The 8200 Unit Graduates Association opened a startup accelerator at the start of the month for entrepreneurs in Israel's Arab sector. The connection between the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) best known intelligence unit and Israel's Arabs seems strange at first glance but those entrepreneurs who joined the Hybrid program feel it is a required development.
Eitan Sela who connected the 8200 Unit Graduates Association to Fadi Swidan, director of the Nazareth Business Incubator (which he set up four years ago), are joint directors of the program.
Sela said, "We have built a program that aims to break stereotypes. To choose entrepreneurs that are excellent but don't necessarily look like the classic high-tech entrepreneurs that we all know. It doesn't happen because of racism. It's simply a habit to work with what and who we know."
Sela met with Swidan after they both understood that they are looking for the same thing. The Association was striving to expand social activities and Swidan understood that the Arab sector needed further incentives in order to integrate into the high-tech sector.
Swidan said, "Since we set up the incubator, I have been looking the entire time for partners to establish an ecosystem not only of startup entrepreneurs but also angel and other investors, and venture capital funds. In 2013, we founded the first accelerator in Nazareth and among those who joined us was the AfterDox Angel Investment Group. Managing Partner Irit Israeli-Kahana connected me up with the Association and understood that there was a need for somebody to link entrepreneurs with the Center. It took a little while because we are financed and supported by the government, and at the same time Eitan began to work under the radar to study the subject. Now we are starting up."
There are nine startups in relatively advanced stages in the current program. "We want to present quick results to the Arab sector," said Swidan. "We are doing something that is not only economic but also social - we hope to change a fundamental problem and make a big boost. We want, for example, to bring more angels into the sector, so that Arab investors won't just make do with real estate investments."
The accelerator's participants must pay a symbolic fee of just NIS 500 for meetings, consultancy, support and professional workshops over five months. The startups have one Jewish entrepreneur - Nitzan Weinstein, who teamed up with Arab entrepreneur Phiras Kamoa to form CleverPark, which offers a solution to parking problems using an app. They are devoting all their energies to the problem, focusing on the situation in central Israel.
Raji Yakoub, partner and CEO at the Malai Plus startup comes from Ibelin near Haifa. He and his partner are developing a solution for counting inventory in small and large businesses. "I understand what it means to cope with this because my family has a small grocery store. At present the solution involves terminals for counting stock. Our solution improves and lowers the cost of the existing method," Yakoub said.
Anwar Saab, CEO Licompass is a Druze from Abu Snan. Aged 48, he is one of the oldest people accepted by the accelerator and his startup has already passed through several pilot stages with a local authority. The idea: A comprehensive response for emergency situations. Saab is a Colonel in the IDF reserves and his last position was with the Home guard. Zohar Boto from Nazareth set up a platform for infrastructure contractors, which helps them streamline their work plans.
Everybody in the Accelerator comes from the North, would it have not made more sense to set it up there?
Sela: "There are excellent entrepreneurs that live far from the center of the country. But in our industry, which is kept going by networking, most of our activities deliberately take place in the center of the country - Greater Tel Aviv so that everyone we know whether from Abu Snan, Nazareth or Yerka, can get to know as many people as possible with whom it is worth their while to work with. Some of the startups in the Accelerator already have customers and it will be a major leap forward for them only if they find more people."
The Hybrid program's partners are the Israel Arab Sector Economic Development Authority, Bank Hapoalim (TASE: POLI), EMC Israel, Shibolet & Co., Galil Software and SAP Labs. Through these partners Sela and Swidan hope to achieve a double aim. "The Israeli market is already swamped with accelerators," said Sela "But what is important for us is the networking. Our approach is very practical to meet them up with professionals that will also provide them with access to their network. This is important for those who are traveling two hours to get to the Accelerator in Tel Aviv. We are open to the Arab sector but also the entire industry. We, as 8200, want to send out a double message."
Orna Berry, VP Innovation at EMC's Center for Global Excellence, and head of Israel's Center for Excellence where the opening workshop took place said that the activities are, "An opportunity to produce senior people in the system that understand what is readiness and the ability to bring things to market. We don't want to leave talented people out not for altruistic reasons but for absolutely economic reasons."
Berry added that this is EMC's approach as a company. "8200 is considered a secret unit and its connection to the Arab community appears at first sight to be problematic but on the other hand it has technological capabilities and a strong presence in industry. If you take excellent manpower, if you build bridges between cultures and give more people the opportunity to express themselves - there is an impact on GDP, on productivity and on society."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 16, 2016
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