When Israeli entrepreneur Ofir Paldi wanted to launch a technology spinoff of Shamaym, his innovative consulting company, he set his sights on MassChallenge Israel, the accelerator program that had launched in Jerusalem.
Modeled on the Boston-based MassChallenge, those selected for the highly competitive, four-month program receive mentoring, office space, education, and access to a vast network and other resources to make the transition from concept to viable business.
MassChallenge Israel is a zero-equity accelerator program, meaning it takes no money from startups. From its launch in 2015, Boston’s Jewish community has been among its backers, including support from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
Paldi knew that for Shamaym to be successful with its new technology, the company had to move its product beyond Israel into the U.S. market. Inspired by the briefing culture he observed in the Israeli Air Force, the company he launched in 2012 developed an artificial intelligence-based program that helps companies improve communications, leadership, and performance.
Shamaym, taken from the Hebrew word for “heavens,” was selected for MassChallenge Israel’s 2017 cohort, and his company was one of the top 10 that scored an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston for mentorship with MassChallenge.
“MassChallenge is a great way to get familiar with the U.S. market in the very early stage of a company’s development,” Paldi said. One year later, he made the move to open Shamaym’s U.S. office in Greater Boston.
Early this month in Jerusalem, MassChallenge Israel announced its 2019 finalists, a group of 52 startups selected from 500 candidates. The 2019 group is the most globally diverse ever, with entrepreneurs from more than 40 countries including Colombia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, India, and across Israel.
More than one-third are led by female co-founders, according to MassChallenge Israel. Once again, the top 10 startups will spend time in Boston next summer, gaining coveted exposure to the MassChallenge network of entrepreneurs and investors.
The stats MassChallenge Israel cites are impressive. So far, 155 startups have been accelerated, 7,000 jobs have been created across the globe, and $155 million has been raised. In addition, 40 companies are based in Jerusalem, creating more than 2,000 jobs.
An interview with MassChallenge Israel director
The Journal sat down with Yonit Golub Serkin, managing director of Mass Challenge Israel, when she was in Boston a few weeks before the announcement.
What do you mean that the opportunity of Israel’s success in high tech is not evenly distributed?
Golub Serkin: It’s a global problem, but it is something that we see in Israel. If you were in the right military unit and graduated from the right university, and your family is well-connected, then it’s not difficult to access investors or the other stakeholders who can help you. But if you are outside of that, if you are a female, if you are Haredi, if you grew up speaking Arabic, grew up in a geographic periphery of the country, then it is much more difficult.
Why attract global entrepreneurs in MassChallenge Israel?
Golub Serkin: Innovation transforms Israel from being a complicated and challenging news story to being the place of choice for an Indian entrepreneur to relocate. Now, we have created an ambassador. He has a real life story of why Israel was important for his professional development.
What’s the talk of Israelis who have relocated with their businesses to Boston?
Golub Serkin: It is cold and the direct flight makes it a lot easier. We’ve had a number of [MassChallenge Israel] alum who have relocated. The openness and welcome they receive in Boston’s Jewish community is unprecedented. It is meaningful to create ongoing relations.