The Israeli startup scene has dramatically changed within a couple of years because of the significant increase in investment prospects (i.e. incubators, accelerators, angels), events, meet-ups, competitions, lectures, academic programs and more.
Especially interesting are the slowly, yet surely recent alterations in the diversity of the entrepreneurs, with more and more women entering the previously male-dominated startup habitat, turning it into an even more interesting scene. It is a crucial change that should have occurred earlier — but fortunately it is here, and it is here to stay.
There have been many debates, with many viable reasons provided, regarding why Israeli women entrepreneurs haven’t been active in the startup scene till now, why they are only now getting recognition and whether they are actually the ones taking more action. Here are a few arguments as to why Israeli women entrepreneurs are starting to blossom.
It appears that the male-dominated Israeli startup nation has taken a turn in the right direction. Not to seem too optimistic, though — men still lead the investment front, and they fulfill most key roles in the Israeli startup scene. However, diversity seems to be encroaching upon previous conventions, and there are now several new opportunities that have made it possible, easier and more appealing for women to join the rollercoaster and become startup founders and co-founders, as well as to join startups in key positions.
One of these new opportunities is WMN, which at first seemed to be another beautifully designed hub targeting women entrepreneurs, strategically located at the port of Tel Aviv complex. It soon became a ground-breaking success story, however, pushing forward numerous women-led startups that are now fully funded working companies on the rise. (i.e. TRENCH, Sidekix and more).
According to Merav Oren, CEO and founder of WMN, “WMN is a game-changer for women entrepreneurs. Our mission is to have more women-led ventures. We do this by providing our community members with a co-working space, professional events and workshops, along with mentors and networking opportunities with profound and leading men and women in the industry who want to pay it all forward.”
Oren agrees that “the Israeli startup scene (as the rest of the startup world) is still male-dominated. However, a clear shift has become prominent in recent years, and we are seeing Israeli women entrepreneurs just about everywhere: Women are founding startups, winning competitions, leading ventures and venture deal-flows, and leading successful innovative companies.”
Oren takes pride in her contribution, but not without admitting the long road ahead: “WMN has an important role in this local shift, and we are extremely excited to see that our hard work is paying off, not only business-wise but socially, as well. Having said that, as someone who is highly familiar with the Israeli startup scene, it is apparent that we still have a lot to do, but the challenge makes it interesting. We will continue with our vision for the betterment of everyone who cares about the startup scene, that will all benefit from this change.”
The rise of the momtrepreneurs
Another program intended for women entrepreneurs or future entrepreneurs is being led by Hilla Ovil-Brenner, a serial entrepreneur in the Israeli high-tech industry. Ovil-Brenner, who started her first startup (which she later sold to a huge corporation) when she was nine months pregnant, is now CEO and founder of a startup called GlingMedia, the first on-demand platform for inbound calls.
Ovil-Brenner specializes in reaching out to entrepreneurs and helping them fulfill their passion. She also founded Campus TLV for Moms at the Google Tel Aviv campus. Ovil-Brenner describes Campus TLV for Moms as the world’s first baby-friendly startup school for women entrepreneurs. Initially launched at Campus Tel Aviv by Yazamiyot, a social network for women entrepreneurs, it was co-founded by Ovil-Brenner and Google. Campus TLV for Moms provides a productive and educational bootcamp for moms to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and make progress.
According to Ovil-Brenner, “with the success of Campus for Moms in Tel Aviv, the program has grown to other campuses around the world, including London, Madrid and Seoul. We have helped hundreds of moms acquire the basic skills required for launching a successful startup — from product, development, branding, pitching investors and more.”
Ovil-Brenner explains: “Campus TLV for Moms is primarily aimed at women on maternity leave who are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship. The program is aimed at different audiences — either current or aspiring entrepreneurs or corporate employees with a track record of internal entrepreneurship who would like to know more about leading a successful business. We offer an 8-session cycle with special guests who are top-notch leaders in their fields. We take pride in helping women push forward a startup at what we discovered to be a critical turning point in their lives.”
There is quite a small group of Israeli women entrepreneurs who lead successful companies and give inspiration to other female founders, those who want to become entrepreneurs or those taking the first steps to establishing a new startup.
One of them is Orit Hashay, who founded Brayola, a crowd-recommendation site for choosing and buying brassieres.
Hashay started as a software developer who independently launched several successful sites, such as mit4mit, an Israeli consumer wedding services reviews site, and Ramkol, Israel’s leading local reviews. She later joined Israeli VC Carmel Ventures as an investment manager, pushing forward its portfolio companies and seeking new investment opportunities for the company.
Hashay also takes an active part in encouraging Israeli women to aim at the non-existing glass ceiling: “I have lived the scene as an investor as well as a striving entrepreneur. I know how hard it can be, especially in a male-dominated world. However, I consistently ignored the fact that it is hard and didn’t take no for an answer. Any difficulty that I had, I found a way to resolve it.”
As to why women entrepreneurs are less represented in startups, locally and abroad, Hashay says she knows exactly why this is the case. “I think the problem lies in early education. I volunteered at an NGO aimed at helping kids (tzeva.org.il) and kept seeing boys freely expressing themselves, even if they were clearly wrong about something, while girls were always less confident, even when they have the right answer. Women should be encouraged to speak up, be competitive from an early age, in the same way that boys are. From a personal perspective, my 4-year-old boy is extremely enthusiastic about working in my company, even though my husband is independent as well. Even though it is very heart-warming and flattering, I constantly tell him that he could create his own company if he would like. Every little boy or girl should be encouraged in exactly the same ways.”
As for today, Hashay concludes, “it’s definitely a new era for Israeli women entrepreneurs. The different programs available, the idea that it is not unusual for a woman to want to be independent or to want to start a venture from scratch… whatever the reason is, it’s happening and it’s a revolution that’s super fun to take an active part in.”
Shelly Eisen-Livneh is a relatively new entrepreneur who is part of WMN. Eisen-Livneh is the CEO and co-founder of aida, aiming to help people find compatible matches through playful and meaningful interactions.
Aida (Japanese for space between, time between, relation between) is a unique app that captures the space and time between two people — where the magic happens. It’s an app where people can discover each other playfully, bond and gradually form a “togetherness” — as in real life. This way they can stop focusing on searching and start focusing on creating the relationship they want.
According to Eisen-Livneh, her app disrupts dating conventions. “aida encourages a new dating culture that invites daters to develop and maintain an “aida” between them, bringing fun, emotion and meaning back into dating — both online and offline.”
Eisen-Livneh explains how her app is a convention breaker and introduces a fresh outlook on Israeli women entrepreneurs finally moving into the spotlight: “With aida I set out to create a product that many women felt is missing for years and fix many problems men had but could not articulate. The more I met with investors and accelerators, the more I realized that the crowd I am pitching to is usually comprised of men. Every now and then I meet a women who is a decision maker (about 5 percent of the investors I meet). I wish I could be meeting with more diverse teams.”
Eisen-Livneh further explained: “When I talked with my angel investor I asked him at one point ‘How do I convey the pain and explain the solution to someone who has never been in the online dating scene, let alone experienced it from a woman’s perspective? Do you know that 96.6 percent of the VC investors are men?’ His answer actually served as my guiding light ever since. He said, ‘Shelly, it’s all statistics. According to the echo-system statistics — you don’t even exist. But you’re alive kicking and screaming — aren’t you? So go out there, make your own reality and beat the statistics, every bit of it, in every step of the ladder.’ ”
And that’s what I think is most important for diversity to happen — simply go out there, be a woman entrepreneur, a business woman, a leader, a founder, a force to be reckoned with. Serve as an example to other women and always help others — of all genders. As in Gandhi’s words, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
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