JFE Accelerator integrates tech, philanthropy
Jenny Belotserkovsky cofounded JFE Accelerator, a startup program based in New York and San Francisco that focuses on philanthropy.
The two-month program includes biweekly guest speaker sessions with notable entrepreneurs, mentor office hours, practice pitch sessions, networking events and a demo day that ends with one-on-one presentations before a group of investors.
“The program was very effective at connecting us with investors, advisers and the type of professionals that a startup company needs to succeed,” said Michael Vernik, CEO and cofounder of DigiSpoke, which makes visual workflow management software and participated in JFE’s San Francisco class.
A philanthropic vision for entrepreneurs
What makes JFE unique from other accelerators is its focus on philanthropy. JFE has inspired and attracted a number of charitable entrepreneurs since it began in 2009.
“Our startups understand that we want them to give back, either through causes or the community,” Belotserkovsky said. “It’s important to educate young entrepreneurs to give back. Older generations [of entrepreneurs] were very philanthropic.”
Many of the notable speakers and sponsors from the JFE programs, such as Dropbox, have a history of giving back. The cloud-based file-sharing service gives 30 percent off to accredited nonprofits.
“This makes the tech community more open to give back to philanthropy and mission-driven causes,” said Jenny Belotserkovsky, cofounder and CEO of JFE.
How JFE got started
In 2009, amid the recession, many jobless people became interested in entrepreneurship since they were having difficulty finding employment. But these efforts were stymied by the economic climate.
“People didn’t have the resources then to start a company,” Belotserkovsky said.
With her passion for helping others, Belotserkovsky saw this as the perfect opportunity to get JFE off the ground.
The program began in San Francisco that year and attracted the likes of WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, who spoke to a bright-eyed class of entrepreneurs about how he founded the SMS alternative application.
As JFE grew, they learned what worked and what didn’t. The first seminars were instrumental in shaping the organization, which has raised some $40 million for 90 startups since its inception.
“At the pitch presentations, we felt like the speakers weren’t ready, and we needed to hone their vision,” Belotserkovsky said. JFE incorporated lessons on scaling, public relations and intellectual property to better prepare its startups, she added.
Future of JFE
As JFE’s startup alumni grow, the accelerator is looking to expand as well.
“We want to continue these programs, increase our team size and open new locations across the country,” said Belotserkovsky. She attends tech networking events such as Tech Cocktail to get the word out.
More important, JFE will continue its mission of integrating technology with philanthropy as a nonprofit organization that elevates tech startups, according to Belotserkovsky.
“There is also an element of ‘Tikkun Olam’ or ‘fixing the world,’ and in our times, one impactful way to do it is through technology and innovation,” she said.