Summit Puts Sustainability App in Spotlight

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The local CEO of the newly launched MilkCrate app, which connects users with green businesses, joined other up-and-coming entrepreneurs from around the country for “Shark Tank”-style pitches before top venture capitalists, presentations and panel discussions at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.

Morgan Berman found herself under immense pressure this week at the Forbes Under 30 Summit taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City Philadelphia.

As a finalist in the summit’s $400,000 Pressure Cooker contest, Berman, 29, had five minutes on Oct. 21 to pitch her startup — MilkCrate, an app that connects users with sustainable businesses, farmers’ markets and alternative fueling stations — to three big-name judges and a few thousand of her entrepreneurial peers.


“Lots of people want to live more sustainably, but they’re confused — and part of that confusion comes from the fact that they don’t even understand the word” sustainability, Berman told judges Steve Case, Troy Carter and Mike Perlis during her pitch. “At its core, it means leaving behind more than you take.”

She continued: “The No. 1 barrier stopping all of you from spending more money at companies that match your values is literally that you just don’t know where they are. Until now: Meet MilkCrate, a tool to help you live more sustainably.”

Ultimately, the contest was won by Enrou, an online store for socially conscious consumers to shop socially conscious global brands.

Berman, who was also a 2014 participant in the Tribe 12 Fellowship, an entrepreneurial program designed to help young Jewish professionals build socially conscious startups, said that just making it on the stage as a finalist was already encouraging her to ponder how far MilkCrate can go.

“The biggest criteria for the competition was: What’s a big, bold idea that could potentially be a billion-dollar idea, and to really look at what MilkCrate has to offer and think, ‘What is the absolute biggest possible version of what this could become?’ ” Berman said. “Honestly answering that question has freaked me out and scared me, and I haven’t necessarily felt that I was ready to answer. Having to really think about that — and be as bold as possible — is helping me think bigger and, as weird as that can feel sometimes, I’m glad it forced me to do that.”

The four-day Forbes summit brought some of the hottest up-and-coming entrepreneurs around the country to Philadelphia for panel discussions, keynote presentations, parties and “Shark Tank”-style pitches in front of the world’s top venture capitalists.

There were several notable Jewish names among the guest speakers and panelists: Monica Lewinsky, made infamous for her affair with then-President Bill Clinton while serving as a White House intern in 1998, tackled the subject of cyber bullying; Tinder chief executive officer and co-founder Sean Rad discussed the dating app’s cutting-edge technology; and venture capitalist Josh Kushner, managing partner of Thrive Capital, joined a panel discussing creative ways for budding entrepreneurs to get their startups funded by big investors.

Kushner, who, at the age of 29 is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is the poster boy for successful, emerging businesspeople. He spoke about the difficulties of achieving success in today’s cutthroat economy.

“There’s this romanticized ideology about being an entrepreneur, when, in reality, being an entrepreneur is so insanely hard, and you don’t know what it’s like to be an entrepreneur until you are,” Kushner, a native of Livingston, N.J., said, underscoring the obstacles facing small startups like MilkCrate. “I wake up in cold sweats at 4 a.m., because that’s just what happens when you start a company.”

Berman’s decision to found MilkCrate presciently followed guidelines reiterated time and time again by the summit speakers, who instructed entrepreneurs to use technology capable of solving life’s problems as the raison d’etre for their startup projects.

Both MilkCrate’s app and a fundraising campaign to upgrade the app were launched on Berman’s 29th birthday on Aug. 24, and both have met with success in just a few months.

The app now connects 1,200 users to 2,000 businesses, and the campaign on the indiegogo website has raised over $15,000 of its stated goal of $20,000.

Berman attributes some of MilkCrate’s current success to her involvement with the six-month Tribe 12 Fellowship, which ended with a graduation party over the summer.

As the child of an interfaith couple — her father is Jewish and her mother is a loosely affiliated Protestant — Berman described her upbringing as “mixed.” Although she attended some Hillel events during college and visited Israel through the Birthright program after graduating, it wasn’t until she became involved with Tribe 12 that she really tapped into her Jewish roots.

“Since then, I’ve just kind of built a stronger connection to the local Jewish scene,” Berman said. The fellowship “really helped provide a context for developing the company and it really helped provide some validity — outside affirmation that I was doing something real and professional.”

Her continued connection with Tribe 12 — Berman said she still attends their events and remains close with fellow 2014 fellowship participants, particularly Elana Baurer, who founded Pennsylvania Lawyers for Youth, and Amy Zitelman, who is working on Soom Foods.

These three ventures — and their creators — exemplify the type of applicant the organization is looking for, said Ross Berkowitz, Tribe 12’s executive director.

“Philadelphia is not a huge Jewish community, and we really saw that there would be a saturation point if we said every year we’re going to start 12 new Jewish-specific ventures here in Philadelphia — that’s too much, that can’t happen,” Berkowitz said of the group’s decision to expand the fellowship for the 2014 class to include startups that weren’t specifically Jewish ventures but were compatible with Jewish ideals and values.

So they decided, he said, to “open it up to a broader range of applicants to ensure that this program we’re running is half ‘let’s have the venture succeed’ but the other half is, ‘lets have these individuals succeed and become leaders in our Jewish community.’ ”

Berkowitz explained that MilkCrate’s mission reflects Jewish values and was one of the reasons Berman was accepted into the fellowship — an assessment Berman readily agreed with.

She said her “desire to protect the environment” and engage in good acts and deeds for the community were the driving forces behind her startup.

As for MilkCrate’s future, Berman said that participation in the summit’s competition will help propel the company forward, even though she didn’t win.

“This was an amazing falling-out-of-the-sky opportunity, but the good news is that there are plenty of impact investors in the area that we’re already talking with that want to invest in a company like MilkCrate,” said Berman.

“So we’re hoping that in the next couple of months, we’ll be able to seal the deal on all of that and be able to build the next amazing version of the app.”

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