When Barr Yaron, Oshrat Goldberg and Jordan Windmueller began sharing with top Israeli tech executives their idea for launching Israel’s first high-tech accelerator program for female startup entrepreneurs, they quickly had doubts.
“We heard over and over again that there weren’t enough female startup founders in Israel, and even if there were, women focus on a small range of sectors and it would be hard to build a wide-ranging program that would interest investors,” Goldberg recalled.
As it turns out, their doubts were unfounded. By the time the deadline for applications arrived in July, they had been deluged with more than 130 applications for 11 places in the program’s first round.
Called WOSNA – the “A” is for accelerator – the program sprang from the high-tech community Women of Startup Nation, WOSN. The accelerator’s first program got underway on Monday, and the startups it’s hosting cover fashion, artificial intelligence, fintech, real estate, advertising, enterprise software and govtech. Each has at least one woman on its founding team.
Israeli high-tech badly needs more women, especially in its upper ranks. The industry faces a critical labor shortage, but women account for a little more than a third of the industry payroll and just 9% of all entrepreneurs. Being a minority isn’t easy.
“One of the women we interviewed mentioned that she used to leave work, surrounded in an all-male environment, to pick up her children,” Yaron said. “She felt like they were staring at her for leaving work early, when in reality she was balancing her work and home commitments. This was the motivation for starting her own company, and the reason for applying to WOSNA is knowing she would be surrounded by others who will never give her that look.”
While it’s the first all-female accelerator, it isn’t the first effort to help women build communities to advance their careers.
SheCodes, for example, helps women from all over Israel interested in learning coding. NaShim BaHigh-tech (Women in High-Tech) recently joined the global organization Lean In founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Meanwhile, Meetupsiot helps women with networking by visiting and summarizing meetups.
Women of Startup Nation began three years ago as a project by Yaron to document the achievements and stories of women in Israeli high-tech, and evolved into a community that today numbers 18,000. The WOSNA team – one Israeli (Goldberg), one American with Israeli parents (Yaron) and one American (Windmueller) – met at Stanford Business School, where they are still studying for their MBAs.
The four-week program resembles other tech accelerators, which aim to give a boost to budding tech entrepreneurs with little or no experiencing in starting up a business. WOSNA offers four weeks of lectures and workshops from investors, entrepreneurs and tech executives from the Israel tech ecosystem.
The accelerator also provides legal, engineering and other consulting. Each company is assigned a female mentor and contact person with a special connection to its industry who stays onboard for four months after the accelerator program is over.
One of the participating startups is Outomi, which has developed online tools for creating AI without any previous programming knowledge. The startup needed help with developing a business plan and a pitch for investors.
As mentors, it was assigned Orly Shoavi and Ronnie Sternberg, founders of the startup SafeDK, which was sold last month to the U.S. company AppLovin. Its contact people are Silicon Valley investors and the AI startup UiPath.
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