New High-tech Initiative in Israel Seeks to Combine Business With Zionism

The Gvahim New Wave project aims to help new immigrants make it in Israeli high-tech; Project will establish a start-up incubator for new immigrant high-tech ventures.

Guy Grimland
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Guy Grimland

Israel's high-tech industry benefits from new immigrants, who often arrive with prestigious academic degrees, extensive experience at international companies and mother-tongue English. A new initiative aims to integrate these people into the Israeli high-tech scene.

The project, called Gvahim New Wave, was launched by two new immigrants, Audrey Chocron and Cynthia Phitoussi. The duo are planning to launch a start-up accelerator for new immigrants in October, and hope native Israelis will join the accelerator's teams, too.

The founders, both of whom are from France, had observed that many new immigrants were coming to Israel with excellent work experience, but that they lacked the connections and the resources to use them properly, said Phitoussi. It's a pity, she continued, noting that many immigrants leave high-flying careers and want to start new companies in Israel, but run into difficulties.

Initially, Chocron and Phitoussi had thought to create a joint work space for immigrants. They partnered with the nonprofit Gvahim, whose goal is to help immigrants integrate. According to Gvahim, 86,000 immigrants came to Israel between 2005 and 2010, including 11,000 with college degrees. Of the college graduates, 20% were engineers.

The two learned different models for assisting entrepreneurs, and starting from their initial idea of a joint work space, they decided they needed to launch a start-up accelerator for immigrants - something along the lines of Silicon Valley's Y Combinator, explained Phitoussi.

They approached immigrants working with Gvahim and invited them to take part in their accelerator. The initiative met with a positive response, and ultimately they received applications from 45 potential start-ups. Seven were accepted.

Two or three entrepreneurs stand behind each initiative, said Phitoussi; the organization hopes to introduce them to native Israelis who would also join their teams.

The accelerator still does not have physical office space, and Phitoussi and Chocron are currently considering several options.

The accelerator's participants will be working with mentors and volunteers who will assist them, including Vringo founder Jon Medved and Izhar Shay, a general partner at the venture capital fund Canaan Partners.

Every mentor will meet his or her team of entrepreneurs twice a month, and will offer ongoing assistance, said Chocron.

The accelerator will also hold weekly seminars on subjects such as social media or how to apply for venture capital, said Phitoussi.

After six months, the participants will present their ideas to potential investors. While many accelerators take a percentage of the future companies' equity, Phitoussi and Chocron intend to charge participants a few hundred shekels a month in order to cover expenses, but mainly to ensure that the participants are serious.

The accelerator's first round is being considered a pilot, said Chocron; they're hoping to have 25 potential start-ups from various industries participate in the second round, she said.

They want to see the companies succeed in order to convince more potential immigrants from Europe or the United States to come to Israel, Chocron added.

Israel has a reputation for being a place where people earn low salaries, and not a good place to develop a career, yet many immigrants choose to come here anyway, she explained. This is a way to help immigrants combine business and Zionism.



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