Wix program developer Oozy Bitew, 26, was born in Lod to parents who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1977.
Because socioeconomic disadvantages make for a bumpy road to high-tech careers for Ethiopian-Israelis, Bitew turned to Tech-Career, founded in 2002 by Asher Elias and Glenn Stein to smooth the way with specialized courses of study developed by and for Ethiopian-Israelis.
After completing an intensive 10-month developers’ course in 2013, Bitew was on one of the first teams to enter Tech-Career’s 10-month entrepreneur incubator launched in November 2015 with core funding from the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative.
His team’s startup, Service Locator, is a Facebook Messenger bot to help users find crowd-recommended tradespeople and technicians in real time.
“I still need to do a college degree to go further in my career, but I can tell you Tech-Career changed my life,” Bitew tells ISRAEL21c. “I learned a lot about myself and it prepared me for real life.”
Today, more than 600 professionals trained by Tech-Career after their military and national service are pursuing careers in Israeli high-tech firms.
“In the last three years, 93 percent of our graduates are working in high-tech, and about 40% of each Tech-Career course is composed of young women, so Tech-Career is smashing more than just one glass ceiling,” says Resource Development Director Avigail Harel.
With the support of Israeli and international high-tech firms and philanthropies, the program offers a choice of five nationally accredited technological courses in computer programming, quality assurance and data communication, lasting eight to 10 months. Tech-Career is a certified Microsoft IT Academy and includes a Cisco Certified Network Professional course.
Participants also spend 200 hours in career-prep and personal development workshops, and are matched with personal mentors to help them get a foot in corporate doors.
In past years, Tech-Career accommodated up to 80 students each year. Now it will accept 110 as it moves to larger quarters in Lod after 14 years at Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel. Vying for those slots are some 300 candidates aged 21 to 30, often the relatives of past graduates.
“Our students come from all over Israel and stay in dormitories, detached from social and familial obligations so they can totally focus on their studies,” explains Naphtali Avraham, 48, executive director of Tech-Career since 2015. “The classes run from 8 to 5 and afterward they meet with mentors, past graduates and high-tech executives.”
Avraham emigrated as a teenager, journeying through Sudan to reach Israel. After serving as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, he earned degrees in mechanical engineering from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Tel Aviv University and now is earning a second master’s degree, in education.
As a fellow in the Maoz Public Leadership Program, Avraham will travel to a seminar in Boston in November, and also meet with friends and supporters of Tech-Career on the East Coast. He will be accompanied by a successful Tech-Career graduate of the quality assurance course of January 2014.
“When Tech-Career started, there were only four Ethiopian-Israelis working in high-tech, and they had been trained in Ethiopia,” says Avraham, “so obviously this population, which only arrived mostly in the 1980s, needed the right tools to be part of the startup ecosystem in Israel.”
Just as important, he continues, is cultivating the self-image of Ethiopian-Israeli young people. “We develop our candidates to realize they have the abilities and talents to work in every field of employment. They have to be encouraged to believe that they can overcome the barriers.”
Bitew came to Tech-Career after more than four years in the army. He estimates that between classwork, homework and lab time, he put in 15 to 17 hours every day. Even before his course of study was finished, he got a job offer from a high-tech firm that went on to employ additional Tech-Career alums.
“A year and a half later I switched to Wix — the best company I ever worked for,” says Bitew. “At that point Tech Career opened the entrepreneur incubator and it gave us the tools we need to create a startup. I had a lot of app ideas but didn’t know how to start a business.”
The teams visited companies such as Microsoft and Outbrain, met with entrepreneurs, and were assigned mentors. Service Locator’s mentor was Lior Nabat of the fin-tech company Tradency.
“We’re working super hard to get investment to finish our business and marketing plan and launch. I start work at Wix at 7:30 in the morning and work on the startup at night,” says Bitew, whose team was one of three to present at a closing event last September sponsored by the US Embassy.
The other teams were My Business Helper, which seeks to bring enterprise-grade management capabilities to independent business owners at an affordable price; and Za-atoot, a freecycling exchange for baby and children’s items.
Avraham has shared Tech-Career’s model with other NGOs, including initiatives to prepare young adults from ultra-Orthodox and Israeli-Arab communities for careers in Israel’s high-tech economy.
“True integration begins when Israel’s high-tech industries include professionals from all walks of life,” he says.
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