Someone has been taking the trouble to get up every morning and count the start-ups, tally their employees, record how much money they raise, keep track of both private and institutional investors, and monitor the numbers of work spaces, incubators and accelerators and, naturally, of M&A transactions (“exits”).
That someone, or rather someones, is the team behind Finder, the online platform which is a part of Start-Up Nation Central and which maps out, monitors and analyzes Israel’s high-tech industry. The Finder project, which came online in 2014 and is free, has become an important tool for people interested in Israeli technology.
Access to the Israeli high-tech ecosystem
“We commonly refer to Finder as the SNC start-up,” says Lior Karol, Finder’s product manager. “We are creating the product ourselves – ‘we’ being a team of analysts, information specialists, four engineers and two designers; and the work involves information gathering and optimization, platform enhancement and new feature development. We focus exclusively on user benefits, because we are not trying to generate revenue. There aren’t many development teams working this way, because Finder is a free platform and we intend to always keep it that way.”
Karol explains that the Finder platform was developed with two goals in mind: “The first is to provide the outside world with access to the Israeli high-tech ecosystem; using big data is the only way to ensure that we gather all this valuable information. The second goal is facilitating business collaborations. This can help foreign investors, corporations, universities, municipalities or journalists – whoever might need general information or is searching for specific companies. This relates naturally to the overarching purposes of SNC: to create business partnerships between foreign entities, including governments, and the high-tech ecosystem here in Israel. Finder provides the technological component.”
Aviv Alper, director of research and analysis on the Finder team, adds that, “Finder might be viewed as the necessary infrastructure for the various services that SNC provides – such as networking. It’s the organizational information infrastructure that sits at the core of every other activity.”
A dynamic environment
The greatest challenge for the Finder team involves optimizing the information and ensuring that the database is properly organized, especially since the ecosystem is so dynamic. Indeed, new start-ups are born and older ones die every couple of minutes.
Jenny Sotnik-Talisman, Finder’s senior information specialist, is the person principally charged with maintaining the quality of the database. How does she do it? The financial information that Finder provides comes entirely from the public domain, such as from press releases, but the information is also verified. “We call entrepreneurs and ask them to confirm information published in various sources. It was difficult in the beginning, but is easier now that we are better known, and it also helps that we are a non-profit, with no revenue. Our sole purpose is helping the ecosystem,” she clarifies.
“We work with venture capital funds, which provide us with data that can’t always be found in open sources,” Karol adds, “but we also allow the users themselves to edit the information – which we find is the most reliable source. Additionally, there are two layers of confidential information in the database – a kind of ‘stealth’ database for companies that are not ready yet for publicity; and a layer of financial information, which companies share with us on condition that it remains private. This additional information is important for our reports.”
“90% of the companies we register in Finder shut down within a year,” notes Sotnik-Talisman, “which is why we scour a wide array of sources: their social networks activity, founders’ LinkedIn accounts, company websites and the Registrar of Companies [at the Israeli Ministry of Justice]. Eventually, though, we might simply call the founders. This is always a sensitive call, because they’ve had this dream, this baby, and it didn’t pan out. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to tell us that ‘that’s it,’ that the start-up is no longer active, so we use more subtle language with them.”
Karol thinks Finder is a success: “We see about 65,000 monthly page views on Finder, but more importantly, we see connections made. An investor searching for a relevant company can press the ‘Request intro’ button and then choose between different kinds of engagements with the company: investment, collaboration, invitation to events or job opportunities. Requests are routed through our support team, and if approved, are passed on to the entrepreneurs.”
Assisting job seekers was not part of the platform’s original purpose, but the team saw that many users were using Finder as a job opportunity tool, so they facilitated it. “As soon as a major funding announcement is made, people assume that much of the money will go towards development jobs, and then we see many more people using Finder to look for jobs in those particular companies,” says Karol.
Diversity supports innovation
Diversity and inclusiveness are popular catchphrases in high-tech today, heard often in industry conferences. At SNC, whether by design or not, diversity has been standard practice from day one.
The Finder team is a case in point. Jenny Sotnik-Talisman is both a Russian immigrant and an openly gay activist in the LGBT community. Meir Valman, the senior analyst on the team, is a 48-year-old observant Jew who immigrated from London. He had spent most of his career, before joining SNC, in finance and investment banking. Lior Karol made Aliyah from Russia as a boy and served in one of the IDF’s special forces. He has been with SNC for three and a half years.
Fredrik Liljedahl, data team manager at Finder, is from Sweden. “I interned at the Swedish Embassy in Israel, and then I fell in love with a guy and stayed,” he says. Aviv Alper, a member of SNC’s founding team, is actually the only 'sabra' on the Finder leadership team. She served as an officer in the IDF Intelligence Corps’ prestigious Unit 8200 and previously held jobs at the Bank of Israel’s research department and at another start-up.
“The point of diversity is to bring together people from different backgrounds, with varied occupational experience and academic education, but also different personalities,” explains Dana Pollak-Wasserman, HR director at SNC. “Diversity supports innovation and a wealth of ideas, and it’s been proven conclusively that it also contributes to the success of organizations. Homogenous teams do not produce as many ideas and points of view. I take pride in the fact that we employ people between the ages of 20 and 60, who come from all over the world and who have different lifestyles. They are not all products of the same environment.”
This article originally appeared in TheMarker.