By Rivka Borochov
Bees have a well-honed communication system that allows them to work together to build successful communities. Inspired by these buzzing achievers, a new Israeli startup accelerator program is about to help Israel’s newest immigrants harvest their own startup honey.
is a six-month accelerator program for startup companies that are led completely or in part by new immigrants to Israel. It’s a project of Gvahim (“Heights”), a non-profit organization founded in 2006 by the Rashi Foundation to help talented new Israelis participate more fully in the Israeli economy despite lacking language skills and a military background.
TheHive, which is now incubating eight companies in its hip Tel Aviv headquarters, draws on the strength of Israeli investors and entrepreneurs, looking to collect the cream of talent new to Israel. It provides hands-on guidance rather than financial assistance.
TheHive co-founders, French immigrants Audrey Chocron and Cynthia Phitoussi, believe the accelerator will not only give professional immigrants a head start, but also help provide entrée to Israel’s export market for native Israelis looking to peddle their products in the birth countries of these newcomers -- North America, the Ukraine, South America, the UK and France.
Audrey Chocron (left) and Cynthia Phitoussi (right),
co-directors of TheHive in Tel Aviv
“We assessed there was a need for potential entrepreneurs who wanted to set up their business and who were lacking support, lacking connections and were feeling isolated working from home,” says Chocron.
“It was this idea that Cynthia and I took to Gvahim one and a half years ago. We wanted to do something for these people.”
Their initial idea was for Gvahim to provide working space for newcomer entrepreneurs, and it grew into an accelerator that started in November. Each team gets an Israeli mentor throughout the six-month program. The mentors share their contact networks, give weekly workshops and provide access to experts in various fields.
Who’s buzzing around the hive?
After receiving 50 applications, Chocron and Phitoussi whittled it down to eight. The chosen would-be entrepreneurs include new immigrants from across the globe.
“It’s a very rich program because people are from different parts of the world in different fields of industry, such as mobile Internet and platforms for social media. One of our teams is thinking about a new concept for bicycles,” says Chocron.
Some of the companies now in TheHive include:
• PaperJet, headed by a South African-Colombian team developing a new service that lets students print documents for free in return for agreeing to promotional messages on the back of the document. Students register online and local service-providers are invited to place ads on the printouts. The service is currently available at Israeli universities.
• Koola Ring, headed by a French-American team developing a SaaS (software as a service) technology that gives a support network for college and professional alumni. With messaging tools, directories and networking tools, it takes LinkedIn to the next level.
• EZ Life, run by a French-Israeli duo to promote “green” alternative means of transport through innovative, high-end and distinctive products and services.
• Taptank, an Israeli-American personal and social productivity tool to manage activities and plan and leverage contacts from social networks.
• Quikbreak, a mobile site featuring web shows and games aimed at people aged 30 years and older.
• Parko, which is developing an innovative Smartphone application that will solve the problem of finding parking in congested cities like Tel Aviv using advanced technology and crowd sourcing.
• YadWire, started by Italian and French immigrants with the goal of monetizing free surfing for Wi-Fi operators, enterprises and public venues with the continuous and dynamic injection of geo-located and targeted ads.
The next six-month accelerator cycle will run from June through November, 2012.
A model accelerator
TheHive helps its “bees” to adapt international skills and find local opportunities in Israel.
It’s a natural complement to what Gvahim has accomplished in the last six years -- giving new highly educated immigrants to Israel the opportunity to succeed in the field for which they trained, whether it’s law, management, technology or medicine.
Picking up one’s life and moving to Israel mid-career is a startup project in itself, giving young entrepreneurs courage to bring their ideas to the international market, one Hive mentor says. If it’s successful, Gvahim’s new accelerator could serve as a model for developed countries around the world. While Israel enjoys a continuous flow of highly skilled new immigrants from North America and Europe, other countries looking to tackle “brain drain” can certainly learn something about the startup nation’s approach to making the most of newcomers.