Melissa Ben-Ishay thought she was receiving a promotion when she walked into her manager’s office in spring 2008. But after working as an assistant media planner for more than a year at Deutsch, Inc., she was fired.
“I wasn’t passionate about the work I was doing,” Ben-Ishay said. “And it showed.”
Then 24, an exasperated Ben-Ishay went home and baked more than 200 cupcakes — cookie dough, tie-dye, peanut butter cup — hoping to launch a business out of her lifelong passion. In late 2008, she founded Baked by Melissa, a multimillion-dollar business that sells bite-size cupcakes.
Ben-Ishay was one of the 20 Jewish entrepreneurs who shared their story of success on Monday at Scaling Chutzpah, the first-ever business symposium hosted by TeleTime Video Productions.
“A common denominator you find with successful people — they all give back,” said Harold Klein, co-founder of TeleTime Video Productions.
The event was sponsored by Hillel International, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Jewish Week Media Group, The Forward, IDB Bank, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, Inc. and Crain’s New York Business.
Shelia Katz, vice president of Student Engagement and Leadership at Hillel International, addressed young audience members, stating that 43 percent of college students would rather become entrepreneurs than employees, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
“Generation Z is poised to become the most entrepreneurial generation we've ever seen,” Katz said. “Many people refer to Jewish teens and college students as the Jewish future, but we know they are our current Jewish leaders.”
Roughly 200 professionals and students, including David Pearl of Hofstra University, trickled into the City Winery in New York City to learn best practices in entrepreneurship.
Pearl, 21, said that hearing from leading professionals such as David Meltzer, co-founder and CEO of Sports 1 Marketing, taught him that steadfast motivation can fuel a simple idea into a successful business. The finance major said that Meltzer’s four principles for business and life — gratitude, empathy, accountability and effective communication — resonated with him.
“You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing, but you need even more passion if you want to make it your career,” Pearl said.
Hillel International invited Pearl and about 10 other students active in Hofstra Hillel and Queens College Hillel to attend Scaling Chutzpah free of charge. The general admission fee for attendees was $250.
During the six-hour symposium, speakers emphasized the importance of upholding Jewish values in business and giving back to the community.
Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea and executive chair of Beyond Meat, connected the biblical verse “Justice, justice you shall pursue” to his entrepreneurial career. He asked the audience why the word ‘justice’ is mentioned twice in Deuteronomy 16:20.
“The key is to pursue righteousness in the way that you make your money,” Goldman said. “It’s about creating righteous relationships with the people you do business with.”
Five top tips from leading Jewish entrepreneurs:
“Great salespeople are the ones who hear ‘no’ and think they hear ‘maybe next time.’” – Laurie Ann Goldman, Former CEO of SPANX
“I’m in it for the outcome, not the income.” – Michael Levanthal, Executive Director of Israeli Guide Dog Center
“You end up spending more time with your team than your family, so choose your team wisely.” – Yair Goldfinger, Co-Founder of ICQ
“Be more interested than interesting.” – David Meltzer, co-founder and CEO of Sports 1 Marketing
“If you care about your associates, they’ll care about your customers.” – Mitchell Modell, CEO of Henry Modell & Company, Inc.