Unit 8200 hits the road in America

A dozen women, along with seven start-up founders, to speed-date with US investors.

Morning commuters are seen outside the New York Stock Exchange. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Morning commuters are seen outside the New York Stock Exchange.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A dozen alumnae of Unit 8200 – the Military Intelligence division responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption – along with another seven entrepreneurs from the unit are visiting the US this week to speed-date with prospective investors, meet with executives and raise capital.
Graduates of Unit 8200 – the largest unit in the Israel Defense Forces – have created dozens of multi-million dollar ventures.
The female veterans are touring as part of the Woman2Woman program, and the seven start-up co-founders are part of the EISP 8200 (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program), which seeks to connect and help Israeli start-ups penetrate the American market.
In the six-month, part-time Woman2Woman program, each alumna has been paired with a mentor in hi-tech, venture capital, finance or law. The impetus is that although half of an estimated 17,000 Unit 8200 alumni are women, and a majority of university students in Israel are female, far fewer women manage to ascend to the top of the corporate and hi-tech ladder.
“You see that there’s a barrier, they don’t get to be CEOs. Only 20% of the directors and CEOs in Israel are women,” said Keren Herscovici, a co-founder of Woman2Woman who is part of the trip. “Many women are having this problem that they want to have a career and they want to have a family. They can’t do both. But now they have a real role model to say, she’s done both, she has both, and this is how I want to be.”
Chen Attias, a computer science PhD student at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, was paired with Dr. Orna Berry, vice president and general manager of the Dell EMC Excellence Center in Israel. Berry was also the first woman to serve as chief scientist, the highest position in the Economy Ministry’s Israel Innovation Authority.
“In each and every place I worked, I had a few women whom I recognized were very capable, and they gave me opportunity. And those women continued to be promoted to senior positions,” said Berry, who benefited from being a mentee and is repaying the favor to women in hi-tech.
Attias will visit Harvard, MIT and Columbia on the American tour. “I kind of deliberated together with [Berry] about the issue of doing a PhD in computer science,” said Attias, who is specializing in generating computationally efficient algorithms for statistical problems – or the general field of big data.
Concurrently, seven start-up co-founders are visiting under the auspices of the EISP 8200 start-up accelerator, founded in 2011 by the Unit 8200 Alumni Association. The program handpicks 15 start-ups from hundreds of applicants, and executives from eight of them, along with the Unit 8200 participants and seven mentors, are visiting New York and Chicago to network with clients, meet with corporate executives and pitch to venture capitalists and angel investors.
The EISP 8200 accelerator program has supported some 130 start-ups, 82 of which are still active – a very high success rate given that the vast majority of start-ups ultimately close, as seen in the regular evening events in Tel Aviv where founders of failed start-ups come to drink and commiserate in a different bar, usually in Tel Aviv, each month. The 130 start-ups have raised some $400 million from investors over six years and employ some 450 people in Israel and overseas. Some of the accelerator’s companies have garnered multi-million dollar investments – Lacoon Security was acquired by Check Point for $100m. and Nextpeer was bought by Viber.
The seven start-up co-founders hail from a mix of companies that could transform how you shop for groceries and locate missing items. Trellis automatically notifies farmers when people buy their produce, so they can harvest based on how quickly their crops are being consumed. Another company, Orient, allows you to GPS locate objects in a close space, such as where products are placed in aa supermarket.