Israel’s start-up scene may be centered in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, but OurCrowd, a multimillion-dollar network of start-up investment, is located in Jerusalem, where over 800 of its investors and entrepreneurs converged on Tuesday.
“Through conferences like this, through entrepreneurship, we’re strengthening ourselves and developing and creating a better future for our kids,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told the opening plenary.
OurCrowd gives entrepreneurs “the opportunity to stay in the City of Jerusalem and work globally,” he said.
For the Web-based investment platform, which has helped fund 55 companies in two years of existence, the summit is something of a coming-out party.
“This sort of feels a little bit like being a bar-mitzva boy,” said OurCrowd CEO Jonathan Medved. “Somebody said to me today, ‘Enjoy your simha [happy occasion].’” OurCrowd allows investors to “build a start-up portfolio with low minimum investments” of $10,000 and up, with five start-ups available online for investment.
The website has so far raised $80 million for its beneficiaries.
“Here in Jerusalem we are generating more investment for start-ups – mainly Israeli companies, but also companies globally – than the best of Silicon Valley, and we intend not only to maintain the lead, but to extend the lead going forward,” Medved said.
Even for companies not affiliated with OurCrowd, the conference presented a marketing opportunity.
Joel Caplan stood in the lobby among attendees sharing coffee and scones, using a small Geiger counter-like device to test the radiation coming out of people’s cellphones.
He was advertising a line of protective headsets marketed by his Rehavia company, Love My Brain Cells.
The conference was an opportunity for him to seek “investment for advertising and distribution,” Caplan said About 200 people flew in to attend from locations including Brazil, China, Chile and South Africa, said Danna Hochstein Mann, OurCrowd’s head of investor relations.
Dejan Dejanov, president of the Macedonian Israeli Business Club, said he flew in from Macedonia especially to attend the conference on Medved’s invitation.
He came to network, hoping to “bring Israeli companies to the Balkans,” he said.
Dejanov pulled a stack of business cards from his pocket that he had collected as a measure of his success.
The conference continued Tuesday with a presentation from Brig.-Gen. (res.) Daniel Gold, credited with inventing the Iron Dome air-defense system, and a cocktail party attended by Barkat.
The two men have a history together: Medved said he’s known Barkat since the latter was “going into the deepest reaches of the American South” to sell antivirus software.
In turn, the mayor styled himself as a “public entrepreneur,” using the techniques of the business world to further his vision for the city.
Following Medved and Barkat at the opening plenary were a procession of start-up companies that have benefited from OurCrowd’s support.
Larry Jasinski, CEO of ReWalk, showed a video of paraplegic and quadriplegic individuals walk around Times Square using the device his company produces.
OurCrowd is helping his company not just through funding (with more than $3.88m. raised), but also through valuable advice, he said.
“Jonathan [Medved] is teaching me a lot: Don’t be afraid to ask [for help],” Jasinski said, proceeding to ask the crowd for investments. In September, ReWalk became the first OurCrowd company to go public, listing its stock on Nasdaq. At a breakout session later in the day, Jon Polin pitched his online commerce company, Abe’s Market, asking audience members to “spread the gospel.”
The company, which he described as “Amazon meets Whole Foods,” raised just shy of $1.2m. through OurCrowd.
For its part, OurCrowd’s mission is just as much about supporting dynamic Israeli companies as it is boosting the bottom line, Medved said.
“We like to earn our investors money,” said Andrew Scharf, who heads OurCrowd’s San Diego office. “But it also helps when we invest in companies that change the way we look