Kama-tech launches in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
At Monday’s Tel Aviv launch event of Kama-tech, an accelerator aimed at integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews in high-tech, an array of conservatively-dressed visionaries with the dreams of making it big hawked their high-tech wares to passersby, potential funders, and industry leaders. Many of them did so in English.
Kama-Tech managing director Moshe Friedman noted that an incredible 224 haredi start-ups had applied to the accelerator, six of which won a space. The figure shows the growing interest in high-tech from Israel’s haredi community, which has very low levels of representation in the industry, and among men in the labor force at all.
The backgrounds of the start-ups present at the event, however, raised questions as to whether the initiative was reaching its target audience.
“It’s less of a stretch to get the anglo community in there than it is the Hebrew-speaking community,” said American-born Penina Eichler, founder and president of Organizational Solutions.
Haredim who were raised abroad or became religious later in life face fewer of the structural and cultural problems that keep born-and-bred haredim at arms length from the job market, and the high-tech world in particular.
“I think it operates differently in America, and there’s more of an acceptance to go into the workforce,” said Eichler.
Aside from an imported view toward working, the very fact that many haredi Olim speak English helps them in the high-tech world, where the international language is expected.
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“Of course if someone’s an English speaker it’ll be easier for them to get over that barrier, even if it’s a psychological barrier,” said Tikva Schmidt, CEO and founder of Tide technology.
Schmidt, a mother of 10, was born to Americans in Israel and says that she did not grow up in a haredi environment. She got into high-tech after earning a degree in Computer Science from Hebrew University.
“I was from the first generation of Java developers,” she says. Her company, Tide, puts haredi women to work programming, often on a consulting basis, with the hopes that they will eventually be poached by the client. Few of the women that come through her door have the degree she has, but Schmidt says that they are quick studies, hard workers, and learn on the job.
“There are many Israeli start-upists, haredim, that knew nothing about technology and are into it now,” said Schmidt.
Yet, the fact that many of Kama-tech’s entrepreneurs grew up outside Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community did not counter the strides the community was making.
“I’m actually impressed at how many non-anglos there are, and how much of a recognition that is that they are coming on board,” noted Eichler.
Indeed, a majority of winners on stage that evening spoke in accentless Hebrew.
“As the haredi community tries to assert itself in the start-up nation it’s not surprising that many of the first movers from either come from outside of Israel or started life outside the haredi community,” said Guy Spigelman, the CEO of PresenTense Israel, an NGO that promotes entrepreneurship among minorities. “What’s important is that this is just the start.”
“I think that success trickles through. The haredi community wants to advance itself, and as success comes you’ll see more and more of the younger generation wanting to advance itself as well,” he added.
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