John Jonelis – I knew something outstanding was going on, but when a friend raved about it, I had to stop procrastinating and find out more.
Shalom Klein founded and runs the JB2BN, which is a really cool acronym for the Jewish Business to Business Network. To gain an interview, I had to schedule a time slot. Shalom runs his entire day by increments. No wasted minutes. And I asked myself—what motivates him to work so hard helping others? 24-year-olds usually spend their time in more self-centered pursuits.
Q – How did you go from an idea to the large organization you have today?
A – We have an accounting firm focused on small business. That led me into the world of networking, Chambers of Commerce, and meeting people.
In June of 2010, I did a lunch for our contacts. If you think about it, a photographer needs to meet a lawyer who needs to meet an accountant. Seventy people showed up.
So the next day, I walked into a Starbucks and saw five meetings going on from the day prior. I knew we were onto something BIG.
Now, many thousands of people are involved in the JB2BN. Upwards of 15,000 people have come out of our programs so far.
My goal is not that everybody attend every event. Most of ours draw 75-100 people—small business owners, job seekers. It’s about meeting people—developing relationships that are the key to helping our community.
But we offer some pretty outrageous things, like The Business Event—an free annual expo. This year, 5,000 people showed up.
Q – Give me a picture of it.
A – I have to keep this a little bit brief because I have somebody calling me in a few minutes.
- A Business Expo, which I believe is the largest one around the Midwest.
- A Job Fair with 30 employers that are hiring on the spot.
- 3 workshops going on simultaneously at the top of every hour.
- A total of 18 workshops during the day.
Q – What kind of workshops?
A – Marketing, networking, resumes, interviewing, cover letters, speed networking, LinkedIn, everything under the sun. They’re all posted on our website.
There’s a free employment clinic running at all times. The workshops, include some very prominent speakers.
Q – How did you find a venue for 5,000 people?
A – It’s been a work in progress. The first year we did it at the Holiday Inn in Skokie. We had 2,500 people. I called all the neighborhood businesses to tell them, “Hey, we’re not-for-profit. Please don’t tow our cars.” We clearly outgrew that space.
The next year we did it at a mall. I figured malls have a lot of parking space. So I partnered with the mayor of the Village of Lincolnwood. He said, “I’ll set you up in the town center.” And sure enough, he did. And it was a great, great event but we quickly outgrew the space. We even arranged a shuttle bus that ran from the mall to another venue for workshops.
The mayor of Evanston was on my case saying, “How can we get something like this here in town?” I said, “Hey, find me a space and I’ll do it.” They got me Evanston High School, which is a gorgeous facility, a huge facility, and they have a brand new field house. It worked out fantastic. We actually ran out of parking half way through the day.
I’m gonna have to start working on next year’s event. But it’s a good problem to have. I’m beyond thrilled with the outcomes, with the progress that we’ve made and I’m looking forward to next steps.
Q – How big can it grow?
A – What we’ve been doing has attracted a lot of attention. I’m very proud of the successes. The numbers are important but the outcomes are far more important. The one thing everybody shares is the need to put food on the table.
And the reason any organization goes viral is that you’re talking about the right issue at the right time. I hear success stories every day. I meet people who have found jobs. I hear of people who are now working together simply because we connected the dots!
We don’t spend a penny on advertising. We don’t do any marketing. People come to us. WLS Radio, 890 and 94.7 approached me about partnering on this year’s event. They came to the event and promoted it for free through their vast media channels. We’re a grass roots community organization. It’s my goal to continue to grow and develop that way.
Q – Will you expand to other cities?
A – We already have. We’re running events in Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis. Cleveland is inquiring. My goal is to expand around the Midwest—not nationwide. There are so many businesses synergies that should meet.
Q – So you send other point-people out to do the logistics at those locations?
A – We’ve got a good committee of people who are helping to promote the event and work on the logistics but I try to be in as many places as I can.
Q – How do you find time for all of that?
A – My other passion is time management. Every minute of my day is occupied in some way, which is why I’m so careful about scheduling these calls and giving everyone my full attention. I even schedule picking up my dry cleaning. I have all the events on the calendar. It’s an important thing to me. This is a passion. You probably hear that in my voice.
Q – Yeah. I really do.
A – I’m also chairman of the Skokie Economic Development Commission. I’m very involved in attracting businesses to our area. I started the Dempster Street Merchants Association. I was appointed by the mayor and I’m very involved in that effort. You make time. The busy people only get busier, right?
Q – And they’re the ones you go to when you need to get something done. How much more time do you have left for me?
A – Another ten, fifteen minutes.
The How To
Q – How do you launch a first-time event?
A – We had one this morning at a place called The Plugin Workspace. It’s an incubator for startup businesses in Highland Park. This morning’s event was called, “Networking and Coffee,” and it was just that.
One of our members said, “I’ve been coming to your events. How can I put on one?” I said, “Easy. Open up your space and provide some kosher refreshments.” And sure enough, that’s what he did. And we had something like fifty people who came out in the awful weather to mingle.
Q – What does your event schedule look like?
A – We do three events a week—
- One dedicated to jobs
- One business
- One education
And by we, I don’t just mean me. I mean people who volunteer—people who dedicate their time, talent, and energies to making this organization a success. We don’t have any paid staff people at all.
Q – Tell me about the job program.
A – It’s both networking and education. Job clinics. Career counselors offer free support and training in all sorts of skills that help people find jobs.
It’s about people meeting each other, but I believe equally in getting people the information and resources they need so they can have a productive job search.
Job Board on JB2BN Website
Q – Who’s your target audience for education?
A – Both businesses and job seekers. Everybody needs information and education. These days you can’t find a job without being expert in Microsoft Office—Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and skills like that. We have volunteers that come in and teach classes.
If someone owns a business and wants to brush up on their skills or if somebody’s in transition and wants to become more polished, we have classes for them. We offer workshops on how to build a free website in WordPress. One on how to use Google Apps to create an email account for yourself. Very basic skills, but skills that are key, whether you need a job or own a business and just want to become better at what you do.
Q – By the very name of your organization, you’re up-front that it’s a Jewish group. Do you have to be Jewish to come?
A – No. Growing up as a kid I learned that the highest form of charity is helping somebody earn their own livelihood. I try to practice that. So the organization is open to everyone regardless of walks of life, politics, or religion and I’m very proud of that identity but it’s a question I get all the time.
Q – How do you make a living out of this?
A –I don’t. That’s never been my goal. Not my plan at all. My hope is that God continues to give me the strength to wear two hats—run and grow our family business and continue to build the organization. The organization is not intended to be monetized in any way. It should help people. That’s my goal.
Q –How does the JB2BN self-sustain?
A – Grass roots. It’s always been my dream to build an organization that’s driven, not by paid staff, but by people that step up to the plate. Last week’s events with so many thousands of people, we needed the support to greet people, register, check people in, and run the events. When I issued a call to action to my organization, 35 people volunteered. They manned the registration tables, greeted the visitors, and made sure everybody knew where they were going. When we want to put on an event and need a host, people step up to the plate.
So I only take credit for setting up the coffee and the cake at some of our events.
Q – It doesn’t sound that way to me. Sounds like a lot of logistics.
A – Well, occasionally it’s a little bit of logistics but it comes together really, really nicely. We have a few businesses that step up to the plate. They provide sponsorships to cover the minimal costs of running the organization and allowing us to grow.
It’s all-important stuff. Things that I’m quite passionate about. It’s a pleasure to do it. I hope you’ll be able to come out to one of these events. I always want more people involved.
Q – I’d like that. On your website, you show a picture of a child’s string telephone. What’s with that?
A – (He laughs.) Here’s what it means: “It doesn’t matter how far technology or social media has developed—you have to get out there and network!”