June 16

Hundreds of volunteers in the United States are offering remote help to Israeli startups hit by wartime staffing shortages.

Students and others with a whole range of skills – from computer science and software engineering to sales development, social media and graphic design – are filling in some of the gaps as tens of thousands of citizens are called up to miluim (military reserve duty) during the Gaza war.

David Nakar, a 25-year-old product manager from New York’s tech world, set up the nonprofit Kachol Balev (Blue at Heart) in the wake of the October 7 massacre.

Kachol Balev pairs up volunteers able to provide a service with high-tech companies in need of their help.

He says the Startup Nation has long embraced remote working, so the distance and different time zone are simply not an issue.

The critical thing is that students – many from the elite universities that have seen such blatant demonstrations of antisemitism on campus — are keen to do what they can to help the backbone of Israel’s economy in its time of need.

Nakar’s registered nonprofit currently has 700 volunteers (primarily students, some established professionals) signed up to be matched with startups that could benefit from their assistance.

Every business impacted

“Every single business in Israel has been affected by this war,” Nakar tells ISRAEL21c. 

“Whether it’s people called to miluim, or a worker dealing with a son who was at the [Supernova music] festival or, God forbid, somebody who had to sit shiva.

“Startups specifically have been severely impacted because the demographic of people being called up from the high-tech sector. A 10-person company could well be missing three or four people,” he says. 

“Bear in mind that almost 50 percent of Israel’s exports are tech-related. Those missing people could have massive implications going forward. In addition, investments into Israel, a country at war, are down.”

Within days of setting up a website to launch his “rescue mission” for Israeli startups, Nakar reached and recruited hundreds of volunteers through Instagram and influencers.

At first he did manual matching. Now he’s upgraded to tech that more or less manages itself.

Illustration by elenabsl via Shutterstock.com
Illustration by elenabsl via Shutterstock.com

Volunteers enter their skills, qualifications and other details.

Businesses browse the list and directly approach anyone they think would be a good fit.

It could be students starting their long summer vacation and looking for an internship, or retired execs, accountants, consultants, lawyers or young professionals.

“Instead of paying a lawyer to write up terms and conditions, we could help connect you to a lawyer who would want to do it for free, so the money stays in the business,” says Nakar.

“We’re the forum. We invite the companies to post what they need, how they need it, when they need it.”

Soldier laid off

Nakar tells the story of a reserve soldier who served in Gaza from October to February, and took a few weeks’ unpaid leave to recover. He then lost his job because the company could no longer afford to pay him. 

“On the one hand, you have an employee who for understandable reasons needs time to process something that had just happened,” says Nakar.

“But on the flipside you have a business that needs to continue operating.

“My hope is that the companies that we’re trying to help continue to pay all their employees, they don’t let anybody go, and they allow the guys time to process everything, because it is a normal human response. 

“But in the meantime, you take on a volunteer, and that’ll help you fill in the holes to get you back to where you want to be.”

A lifeline

Nakar was visiting Tel Aviv on October 7. 

“When I left Israel, I felt a huge sense of guilt, and hopelessness and helplessness that I couldn’t really do anything about the situation.”

He couldn’t offer cash or investors to startups in need, but he realized he could provide the next best thing. 

“Kachol Balev is economic stimulus in the form of manpower,” he says.

He estimates that he’s made close to 70 matches so far.

“Recruiting volunteers is very easy. A lot of people want to help. They can’t come here physically, but they could be in London, New York or Antarctica, it doesn’t matter,” he says.

“The biggest holdup, truthfully, is finding the companies. There’s still a level of effort required from the company and some reluctance, maybe, because they don’t know what they’re going to get. People do have hesitancy about onboarding students,” Nakar admits.

“We’re giving companies a lifeline right now. It’s up to them  – if they want to take it, if they don’t want to take it, that’s totally fine as well, I understand.”

Finding talent

Nakar returned to Israel in May to raise awareness of Kachol Balev among companies and venture capitalists, attending as many networking events as he could. 

One of the businesses he’s helped is run by an IDF reservist who spent a month on the Gaza border after October 7.

“During that time, my business completely stopped as I wasn’t able to spend any time on it,” he said.

“When I had a little more time available, David was able to help me find very talented volunteers in America who helped me get the business back up and running, which was an incredible lifeline.”

Through Kachol Balev, this business owner was able to access the services of a business consultant, a website designer, and a sales development representative, all for free.

Israeli tech industry gets helping hand from remote volunteers 
Illustration by elenabsl via Shutterstock.com

“On a personal level, this helps me sleep at night,” says Nakar.

“I have friends called up to Gaza, I have family and friends in Israel. Working on something meaningful and connected to Israel has made a huge difference to me. 

“Hopefully, this war ends tomorrow. But Kachol Balev is meant to address both the immediate and the day after. It could help a lot of people.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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