a variety of different purposes, but at heart embody the goals of innovation aimed at making the community a better place:

Miriam Ament's No Shame on U is dedicated to removing the stigma around mental health and providing education that changes the conversation around this common illness to change lives for the better. Devorah Richards, founder of the Continuum Theater, an organization dedicated to telling the stories of Judaism on the stage, received a prize for the Jewish Art For Kids initiative. The final winner was Jessica Katz of The Safe Haven Network, a group of caring pet owners ready to foster pets in need who have been rescued from domestic abuse situations.

Ashley Kolpak photo 375
Born and raised in Buffalo Grove, Ashley's been a little here, there and everywhere, but is a Chicago girl at heart. She currently works as a writer and editor for fitness, music, cultural blogs and more. She's a proud Illini (graduated with Bachelor's in Medi... Read More

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