Iddo Gino showing Taiwanese journalists around Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School in 2013.

High school senior, startup CEO

 Iddo Gino showing Taiwanese journalists around Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School in 2013.

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.

Having lived with his family in New Zealand for a couple of years before high school, Iddo speaks English fluently and has a working knowledge of Italian – as well as programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP and Python.

“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.

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.”

Artfully Walls helps you envision your gallery wall before purchase.

Turn your walls into a gallery

Artfully Walls helps you envision your gallery wall before purchase.

Artfully Walls helps you envision your gallery wall before purchase.

The Internet is bursting with tips on how to decorate your home. But after you’ve navigated through all the information, ideas, color suggestions and DIY guidelines, there’s the last act of hanging art on your walls. And finding the perfect wall art décor can be nerve-racking.

That’s where a new Israeli art app and website called Artfully Walls comes in.

The online curated art marketplace is the brainchild of Cathy Glazer, a serial entrepreneur and former CEO/founder of StarNet Interactive/GirlSense (acquired by InterActiveCorp in 2008). She came up with the idea of having a site that could help people choose the right artwork after she tried to do the same, at the end of a redecoration.

Though many online art sites offer framed posters and artwork, Glazer couldn’t find what she was looking for to complement original paintings by her late mother, Sybil Wigdor.

“When I was decorating my home, I did a lot of my shopping online, and when I reached the art part … I felt there were two extremes: there were real galleries and that was somewhat intimidating, and then there was the lower-end [option] of posters, which is great, but I was looking for something in the middle,” she tells ISRAEL21c over coffee at a Tel Aviv café.

So she started her own company. And because she had just fallen into the maze of other sites teeming with options, styles, colors and whatnot, she decided Artfully Walls would keep it simple.

“The concept here is a place that is highly curated; we hand-pick every single artist because we want it to feel like a place that people don’t just go and get lost,” says the mother of a married son and a daughter in the army. “In addition to that, we decided to give it a special twist: gallery walls, a Wall Designer Tool and an app that lets you see how the art looks on your wall.”

Gallery walls: all the rage

Gallery walls are all the rage in the world of interior design. A gallery wall is like an open photo album of family portraits, trips, children’s drawings or collected art pieces. But achieving a balance in color, sizes and frames is tricky.

“People love them, they see them in all the décor magazines, but they don’t know how to create them,” says Glazer.

Understanding the potential for curated gallery walls in the marketplace, she hired an “algorithm genius” programmer to build a mobile augmented-reality application that is already changing the way interior designers work with their clients and is helping individuals decorate on their own.

The app takes the trepidation out of creating a gallery wall.

The app takes the trepidation out of creating a gallery wall.

Here’s how it works: Customers can either go directly to the gallery walls suggestions and buy from there or they can select the art they want on the website, arrange it with the Wall Designer Tool, pick one of the recommended paint colors or wallpaper suggestions, and then use the app to take a photo of their real wall to see how their choices will look on it.

“Our goal is to inspire users to browse, shop and fill their walls with art they love. Our collection of beautifully styled walls showcases the art sold on our site, and provides looks that can be easily recreated by users on their own walls,” reads the site’s mission statement.

Customers may buy individual prints, but Artfully Walls has garnered major press coverage in US décor magazines – and is ahead of the pack of other online art sites — because of its gallery walls suggestions.

The gallery walls are divided into theme categories like Bohemian Chic, Eclectic, Mediterranean and Hollywood Glam. There’s also a kids’ section. And some of the walls are curated by in-house designers or by guests from art galleries or magazines like Better Homes and Gardens.

“We made the gallery wall aspect into a whole concept. The mobile app is definitely unique,” says Glazer, noting that some customers buy the styled walls in their entirety while others buy specific works featured on the wall. “We’re a trusted place that gives you solutions for how to group art. Each and every piece is handpicked; the quality is really outstanding.”

The self-funded site launched in 2013 with some 20 artists and today counts the work of more than 90 handpicked artists – for now, Israeli and American — arranged on gallery walls.

Being based in Israel gives Glazer’s team the opportunity to give exposure to contemporary Israeli artists. Painters Tali Yalonetzki and Itzu Rimmer, and photographer Sivan Askayo, for example, have become bestsellers for a global audience.

“I grew up here and I feel very connected to Israel and I’m always looking for ways to do good for this place,” says Glazer, “but I don’t like to take the Israeli content and make it the focus because the focus is to have the right product.”

For more information, click here.


Banner year ahead for startup investment

It’s only six days into the new year, but pundits are already touting 2015 as a banner year for startup investments in Israel.

The momentum picks up from the past several months, when leading Israeli venture capital firms closed, or began the process of closing, new financing to the tune of an estimated $825 million, according to Israeli financial daily Globes.

In October Magma Ventures – which invested in such successful companies as Waze and Onavo – completed its $150 million fourth fund, and Jerusalem Venture Partners closed two funds worth $160 million. In November, Carmel Ventures – which has invested in Kontera, PlayBuzz, ironSource, myThings and other standouts — closed its own fourth fund totaling $194 million.

During the first week of January, outgoing Greylock Israel partners launched a new $200 million fund to invest in Israeli and European startups, according to Globes. Smaller funds are in the works from Glilot Capital ($70 million), Canaan Partners (at least $30 million) and First Time ($40 million).

The financing flurry is partly fueled by the fact that Israeli startups set a record for exits in 2014. End-of-year reports indicate that 52 Israeli companies were acquired for some $15 billion, nearly double 2013′s exits worth $7.6 billion.

Assaf Gavron photo by Fana Feng

The man on the hilltop


Assaf Gavron photo by Fana Feng

Assaf Gavron photo by Fana Feng

With a string of international literary awards and bestselling novels to his credit, Assaf Gavron has earned his place alongside his accomplished friends Etgar Keret  and Nir Baram as a foremost Israeli author under 50.

The Hilltop, his seventh book — recently published in English translation by Scribner — took five years to research and write. It paints a rare portrait of fictional personalities populating an unauthorized settlement in the Judean Hills, and has won Gavron a Bernstein Prize, critical acclaim and worldwide speaking engagements.

The 46-year-old writer tells ISRAEL21c that he did not consider himself “a proper writer” until his books started getting translated from Hebrew.

“I was 28 when my first book was published, but didn’t have the confidence to call myself a writer until much later,” he says in a conversation from Omaha, Nebraska, where he is teaching Israeli and Jewish literature and creative writing at the state university this year.

“When my work was first translated into German and I was invited to speak in Germany, I was treated as a writer — and that’s when I decided that’s what I want to be. That was only in 2008,” he says. “I was never an overnight hit. It was always a slow-burning kind of process of getting more recognition and readers.”

Meanwhile, he built a reputation as a translator, rendering into Hebrew 20 works of major authors including J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer, J.K. Rowling and Audrey Niffenegger.

Gavron also dabbled in high-tech.

“I was in a startup called Valis for four years, two in Tel Aviv and two in London,” he relates. “We started in the year 2000, creating a mobile social-media platform for teens, but the phones were not advanced enough at that time. I was brought in to create the language and later headed the creative department. It was a lot of fun and I liked the daily routine, but the company eventually closed.”

The Hilltop won Israel’s Bernstein Prize.

The Hilltop won Israel’s Bernstein Prize.

He has worked as a journalist and as a teacher of creative writing in Israel at Bar-Ilan University, the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and Sapir Academic College.

In addition, Gavron is in a three-man Israeli pop band, The Mouth and Foot. His absence this year doesn’t matter because the trio agreed from the start, in the late 1980s, to release an album only once every six years.

“We released our latest album at the end of 2013, so that means we’re off for a while,” he explains. “The two others in the band are the musicians. I am the singer and I write most of the lyrics and play a little keyboard.”

Not lost in translation

Gavron was born in the southern city of Arad in 1968, but lived in the Jerusalem suburb of Motza Illit from the time he was three. “It was not a suburb like Omaha. For me, especially as a child, it was like a moshav,” a cooperative village. “Jerusalem was the big city and we went there on buses to watch movies or do our chugim [afterschool clubs].”

His parents were British immigrants, and he earned college degrees in London and Canada. So although he writes in Hebrew, he does not feel his works lose anything in translation.

“I’ve been reading English books all my life, and in a way my writing lends itself to English. I sometimes see the translation as an opportunity for improvement,” he says. “In my writing, the poetry of the Hebrew isn’t as important as it is for other writers. I’m more interested in story and character.”

The Hilltop has been translated into English, German, French, Italian, Dutch and Swedish; some of his previous books also appear in Bulgarian, Greek and Russian.

Gavron’s two young daughters are picking up English quickly during the family’s year in Nebraska. “Some of the ways of living here I’m not really used to, like being in a car practically all the time,” he confides. “In Tel Aviv, I like to bike and walk around. But it’s an interesting place to experience.”

When he returns after this year of teaching and traveling to several countries giving author talks, he will work on the next book already taking shape in his mind. Gavron stresses that his books are meant to be entertaining, fun and thought-provoking rather than political.

“I don’t set out to present Israel in a certain way,” he says. “But to be honest, there is a side of me that wants to take advantage of this opportunity to show something about Israel that I believe in. Mostly it will be different than the official hasbara [public diplomacy] of Israel but for me it’s no less supportive of Israel to show contradicting viewpoints.”

For more information, click here.


Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media

NY all-star shoots hoops for Israeli team

Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media

Sylven Landesberg at the Nokia Arena. Photo by Deborah Danan/Headline Media

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and the Maccabi Electra basketball team is wrapping up a home-court practice at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena. The night before, Electra guard Sylven Landesberg tipped the scales against Ironi Nahariya with 16 points and six rebounds. Tomorrow night he and his teammates will be victorious over Alba Berlin, in Germany.

But right now, he’s taking a few minutes before hitting the showers to talk to ISRAEL21c about what it’s like for a high school and college all-star from New York City to play for the Israeli Super League.

When he arrived at age 20 to join Maccabi Haifa in 2010 – after playing for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA Summer League — Landesberg had never visited Israel and didn’t know the language.

“When I finished college and was considering my options, I sat down with my parents and we agreed that Israel was a good choice,” says the 6-foot-6, 205-pound player, whose mother is Trinidadian. Because his father is Jewish, he chose to exercise his right to immediate Israeli citizenship.

Landesberg was not short on options. He was a star player at Holy Cross High School in the New York borough of Queens. He was named 2008 New York State Mr. Basketball and 2008–09 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year for the University of Virginia Cavaliers. He set a freshman record with 12 20-point games and was named ACC Rookie of the Year.

Since signing a three-year contract with Electra in July 2012, Landesberg has been a standout scorer. He was pivotal to the Tel Aviv team winning the Euroleague basketball championship last season.

Soldier athlete

US and Israeli basketball aren’t identical. “For a lot of Americans, when they first come here it’s tough to adjust to the slower-paced games, and some of the rules are a little different,” Landesberg explains.

In America, for example, when a player gets his hands on the ball he can take a “first step” without violating the rule against “traveling” (moving the ball without dribbling).

“Here, if you do that it’s a travel, so in my first game in Haifa I had six, seven travels and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. They made me watch films so I could understand what I was doing. It took me five or six months to get used to it. But I still play like an American.”

Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 2014-15 (Landesberg is No. 15). Photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv BC

Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv 2014-15 (Landesberg is No. 15). Photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv BC

Rules aside, he adds, “Israel is the easiest place to adjust to. All my teammates say the same thing. Professionally, the way the organization handles us is amazing — not every country and team is like that. Personally, I like that the food selection is amazing and the weather is great all the time.”

Maccabi Electra currently includes eight US citizens. Like Landesberg, two others — forwards Jake Cohen and Alex Tyus – have dual citizenship.

Landesberg is the only one among them who is also an Israel Defense Forces soldier. He completed military training last year and now serves his adopted country as manager of an IDF gym — not a basketball gym, he clarifies, but a “pumping iron” gym.

Hebrew lessons

With no known relatives in Israel, Landesberg’s basketball teammates and army buddies are his surrogate family.

“When I first came at 20, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be Israeli,” says Landesberg. “Doing the army made me feel closer to the country. I made a lot of friends in [army training] and still keep in touch with them. Some of them served in Gaza last summer and told me about their experiences.”

Most of his everyday conversation is in English; there is no need for Hebrew on the Maccabi Electra court. “That’s a blessing and a curse,” Landesberg says with a smile. “Next week, I’m starting private Hebrew lessons.

Though his big-picture dream is playing for the NBA someday, he likes where he is now. “The competition is great, the league is strong and I enjoy competing in Europe.”

Landesberg resides in seaside Herzliya Pituah, home of ambassadors and diplomats. “I didn’t expect Israel to be so beautiful, and when I got here it was just jaw-dropping,” he relates.

His mother and sister have come to visit, and he saw the whole family in October when Maccabi Electra took on the Brooklyn Nets in an exhibition game during its pre-season Euroleague US Tour. The Israelis lost the match, and afterward a Brooklyn Jewish community leader was assaulted outside the arena. Landesberg says he and his teammates nevertheless feel their foreign appearances are important and appreciated.

“I’m proud to represent the team and Israel,” he says. “We get so much support from Israelis and from fans around the world. They all want us to do well.”