ProteJ Shark Tank contestants and officials (L-R) Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, Patrick Aleph, Ana Fuchs, Rabbi Rachel Bregman, Jennie Rivlin-Roberts, Marcy Levinson-Brooks, Adam Griff, Russell Gottschalk

ProteJ Shark Tank contestants and officials (L-R) Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, Patrick Aleph, Ana Fuchs, Rabbi Rachel Bregman, Jennie Rivlin-Roberts, Marcy Levinson-Brooks, Adam Griff, Russell Gottschalk

BY JOHN MCCURDY / AJT //

It started with a rumor. Not one of those nasty, mean-spirited bits of misinformation, but the sort of rumor that would rally a passionate and capable group to dispel a false perception.

Jennie Rivlin-Roberts and a group of her Jewish social entrepreneur peers were hanging out, and it came to the table: Apparently, a leader in Atlanta’s Jewish community had said that he didn’t know of a single young Jewish entrepreneur in the area.

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But here are several, all in the same living room!

That collective thought and the need for exposure and support led the group to put on a showcase at LimmudFest 2010 entitled “Meet Atlanta’s Jewish Indie Innovators.” The event and the ideas and individuals it featured caught the attention of one Bernie Marcus, who put the strength of the Marcus Foundation into making reality of the inspiring visions.

Less than two years later – June 2012, to be exact – ProtéJ celebrated its kickoff. Housed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and full of the zeal of brilliant young minds, a pioneering leadership development program came to be.

“What’s neat about what we’re doing here in Atlanta is that it’s been grassroots – by the entrepreneurs, for the entrepreneurs,” Rivlin-Roberts, program director, said. “It’s neat that we took the initiative to do it, and neat that the establishment was receptive to it. It’s really been a partnership between the Marcus Foundation, Federation and the entrepreneurs.”

Fast-forward to today, and each of the participants (profiled briefly below) has been matched with a mentor that can help visions be realized. The next step is to secure the resources to expand and thus ensure that these worthwhile concepts get a fair shake, and what more fun way could there be than replicating ABC’s “Shark Tank”?

Set for the evening of June 6, the following six rising stars will present at the Selig Center Auditorium in front of an audience and, perhaps even more nerve-wrackingly, a panel of three “sharks”: Laurie Ann Goldman, CEO of Spanx; Michael Kogon, founder and CEO of Definition 6; and the Marcus man himself.

Up for grabs is the cash – either from the sharks, the audience (who can give on a text-to-pledge basis) or both – to make dreams come true!

  • Ana Fuchs is the executive director of Jewish Kids Groups (JKG), which strives to combine the best of Hebrew school and top-notch after-school programming. Fuchs is matched with mentors Lisa Galanti (Fitzgerald & Co.) and Diana Fiedotin (Joint Distribution Committee).
  • Adam Griff is co-founder of Adamah Adventures, a Jewish summer adventure camp that lets young Jews connect with their faith on their terms in beautiful natural settings and through fun outdoor activities. Griff is matched with mentor Eric Singer (OA Development).
  • Patrick Aleph is founder of PunkTorah, an “online congregation” that allows those who otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t attend services or participate in learning at a brick-and-mortar synagogue to connect with a worldwide Jewish community. Aleph is matched with mentor Alan Pinstein (TourBuzz).
  • Russell Gottschalk is founder and director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, which capitalizes on the power of music at both its annual spring festival and with its year-round programming to bring Jewish Atlanta closer together. Gottschalk is matched with mentors Steve Sidman (The Sidman Law Firm LLC) and Sid Kirschner (The Piedmont Heart Institute).
  • Marcy Levinson-Brooks is founder of AtlantaJewishNews.com, the city’s online Jewish publication that provides Atlanta’s growing Jewish community with up-to-date news. Levinson-Brooks is matched with mentor Steve Koonin.
  • Rabbi Chaim Neiditch is founder and director of the Jewish Student Union, the organization behind 16 student clubs which bring quality Jewish programming to area high schools, serving some 1,300 of Atlanta’s Jewish teens. Rabbi Neiditch is matched with mentor Mike Wein (Specific Edge).

The June 6 Shark Tank event is sold out, but readers can still support these entrepreneurs. Visit jewishatlanta.org to find out how.

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