When a popular Facebook group for Anglo working mothers tilted toward the needs of women as employees, three women entrepreneurs “jumped on a Facebook chat. Five minutes later we made a group. The rest is history,” said Miriam Lottner, one of the group’s three co-founders.
That’s the backstory of how the Israeli Women Entrepreneurs’ Network Facebook group began. Now boasting nearly 1,200 members, their goal is to serve as “a platform for information, exchange of ideas and support for female entrepreneurs in Israel.” IWEN is open to any female business owner living in Israel, whether a stay-at-home mother starting a business from her dining- room table or a CEO of her own company.
The three founders, Laura Cowan, Janice Kaye and Miriam Lottner, all sell physical products, but other members are service-oriented.
Kaye works in e-commerce, selling olive-wood souvenirs for the Christian market, Judaica and “the best tasting za’atar and spices there are. I started selling about 15 years ago, after I was completely addicted to buying on eBay.
“Gradually, I swapped my addiction to buying with one for selling. After my third daughter was born, I didn’t want to return to salaried work. I needed the flexibility of being at home for my children. Initially, I combined e-commerce with freelance marketing work. Once my sales reached a critical mass, I stopped the freelance work and concentrated full-time on selling.
“I’m not building an empire here, since I work entirely by myself with no additional help, but I do manage to bring in as much as if I went out to work, in less time, having time off whenever needed for holidays, vacation and family stuff. I even managed to take my daughter to the USA for over six weeks this summer, the whole time continuing to sell on Amazon and bringing in an income.”
Cowan designs high-end Judaica. She trained in London as a silversmith and jewelry maker before making aliya. Her move to Israel helped Cowan discover her niche.
“Combining design ideas with Jewish religious laws gave meaning to my work that I hadn’t experienced before. I create contemporary Judaica such as mezuzot,
Seder plates and hanukkiot using design ideas based on my surroundings. I designed a Seder plate inspired by the Sinai sand dunes and a hanukkia inspired by Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architectural landscape. I feel that creating beautiful, accessible designs provides other Jews with an additional way to connect to Judaism.”
Lottner has “worn a lot of hats in Israel.” She’s worked as a photographer, program manager, marketing manager and was CEO of a technical writing company, from which she retired in 2014.
“Since then I’ve consulted for a number of startups and created my own brand of family travel games,” she said. “Reveal Cards is all about bringing old-fashioned play back into families. They are compact, multi-purpose cards that are cross-generational. We launched our first deck, Reveal Israel, in 2016, to sell-out levels and we’ve continued from there.”
Besides the three co-founders, hundreds of other members have benefited from the group. Kaye characterizes IWEN as “mainly aimed at the Anglo female entrepreneur. There is nothing stopping Israeli women from joining, but the language of discussion is English.
“Some of the women are recent immigrants and do not know how things work here, others are new to entrepreneurship. Since most of us are not native Israelis, we don’t always know how things work or where to find the information.
“Now with 1,000+ members, there is almost always someone who has done it before, or knows where to find the information or who to talk to. People are very generous with their knowledge and share it freely. There is also the advantage of people in the group turning into other members’ cheerleaders and promoting them on different Facebook groups.
“I also think that it provides us with a community. Many of us work from home and it can be isolating working by yourself – sometimes you even stay in your pajamas all day.”
There have been IWEN meet ups in Tel Aviv and other cities and “we even had an IWEN retreat in Jerusalem, organized by Zoe Bermant, where we got to meet each other and cement friendships and cooperation,” noted Kaye.
Lottner explained further. “Being an immigrant is hard. Being an immigrant female is hard, but being an immigrant female entrepreneur is even harder. Many industry veterans want to know why our husbands don’t take care of the business. Yes, it is 2018 and this should no longer be the question, but it is.
“Many of our members are divorced; single parents; caring for sick spouses, aging parents or ill children; are disabled, or due to age or language, are unable to work in a typical corporate Israeli framework. We provide support and tools to make [entrepreneurship] possible and more profitable.
“My experience is that small, women-owned businesses are mostly ignored by investors, the local fund-raising scene and local business people. We have to create fund-raising scene and local business people. We have to create every opportunity, connection, etc., for ourselves. So we create opportunities for one another, provide a sounding board for ideas and initiatives and help each other grow and achieve much more than if we were each working on our own.”
Cowan commented, “We ran a weekend networking conference and several workshops in search engine optimization and social media have been given and attended by IWEN members. But the more poignant successes are the seemingly minor ones, a successful business collaboration between members, advice given on the group that has improved profitability and real-life friendships that have sprung out of the group.”
Member Sima Herzfeld Navon described how IWEN helped her business, Charelle, which sells aromatic skincare
products. “My partner and I are about to sign a contract for our first large order. The contact was made through a post in the IWEN group notifying vendors about the opportunity.
“There is total goodwill in the group and a willingness to share opportunities for growth. I feel fortunate to be connected to such a strong and motivated group of women,” said Navon.
Helen Abelesz said, “I’ve been a member of the IWEN Facebook group for a while and have found it very helpful. The posts have inspired me, kept me going when I felt unmotivated, and have been supportive and informative. It also feels like being part of a community. I’m a life coach and I have a private practice, so I work alone. At times it can be quite lonely and is sometimes hard to keep motivated.
“The best thing that I have personally gained from IWEN is all the collaborative work that has come from it. I have run workshops with three different members. I also have found an accountability partner through IWEN, someone you talk to weekly. You talk about your goals for the week and what you have and haven’t achieved this week and give each other support, push one another and help each other to stick to your goals.
“All of these collaborations have furthered my business and have inspired me in new directions, so I am very grateful for it,” Abelesz summarized.
Member Lesley Kaplan of L.A.K. Creations & Consulting confirmed that “group members are always willing to share information and assist co-members with any challenges or questions. I have received many business leads through IWEN, and many of the members have become personal friends. I also make the effort to assist other business owners, where possible, with my knowledge, experience and contacts.”
“We are focused on empowering women to succeed. We are totally blown away by its success. When we hit 100 members in the first month, we were surprised, and we talked about capping it at 200. Now we don’t want to cap it because we can see the value to having different types of women in the group.
“There is nothing that makes you feel better than helping someone else realize that they can succeed,” Kaye concluded.
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