Promising Israeli late-stage startups will strut their stuff before investors and global thought leaders at the seventh annual Israel Dealmakers Summit in New York, March 24-25, 2015 — an invitation-only conference on technology, trends and innovations shaping key sectors including digital media, mobile and wireless, cyber-security, smart cities, enterprise software, health and wellness, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data.
The summit’s Innovation Showcase “speed networking” platform will set the stage for one-on-one relationship-building meetings with investors.
“We launched this summit in direct response to US and global dealmakers’ desire to tap into Israel’s leadership in innovation,” said Zeev Klein, general partner of Landmark Ventures, which organizes the yearly summit in partnership with the Israel Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Investment Promotion Center.
“Over a two day period, we will facilitate more than 2,500 meetings between entrepreneurs and high-level dealmakers.”
Last year, the Israeli augmented-reality innovation company Eyeway Systems won a $5 million funding package after presenting at the summit.
Meanwhile, a “Power Breakfast” was held at the newly opened Israeli Business Center in Shanghai on February 12 to showcase Israeli startups specializing in mobile and Internet technology.
The event was held in cooperation with GWC, the umbrella organization of Chinese Internet and mobile companies, which also sponsors the annual Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC), this year set to be held in Beijing in April.
Israel broke new ground at the 2012 GMIC when Israeli company Visualead was chosen the most promising startup. The company later opened offices in Shanghai and this January became the first Israeli company to raise funds from Chinese Internet giant Alibaba (http://www.israel21c.org/headlines/over-900-million-in-one-week/).
Representatives of Israeli companies with significant activity in China made presentations at the Power Breakfast — including executives from Supersonic, Visualead and ironSource – before 40 senior Chinese executives.
“This is the first event of its kind at the Israeli Business Center in Shanghai, which was inaugurated last November,” said Elad Gafni, Israeli trade attaché to Shanghai from the Foreign Trade Administration. “Beyond the great potential of this event for Israeli web and mobile companies, it is also an opening shot for similar events in other fields where there is potential for cooperation with China.”
According to the Foreign Trade Administration in the Israeli Ministry of Economy, in 2014, trade between Israel and China reached $11.14 billion.
Jessica Apple and Michael Aviad. Photo by Koby Mercury
An American girl and an Israeli guy meet in a Jerusalem bar, fall in love, get married and later each develops type 1 diabetes. What are the odds?
Pretty slim, acknowledges Michael Aviad, cofounder of the popular diabetes e-zine ASweetLife with his wife, Jessica Apple.
“It’s statistically impossible that we both have it,” says Aviad, a 44-year-old marathon runner with degrees in law and finance. “No one in Jess’s family has type 1, and in mine I didn’t know anyone did until I met some long lost relatives and found out my aunt had type 1.”
Each month, about 200,000 unique visitors click on ASweetLife, frequently cited as one of the best online resources for people with diabetes. Many readers, like Michael and Jessica, have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease affecting the production of insulin, the hormone that guides sugar (glucose) into the cells to produce energy.
When they met, Apple was an 18-year-old Texas girl on the Young Judaea Year Course, and Aviad was a 22-year-old IDF soldier, born in California and raised in Jerusalem. Apple moved to Israel in 1997; the couple married in 1998. He worked as an economist while she built a successful writing career. Apple’s essays and fiction have appeared in such publications as The New York Times Magazine and The Financial Times Magazine.
Diabetes was not on their radar when Aviad was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002, just 18 months after the birth of their first son.
He learned how to monitor his blood sugar and use insulin, which is necessary for anyone with type 1 to survive. He improved his diabetes management with a low-carb diet and exercise. He started long-distance running to prove to himself and others that diabetes would not keep him down.
During her pregnancy, Apple had been misdiagnosed with gestational diabetes, a transient condition. During her third pregnancy in 2008, she was properly diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of type 1 called LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults).
The double diagnoses sent the couple to the Internet searching for resources and peers. They concluded that they could offer something more fun and comprehensive than the medical and personal blogs they found, and more attuned to healthful living and nutrition than diabetes organizations’ websites.
While ASweetLife publishes the latest information about diabetes research and technology, it’s also a place for emotional support. It is a community rather than a forum.
“It was a big deal to us to create something where people could communicate, sharing tips and information,” Aviad tells ISRAEL21c.
“It’s not enough to know about the latest insulin pump or new drug. Having a good emotional support system is key to dealing with any chronic illness, especially for us because of the need to monitor every bite of food you eat. It’s important to understand that a person who restricts their diet doesn’t have a lower quality of life. It’s just a little harder.”
ASweetLife is a nonprofit program of the Diabetes Media Foundation, with a board in New York and a pool of freelance writers including professional journalists such as Katie Bacon, a former editor for The Atlantic whose daughter has type 1; and Catherine Price, whose newest book is Vitamania.
“Our writers don’t necessarily agree with one another, but they’re all in control of their diabetes and they convey the emotional and inspirational aspects of living with diabetes,” Aviad says.
“Readers want inspirational stories about people succeeding with diabetes, whether raising a child or running a marathon,” adds Apple. “Type 1 is a challenge every day, and those who don’t have it can’t understand living from one glucose measurement to the next, and how your mood and how much you get done depend on that. People want to know it’s not always terrible — and when it is terrible, how you get up and go on.”
Readers are also in need of laughs. “For a good percentage of our readers, dark humor is really a way to commiserate,” says Apple. “We have an article up now called ‘I speak diabetes’ about the terminology and acronyms we use that nobody else knows.”
As writer Jacquie Wojcik points out in the piece, the question “Are you high?” has a different meaning to a diabetic than to a recreational drug user.
ASweetLife appeals mainly to readers who take a proactive approach to their (or their kids’) type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Says Apple, “You can read the scary stuff elsewhere and think diabetes is just a countdown till bad things happen. But if you take good care of yourself and keep your weight in the normal range and move somewhat, you’ll probably be fine.”
ASweetLife has featured stories on some of the improved medications and monitoring systems coming out of Israeli research labs.
“We are very interested in Beta-O2,” an implantable bio-artificial pancreas now going into clinical trials. “And I interviewed a company that has a noninvasive glucose monitor for the nighttime. We want good products to succeed if we believe in what they’re doing,” Apple says.
Living in Tel Aviv with their sons, now 14, 11 and almost six, Aviad and Apple do not own a car and walk everywhere.
“ASweetLife is our message that life with diabetes can be sweet,” says Apple. “This disease doesn’t mean you’re going to be sick and die early, but that you will have to work harder to be healthy. People say, ‘Thank you for showing me that people with diabetes can live normal, healthy lives.’ They’ve found inspiration, and that is what keeps us going.”
Sandy Colb in one of his orchards. Photo by Amitai Gazit/Ofek-Israel
Along with his Ivy League diplomas, a second-grade “master gardener” certificate hangs on the wall of Rehovot patent attorney Sandy Colb’s office. Now 66, the former Cleveland schoolboy went on to cultivate a unique farm-based philanthropy.
Through his Tov V’Hameitiv Foundation, Colb partners with 70 Israeli social-service agencies to distribute 100 tons of fruits and vegetables every week, harvested from a total of 250 acres of fields he has leased, bought and borrowed.
Along with seeds and fertilizer, Colb sows a significant sum of shekels into the project. The return on his investment is the satisfaction of nourishing Israel’s most vulnerable citizens while feeding his own love of the land. “It’s expensive, but this is my veggie habit,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
Although Colb spends considerable time traveling for business and pleasure, and typically works 16-hour days, when he’s home in Rehovot he devotes two mornings a week to planting and picking with his 60 paid workers.
Forty of those workers are older Ethiopian Israelis with few employment opportunities. Eight others have special needs. In coordination with Leket, Israel’s national food bank, Colb hopes to bring more people with mental, emotional and physical challenges to work in the fields.
Leket provides 25,000 volunteers every year to pick crops in Colb’s fields.
As one of Colb’s distribution partners, Leket also provides some 25,000 volunteers to pick crops every year. Many of the volunteers are tourists who devote a morning to the charitable project.
“Wherever I go around the world, I meet people who have picked in our fields, and they always remember what they picked,” Colb says.
A few people have considered trying to duplicate Colb’s enterprise in other countries, “but I don’t know of anyone actually doing it. You need a place where you can plant and grow all year round,” he explains.
Even in Israel, of course, each kind of vegetation has its season. Depending on the time of year, Colb’s workers are planting, tending and gathering citrus fruits, pecans, avocados, peaches, plums, apples, root vegetables, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and more — altogether about 40 varieties of healthful produce.
Right from the start he planted a vegetable patch in his backyard, because ever since second grade he had never stopped gardening – even as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Cambridge and Harvard universities.
“I would find a piece of land and start digging,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see stuff grow, especially big zucchinis. I have a picture of my older son, who is now 40, holding a zucchini that’s bigger than he is.”
When Colb’s crops in Rehovot became too plentiful for the family of six, a neighbor offered to take excess produce for clients in the food-distribution program run by Ezer Mizion.
“When the winter came I had no tomatoes to give her, and she said people needed them. So a friend and I started going once a week to the wholesale market in Rehovot and buying veggies to donate,” says Colb.
Realizing the vast need, he slowly began acquiring farming equipment, personnel and land. Some fields he bought; some he leases from nearby kibbutz and moshav communities; and some he borrowed from owners of unused or underused fields. Recently, the Weizmann Institute of Science — not far from where he lives – offered 50 unused acres for him to till.
Colb’s biggest single plot is 350 dunams (86+ acres). He was outbid on this plot when he tried to buy it about 10 years ago, but arranged with the winner to pay $60,000 per year to lease it. However, when the owner came from New York and saw Colb picking cabbages for the needy, he decided on the spot to issue a refund. The $60,000 still changes hands annually, going back to Colb to plow into his foundation.
The Rehovot municipality has encouraged his efforts and provided land for a greenhouse. One advantage of the greenhouse is that Colb can use it to grow vegetables during sabbatical years such as this one, when the open fields are not sown but only harvested in keeping with biblical and rabbinic agricultural laws.
Following every sabbatical year, Colb and his workers plant wheat designated for Passover matzah for the next eight years. Colb and his wife, Paula, invite “tons of people” to join them in annual baking sessions at a facility run by Jerusalem’s Karlin Hasidim.
With four grown children and 13 grandchildren in whom they hope to instill an appreciation of agriculture, the Colbs have not neglected their home vegetable patch. “We have a little asparagus and carrots, fennel and various exotic fruits,” says Colb, and even this gets shared; he takes much of the produce to his synagogue for fellow worshipers to enjoy after Shabbat services.
Mati Oren with his four medals at the Shanghai Special Olympics World Games in 2007.
Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe may be more famous than Mati Oren, but at home in Israel, the Special Olympics swimming medalist is a superstar.
“I was sportsman of the year on my kibbutz and honored several times in our regional council,” says Mati, Israel’s most medaled Special Olympics athlete since the country’s 1987 entry in the worldwide competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Soon to turn 32, Mati made history in 2003, when he took home four gold medals from the Summer Games in Dublin and achieved a Special Olympics world record in the 100-meter individual medley.
He is one of 40 Israeli Special Olympians preparing to represent the country at the 2015 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
In 2006, nine Israeli Special Olympians went to San Francisco to compete in the RCP Tiburon Mile, an open-water endurance race.From left, coach Ishai Adler, Gil Kataloni, Shahar Gidalizon, the father of athlete Guy Wartikovsky, Andelo Wartikovsky, Mati Oren, coach Judy Ziv, Ella Zohar and Gilad Kalishov.
The youngest son of Vicki and Haim Oren of Kibbutz Ginegar near Nazareth, Mati was born with medical problems requiring eight surgeries by the time he was four years old. Though physically healed, he was then diagnosed with developmental and cognitive disabilities. From age five to 21, he attended a special school in Haifa.
“His class would come each year for a party on our kibbutz, and they’d swim in our pool,” Vicki tells ISRAEL21c.
The staff couldn’t help but notice Mati’s prowess in the water. When Mati was 12, the school encouraged the Orens to take their son to a Special Olympics swim meet in Tel Aviv under the auspices of AKIM, a national organization of parents of intellectually disabled children.
“It was like magic,” says Vicki. “It was like a door opening. We met other parents and coaches, and they asked him to join the national team.”
With help from the kibbutz, friends and family, the Orens managed to get Mati to weekly training sessions in the pool at the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Center for Physical Education and Sport, near Netanya – 90 kilometers from Ginegar.
In 2000, the Orens accompanied Mati to his first European Special Olympics regional competition, held in Holland. He won three golds and one silver medal, and came home to a hero’s welcome by the Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Ahead of Mati’s record-setting performance in Dublin, Special Olympics Israel asked Vicki to organize Israel’s first official family delegation. She has since attended and helped facilitate Special Olympics Family Seminars in Austria, Hungary, Romania, China, Greece and the United States.
Mati Oren and his mother, Vicki, in Shanghai with Tim Shriver, chairman of the board of Special Olympics International.
“It’s really important for us to be there to cheer on our children,” Vicki says. And because no national flags are flown or national anthems played at the medal ceremonies, flags waved by families in the stands give a boost to the athletes.
Vicki served as Israel’s first Global Family Leader for Special Olympics International as well as family coordinator for Special Olympics Israel for 16 years, and was the family representative to the board of Special Olympics Israel – a position now held by Mati’s brother Benji, 34.
Raising NIS 1 million
Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics organization provides year-round training and competition in Olympic-type sports for four million people age eight and up (about 7,000 are registered in Israel), “giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community,” according to the mission statement.
Unlike the Paralympics for athletes with physical disabilities held in tandem with the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a separate schedule.
The 2015 Summer Games in Los Angeles will be Mati’s fourth Special Olympic Games, assuming the success of a drive to collect nearly NIS 1 million to bring over the team, alternate athletes, coaches, and security and other support staff. (Families pay their own way if they wish to attend.)
The Special Olympics Israel board is responsible for raising two-thirds of the amount from governmental agencies, and the families are responsible for raising the remainder by the end of March. “I am very optimistic that we’ll get the funds in time,” says Reuven Astrachan, national director of Special Olympics Israel.
Israeli President Shimon Peres greeting athletes returning from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens in 2011. Photo by GPO/Flash90.
The delegation of 40 athletes – ranging in age from 17 to 41 — will compete in pool swimming, open-water swimming, tennis, bowling, kayaking, basketball, cycling, athletics and bocce (lawn bowls). The bowling and kayaking teams are to be “unified,” meaning regular and special athletes will be paired together.
Mati no longer trains with special athletes but with masters and triathlon swimmers under the Israel Swimming Association’s national open-water coach, Andrei Tot.
“Open water is a new sport in the Special Olympics, and Mati switched from pool swimming to open water because he wanted a new challenge,” says Vicki. Despite the cold this time of year, he hates to get out of the water.
“Swimming is part of who I am,” Mati declares.
Getting ready to swim in Lake Kinneret are Special Olympians Ella Zohar, Mati Oren, Gilad Kalishov and Guy Wartikovsky.
At the 2007 Summer Games in Shanghai, Mati again won three golds and one silver medal. He won silver and bronze medals at the 2011 Athens Games in open-water swim, and last year placed sixth in the top division for open-water swimmers at the European regionals. He was named Israeli Athlete of the Decade in 2008 by the Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Since finishing his schooling at age 21, Mati has worked in the kibbutz’s plastics factory, and two years ago became a certified lifeguard. He lifeguards at Ginegar’s pool in afternoons, evenings and weekends, and also plays soccer and cycles when he has the time.
Mati says that going to the LA Games would be a dream come true. “I also want to do a triathlon team with me as the swimming link,” he says. “I plan to swim forever.”
“It is very important that we consider our athletes as normal athletes and they feel like normal athletes,” Astrachan tells ISRAEL21c. “There’s nothing different than in regular sports; they have to practice a lot, compete a lot, and come with the spirit of competition. But the most important part for me is to see their smiles and their parents’ smiles.”
Iddo Gino showing Taiwanese journalists around Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School in 2013.
There’s something unusual about one of the startups renting co-working space in the newly opened WeWork building in Herzliya: Its CEO is still in high school.
Iddo Jonathan Gino, 17, is a senior at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa and hopes to finish an undergraduate degree in computer science at the Open University next year.
When he’s not studying in school and online, Iddo heads RapidPay, a year-old company whose four employees have created a mobile in-store and online payment platform for customers – mainly fellow teenagers –without a credit card or bank account.
“I try to manage my time as well as possible,” Iddo tells ISRAEL21c understatedly.
“When I was about 11, I went with my dad to his workplace, and I sat with one of the programmers and saw all the cool stuff he was doing,” Iddo relates. “He showed me a program he made to sort out seating for his son’s bar mitzvah automatically. Then he gave me a book to learn how to program. And from there, one thing led to another.”
Cool little projects
Iddo began with “some cool little projects,” learning how to build online management systems, interactive websites and iOS apps. Last summer, he had an internship at a tech startup in Israel. “I got to experience how a startup works, and then I opened my own,” he explains.
Last year, Iddo teamed with students from the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, to develop a predictive app, SmartAlarm, which uses traffic data, flight changes and other real-time information to determine the appropriate time for the user’s alarm to ring in order to get to a destination at the right time. They hope to get funding to launch the app.
“Today, many people are referring to the so-called ‘Age of Context,’ where everything will be connected and every product or service will be enhanced using data and technology from elsewhere,” says Iddo. “SmartAlarm is a great concept that utilizes contextual technology and real-time data sources to give users a true benefit.”
This project was part of a long-distance collaboration between the two high schools. Reali, one of Israel’s oldest private schools, boasts many distinguished alumni. “Reali is a really great school that has allowed me to do college courses and have my own startup, and we have opportunities in school to create stuff, too,” says Iddo, a computer science and physics major.
Last May, he and fellow teen entrepreneur Gil Maman – CEO of HealthBelly and an award-winning veteran of several hackathons — helped organize the Israeli branch of World Hackathon Day, held at the Google Campus in Tel Aviv. This global initiative was the brainchild of Innovation Israel cofounder and wearable technology evangelist Nir Kouris, 32.
Iddo Gino at the 2014 World Hackathon Day in Tel Aviv.
With the help of an ROI micro-grant and corporate sponsorships, Kouris and two Netherlands-based cofounders connected Israeli teen techies with peers abroad as they hacked apps for health, finance, music, charity and travel. Hundreds participated in the weekend event last May, leading to some potential partnerships and products.
Behind the scenes, the hackathon also afforded organizational experience to enterprising teens like Iddo and Gil, and their counterparts in Holland, India, Spain, Morocco and Germany.
Motivated by Mark
Iddo says that he’s motivated by “all the awesome futuristic stuff out there, like GetTaxi and Waze,” both founded by young Israeli entrepreneurs, though perhaps not quite as young as he is.
“One of my role models is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. He went to university but didn’t stay there long. He had one good idea to pursue and went with it.”
Iddo also admires Israeli tech legend Dov Moran, one of the early pioneers of portable data storage. “I like the way he created something nobody believed he could, and now we can’t live without flash memory.”
The Haifa whiz kid muses: “One of the things about the Israeli personality and culture is that it enables you to grow quickly and is very open-minded. I could talk to investors when I was 15, and they took me seriously. I don’t know if that’s something that could happen abroad.”