Let's see: There are reality programs (online and on
TV) that purport to pick the best singer, the best dancer, the best
chef, the most agile traveler, the nicest house makeover, the most
adept survivor, who can eat the most disgusting stuff, who gets the
fanciest Sweet 16, and who can use the best tricks to nab the perfect
But forget the phony world of "reality" TV.
There's plenty of thrills, chills and action in the world of Internet
startups - enough for a reality show in and of itself, it turns out.
And that's exactly what the folks behind Exit '09
are doing. With the current contest a result of brainstorming between
several Israeli companies, Exit '09 was the brainchild of Sergata,
which does development and coding work for Israeli startups.
According to Sandy Hammer of Conference-Art, a production
company that has been helping to put together the online contest,
Sergata hears from many Israeli startups that have great ideas but no
resources to turn their ideas into reality. Seeing a potential "next
big thing" going to waste, Sergata, along with Hammer, industry veteran
Ben Hirsch and Assaf Gurney of Nascent (a branding company) came up
with the contest, which will put the winner on the Israeli startup map
in more ways than one.
For you see, the winner of Exit '09 doesn't just get a nice
plaque to hang on the wall: The startup chosen by fans and judges gets
a prize package worth $250,000!
Besides $100,000 in cash, the company gets a package
of services provided by some of the top companies in Israel
development from Sergata; patent advice and support from law firm
Luzzatto & Luzzatto; business planning, startup support and
accountancy services from worldwide giant KPMG; marketing and branding
help from Gurney's Nascent; services from Israeli PR pros Doran
Tikshoret; legal advice from Israeli "white shoe" firm Shavit
Gal-On, Tzin, Nov and Yagur
; hardware from Sun; middleware and
worldwide introductions from IBM
; and last but not least, high-profile
publicity on the Nana10 and TheMarker Web sites, and more!
It's a package that most entrepreneurs wouldn't have the chance
to put together - even if they had $250,000. But with the help of pros
who know the business, says Hammer, startups "have a great chance of
succeeding. They take care of the vision and the application, and we
take care of the details that will turn them into a success."
"We've actually created a platform - one that
will hopefully propel the chosen startup to great success," he says,
adding that this is the first time such an idea has been tried in
Israel - or anywhere.
Out of 50 applicants, the judges' panel - which includes Meir
Brand, CEO of Google Israel; and Michael Oran, head of IBM's Global
Technology Unit in Israel; among others - chose 26 companies to
participate in the contest. The companies are listed at the Exit '09
Web site. To introduce themselves, most companies have put up videos
that either display their product (the contest accepted only Web
applications for its initial run), or some other creative presentation
that shows what they want to do (companies do not necessarily have to
have a running demo of their project).
Viewers of the site get to vote on their favorite companies,
and each week a winner is announced based on the number of votes. The
winner gets to schlepp their votes to the following week, while
everyone else starts at zero, hoping for better luck.
This goes on for four weeks (the contest is in its second week
now). At that point, the four highest-scoring companies, based on
viewer votes, get into the semifinal round, along with four other
companies chosen by the judges. This is to account, says Hammer, for
companies that for various reasons - such as not wanting to publicize
their great idea - do not put up a video. The eight companies are then
expected to produce a provisional application (with help from Sergata),
if they haven't yet.
The judges will then pick the two finalists (this is set for
August 23, known among tech wonks as IBM Innovation Day). They'll then
go head to head - with help from all the service providers sponsoring
the contest - putting the finishing touches on their application,
drawing up a business plan, coming up with a marketing strategy and
anything else needed to make their ideas shine. The judges will
consider, decide and announce the big winner on September 13.
While the videos of the ideas and products that are on the Exit
'09 site are fun to watch, the big show takes place during "hell week,"
when the startups work with their mentors to be the best. Portions of
that process will be broadcast over the Internet, just like in a
reality show, with the developers letting us peer into their lives,
their hearts - their very souls.
So who are the candidates - and what ideas have they come up
with? Some of the ideas in the videos looked very interesting, while
others were probably not going to be declared winners, based on what I
The contest, says Hammer, has attracted a mix of veterans -
folks who may have been involved with a successful product in the past
- as well as first-timers. Which is exactly what the Exit '09 people
want, he says, adding: "All the ideas are good and have been checked
for their potential, and all the applicants are reputable as well. The
main thing we're interested in is innovation."
That said, there have to be losers when you're running a contest, but even the losers get to take something away, Hammer says.
"The second-place company gets to keep the application, business
and marketing plans, and anything else the service providers helped
them put together for the finals," he says, while those who don't make
it that far get the benefit of having been exposed to tens of thousands
of viewers, including VC people, many of whom are following the contest
"Everyone has an equal chance, and every idea could be a
life-changing one - for the winners, and maybe for the way we work or
play," Hammer says. "For the first time, we're democratizing the
process of getting on the hi-tech map, giving entrepreneurs access to
experts they probably would not have been able to reach otherwise. And
that's going to be great for innovation."