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Growing start-ups
by Lee Chottiner
Executive Editor
Nov 30, 2011 | 886 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Sophia Berman (left) and Ariella Furman hope J’Tech can support newcomers to
Pittsburgh’s high-tech sector.</i>
Sophia Berman (left) and Ariella Furman hope J’Tech can support newcomers to Pittsburgh’s high-tech sector.
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Sophia Berman and Ariella Furman know a little something about start-ups. Furman, after all, is the CEO of her own start-up company in Pittsburgh,

Framed in 3D, which produces animated training and prototype videos.

And Berman is an industrial designer for Product Lexicon, a “strategic design consultancy” that does design strategy, research and design/engineering for a variety of companies.

But now, these 20-something young guns in Pittsburgh’s high-tech sector are applying their energies to the Jewish community, and their success could pave the way for future programs, their purpose being to help retain the best and brightest of Pittsburgh’s Jewish youth.

With the help of $300 in seed money and logistical support from J’Burgh, Berman and Furman have started J’Tech, a support group for Jews, ages 20 to 30, entering the high-tech market. They held their kickoff program in October — an event that attracted Web programmers, designers, engineers, even attorneys.

J’Tech is the first up-and-running project supported by J’Burgh’s new Program Incubator project, an effort to apply seed money and human resources to bright ideas proposed by Pittsburgh graduate students and young professionals — all designed to make Pittsburgh a more attractive place for them to live.

Berman and Furman hatched the idea for J’Tech while networking through groups for young Jewish professionals, and noticing that something was missing.

“We noticed a gap in the programming for people in their 20s — young professionals,” Berman said. “We started attending these events and realized there weren’t any young people.”

J’Tech, they say, is a safe place where 20-somethings just starting out and lacking the business experience can network with like-minded people, discuss the hurdles they’re facing in getting their ideas off the ground, find moral support and maybe some helpful advice.

“For me, one of the most important things is consistency — members returning to the events,” Furman said.

“It’s an outlet they can take advantage of and utilize. And each event they come to, they are a step further in their process and they have things they can share. For me it’s a way to reach out, get support and not be judged.

With $2,000 from a Jewish Federation outreach grant, the J’Burgh Program Incubator project started last summer, said David Katz, director of J’Burgh. Already it has received five applications for assistance.

J’Burgh, which is part of the Hillel Jewish University Center, is a social and professional network for Jewish graduate students and young professionals.

“The goal [of the incubator project] was to give J’Burgh participants the opportunity to create grassroots programs in the community,” Katz said, “and we have a total of five ideas that we’re incubating.”

Those ideas, which aside from J’Tech, are not yet up and running, are a Yiddish club, an indoor tennis group, a J’Burgh band and a “dress for success” group.

“We want participants to think about how they can make a personal impact on the community,” Katz said.

J’Tech holds regular meetings the third Thursday of every month at different locations around the area. Its next event is a cocktail social on Dec. 16 at Dave and Busters. Its activities can be followed at jtechpittsburgh.wordpress.com.

It also is planning speaking engagements with leaders in the high-tech sector who happen to be Jewish. They recently visited Rhiza Labs on the South Side where they met with its CEO, Josh Knauer.

“It’s nice to get more exposure to the city and find all the cool things people are doing,” Berman said, “and ultimately the goal of J’Burgh [and J’Tech] is to keep people in Pittsburgh.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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