Redefining Social Impact the PICO Way

Several months ago I started working in a new and somewhat uncommon role at PICO Venture Partners as the Director of Impact. PICO was founded by serial entrepreneur and life-long Jerusalemite Elie Wurtman, and stands for People, Ideas, Community, Opportunity. The organization started as a series of economic development initiatives in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, before also becoming a venture capital fund and a social impact initiative called PICO Kids.

In my time with PICO, I’ve discovered a unique model for impact which focuses on empowering the individual, whether that person is an entrepreneur in our fund or a child in our education program, to become a changemaker on a global scale. While we invest in entrepreneurs across Israel, Jerusalem as a city whose complexity breeds immense human creativity is at the center of our approach. We consider it the ultimate learning laboratory for solving global challenges.

As a resident of Tel Aviv and an olah chadasha still fairly new to Israel, I have been surprised to discover that there is something special happening amongst the bustling shopping centers and industrial blocks of Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood. For several years now, the community has experienced an economic revival led by PICO and a host of community partners as new startups, restaurants, and now Start-Up Nation Central, have moved in lured by the neighborhood’s creative energy.

The newest kid on the block is none other than our own PICO Kids Makerspace, housed right off of the busy Yad Harutsim artery which crosses Talpiot. The Makerspace – a collaborative workshop where kids can take their ideas from design to construction – has been open for just a few months. This past week brought the space to life with over 350 kids competing to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges, and another 125 kids engaging in events across Jerusalem schools.

A PICO Kids volunteer mentor works with a child at the Makerspace.

The flurry of activity this week – between the Ocean Living Makeathon, the Robotics Competition, and the Electric Race Car Derby – demonstrated PICO Kids’ fundamental belief that nurturing the hearts and minds of children is necessary to truly fall in love with learning. In all this excitement however, there was one moment that stood out above all others as embodying our mission: a brief, but extraordinarily meaningful, encounter between a team of girls from Hartman High School and the CEO of Connecteam, a workforce management solution for non-desk employees.

Kids working together to build their prototype solution.

At PICO Kids, we make every effort to engage the entrepreneurial community in our work. We invite the ecosystem in, not just as philanthropic funders, but to engage with our kids directly on a deeper level. Members of the startup community regularly speak to groups at PICO Kids, and act as mentors for projects. Amir Nehamia, Co-founder and CEO of Connecteam, answered our invitation and stopped by the Ocean Living Makeathon held last week.

Amir, a former Commander in the Israeli Navy, took a special interest in this makeathon aimed at finding solutions related to the world’s oceans. Kids spent weeks preparing for the Ocean Living Makeathon with tours of the Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem, lectures by leading marine science and industry experts, and workshops on global warming, the nature of water, underwater life, and technologies for agriculture and the harvesting of marine and solar energy.

Amir Nehamia, Co-founder and CEO of Connecteam, speaks to a group of girls from Hartman High School.

Amir showed up at the Makerspace just as the kids were building their prototype solutions, and stopped to speak to a group of girls who had designed a specialized diving watch for monitoring the vitals of a diver’s partner, in order to alert the diver if their teammate is in physical distress. Rather than monitoring the health of the wearer, the device cleverly takes advantage of team diving scenarios, such as those often utilized in the Navy. Amir’s response to the team: “This is a novel approach that could save lives!”

In that moment, the girls from Hartman High School understood that their design has real-world significance. After all, their idea had been validated by a Navy Commander and startup founder! I could tell by the looks on their faces, and the fact that they continued to reference that moment for the remainder of the day, that Amir had made an impact that would stay with them for years to come. These are the moments that also validate our approach to impact at PICO.

Boaz Lifschitz, General Partner at Peregrine Ventures, and Elie Wurtman, General Partner at PICO Venture Partners, speak to a student about his team’s challenge.

As Director of Impact, my job is to tell the PICO story, whether that is communicating the impact of our portfolio companies or our social impact initiatives, and to facilitate a bridge between those two worlds. The past week at PICO Kids served as a stark reminder of the power of the PICO approach, and what makes us so unique. As our founder and managing partner Elie Wurtman so often says, “financial KPIs will only take you so far; mission and purpose will always take you further.” At PICO, we’re going further.

Students celebrate the end of an exciting week of events with PICO Makers Program Director, Meidan Alkobi.

Beginning with the 2019/2020 school year, the Makerspace will be available for school visits, kid workshops, and even open shop hours for the community at large. Contact PICO Kids Executive Director Anna Michel at anna@picokids.org to learn more about the Makerspace, or visit us online at www.pico.partners/impact.

 

 

About the Author
Sasha Belenky is the Director of Impact for PICO Venture Partners. She has spent her career developing, launching, and scaling programs for social impact. She has been a fellow with Social Finance Israel, the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and a member of the Schusterman Foundation's ROI Community. She completed her graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she focused on cross-sector solutions to issues related to education, health, and economic development.
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