The Otentik sunshade, a stylish and lightweight portable sun visor for the whole family, made its intercontinental debut on ISRAEL21c in August 2013. Inventor Ilan Elmaleh says that article was a talisman for his young company as it brought in customers, distributors and other business interests.

“It’s unbelievable that two years later I still get calls from around the world from people saying they read about my sunshade tents for the beach on ISRAEL21c,” says Elmaleh, who called to share with us the phenomenon. “Last week I got another email from someone quoting your article, and I decided I had to call and let you know how much ISRAEL21c’s write-up helped push forward my startup.”

On July 13, he was informed that Otentik has been named one of five finalists in the Creative Business Cup competition sponsored by the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. The winner of the July 22 event will represent Israel in an international design competition in Denmark.

Lots of Otentik sunshades dot beaches. Photo: courtesy
Lots of Otentik sunshades dot beaches. Photo: courtesy

The name of these patented UPF+50 sunshades that are designed to flow with the wind and not fight against it comes from a play on the words “tent,” “tik” (Hebrew for “bag” and being able to set something up quickly), and “authentic.”

The environmentally conscious company makes sure its sunshades don’t harm the beach, forest or camping ground. Instead of attaching poles to the ground, cracking rocks or stretching ropes on trees, Otentik has four bags in which you can put sand or rocks and keep the natural surroundings intact.

“At first the orders were all local. Then suddenly we started to get enquiries from around the world and we decided to check how people knew about us. ISRAEL21c was the answer,” says Elmaleh.

Customer demand from across the globe

Whereas two years ago, when my family first started using this super easy-to-use sunshade we’d be met with stares and questions about where we got it, our most recent visit to a Tel Aviv beach proved that Otentik has the local market covered as dozens of these colorful sunshades were propped up along the beach.

But one thing was different: Our purple sunshade was smaller than most of the others.

Elmaleh laughs when I ask him about this. “A lot has changed; the customers requested bigger sunshades so we made them,” he says, noting the sunshades now come in small, medium and large sizes. “We also rely on our customers to choose which colors we produce.”

Otentik has also added new products to its lineup based on demand: A car sunshade and surfing wear – the latter product in collaboration with the Israeli Diva swimsuit company, now celebrating its 73rd year in business.

 Otentik’s workshop. Photo: courtesy
Otentik’s workshop. Photo: courtesy

What’s more, Elmaleh used to be a one-man team with help from his siblings. Today, Otentik has eight full-time staff. The company still imports its fabric from Italy (which is lightweight and resistant to sand, chlorine and saltwater), still upgrades the material and makes the ropes in Israel, and still does the sewing of the sunshades at a workshop in the Druze village of Peki’in.

But thanks to international demand, the company now has another sewing workshop in the Israeli Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, and two factory packing sites in Israel and Romania. In fact, the new Israeli factory branch, set to open officially in September 2015, is located at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village and will help train at-risk adolescents for the workplace.

“We want to give back to the community,” says Elmaleh.

Elmaleh says Otentik has distributors in France, Brazil and Costa Rica; is in discussions with potential distributors in Australia and Sri Lanka; and has a franchise store in Miami. “We’re also in talks for wider expansion in Europe,” he says.

One potential distributor in the United States turned out to be a copycat trying to appropriate Otentik’s innovation. Elmaleh found photos of his sunshades Photoshopped onto another crowdfunding company’s site.

That company is still selling a knockoff of Otentik’s designs. But Elmaleh says it also brought in new customers. “In the end, even though their Kickstarter campaign was a success, people turned to my company instead,” he says.

Copycat or not, Otentik will only stay afloat if its product is better than the rest of the sunshade options already out there. And judging by demand, it is.