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The fourth in a series
showcasing young Jewish
Detroiters making their mark on
communities across the country.
ADAM FINKEL I SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
he oath of the Torah created a set of
responsibilities that would showcase the
uniqueness of Jewish peoplehood. The
importance of working together as a people
— being responsible not just for our own actions but
those of every other Jew — emphasized the importance
In Jessica Alter's world, it's never just about the
individual. As a graduate of the University of Michigan
and Harvard Business School, she quickly became
immersed in San Francisco's tech community — as an
executive at tech startups and as a mentor to upstart
Her recent project is FounderDating, which is a
network of doers with diverse backgrounds and skills
ready to start their next project or company. Her group
pairs up individuals with complementary skills to work
on the same project. Founders apply to be a part of this
vetted network, where they can easily browse potential
partners for a new project. It also offers in-person
events across the country.
Alter is the CEO and co-founder of the organization
where she leads a team of 20 individuals around
the world. FounderDating has several dozen active
communities across North America. It is also active in
England and Israel.
In San Francisco, Alter stands out as a role model for
other female technology entrepreneurs. She shows with
every "founder pairing" — whether in Tel Aviv or Palo
Alto or Detroit — that pursuing one's passion in life is
even more rewarding when done together as a team.
How would you describe
Alter: FounderDating is an invite-only Linkedln
for entrepreneurs. It's a curated online network
for entrepreneurs to connect, get advice and find
co-founders to start side-projects and companies
What is the inspiration behind
The short answer is that we're helping people do
what they really want to do. The slightly less short
answer is that it's more possible than ever before
to start something — costs have come down,
resources are more available, capital is easier to
raise. Connecting with the right people is the only
area that's become more difficult, and that's where
we come in.
Where would you like to see
FounderDating in 10 years?
The place where entrepreneurs get unstuck —
connect with people and information that helps
them solve their entrepreneurial problems faster
and smarter so they can build more successful
Who do you most respect as a role
Well, not to sound cliché, but my mom is a role
model for me. I lost her at an early age, but she
was one of the hardest working people I've ever
known. And little did I know what a balancing act
a full-time career and family were, especially back
then. She handled it with grace and aplomb.
How would you define the state of
female entrepreneurs within Silicon
There is a serious dearth of women entrepreneurs
in general, not just in Silicon Valley.
San Francisco, Calif.
Zedek and Temple Israel
Co-founder & CEO of
2001 - University of
Peter Alter and Ellen Alter
In what ways did your upbringing
influence your interest in startups?
There were a few unwritten rules in our house
growing up — solidified by examples my parents
set. The ones that helped most with startups, or
more specifically entrepreneurship:
1. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. My
parents were two of the hardest working people
I've ever seen (that stands even today). It was never
about face time but about going the extra-mile.
If you're working on something you're passionate
about, you should be
ready to pour your
heart and soul into it.
just happen from 9 to
2. Where there is a will
there is a way. "No"
wasn't really a popular
word. We were taught
that there is always a
way to get something
done, even if it isn't the
first or most obvious answer. That resourcefulness
is absolutely imperative in startups where you're
especially strapped for resources and need to
question the status quo.
3. Give back. This doesn't really have anything to
do with startups per se, but growing up in a house
and a community where giving back was a staple
absolutely shaped which areas of business I'm
interested in working on. For instance, I understand
advertising networks and think they can be great
businesses, but I couldn't get up every day and work
on one. I want to build something where I can see
the impact on people's everyday lives.
Based on your experience in Silicon
Valley, what advice would you offer
young Jews in Detroit?
The advice I would give to young people about
entrepreneurship is contained in one of my favorite
quotes: "The thing that messes us up most in
life is the picture in our heads of what things are
supposed to be like."
I spent high school, college and several years
afterward following a fairly typical path. Not a
bad one, just a rather safe one. But it was easy to
explain what I did and my accomplishments to my
friends and family.
It wasn't until I moved to California and started
working at startups and eventually starting them
that I found something I felt truly passionate
about. But it definitely wasn't what anyone
expected to me to do or easy to explain, like "I
work at Google."
It's easy to do what's expected and be fairly
successful at it. But ask yourself if you're doing
the thing(s) you really want to do or what you
think you're supposed to do. As you get older, it
becomes increasingly difficult to take risks you've
never taken. So, be honest with yourself now
about what you really want to be doing and take a
chance to get there even if doesn't match perfectly
with the picture you (or your parents) had in your
2006 - Harvard Business
October 24 • 2013