What are those starry-eyed religious newlyweds doing on the stage of the 2019 OurCrowd Global Investor Summit – Israel’s largest hi-tech gathering? Isn’t technology about cybersecurity, digital FinTech, cloud mobility?
The truth is that both Adir and Liat Grainer Siman Tov from Hod Hasharon might have attended the summit anyway. With 18,000 potential investors and investees from 187 countries at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, the summit is attractive for young Israelis who, like Adir and Liat, served in the IDF computer world and are now employed in technology.
But on stage they are demonstrating one of the achievements of Israel’s industry: a stand-up wheelchair by a Yokne’am-Illit-based company called UpnRide. Six-and-a-half years ago, then-IDF soldier Adir was paralyzed from the chest down. Confined to a wheelchair, his dream was to stand – not sit – under the wedding canopy.
Israeli ingenuity came to the rescue. UpnRide, a robotic standing wheelchair, was designed by Amit Goffer, a mechanical engineer who also became paralyzed in an accident. He first designed ReWalk, the exoskeleton which has helped paraplegics walk. UpnRide, which works for quadriplegics, takes mobility much further.
UpnRide isn’t at the summit merely to showcase its success. It is looking for the right investors to increase the company’s forward mobility, too.
Making money and doing good aren’t contradictions.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Start-ups: Making a Global Impact,” in other words, “you can do well and do good at the same time.” The word “impact” is short for social impact, meaning that a company’s business policy should benefit the community. Ideally, such impact is a measurable parameter.
The grand opening plenary focused on a world with natural disasters, crime, disease and terrorism. Start-ups, particularly those in Israel, are addressing these challenges. Israeli Edgybees, which started as a game, provides crisp images from drones for firefighters and police. Medaware, a Ra’anana-based company, reviews digital medical records to flag errors that deviate from standard treatment. Reputedly, it can save millions of dollars, but it can also be an effective tool for the opioid crisis. Climacell, started by “former military officers who went to Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School,” aims at giving the exact and specific weather, providing lifesaving information to communities across the globe.
When Natalia Nakogowa, a senior manager of Grupo Fleury, a large health organization in Brazil, suggested collaboration with Israeli companies, she noted the size of her country’s markets, their desire to expand technology, and also “a lot is broken in Brazil, and Israelis like to fix things.”
It sounded like a variation of tikkun olam, the much quoted and sometimes overused Jewish concept of repairing an imperfect world.
What could be more appropriate in the spiritual capital of Israel? Jerusalem, said its mayor, Moshe Lion, is a city of inspiration and creativity, perfect for innovation.
The summit fit particularly well in its Jerusalem setting, not just for the large number of head-covering Jews among investors and inventors, nor just because the abundant food is kosher.
CEO and founder of OurCrowd, the magnetic Jon Medved, welcomed the mega-crowd with a hearty Hebrew “Hodesh tov” (Happy month), reminding the audience that the summit is taking place on the first day the Hebrew month of Adar, a day when joy increases. I wondered what the many visitors from Australia, India and Korea made of this. Even Facebook superstar video blogger Nuseir Yassin of Nas Daily – at the cusp of beginning a media business – used the Hebrew “Baruch Hashem” when describing his success at attracting 12 million followers for his thousand “that’s one minute” videos. He’s Muslim.
Throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking of the biblical Joseph. When he was taken from prison to become the CEO of the most powerful empire of his time, he wasn’t looking for a luxurious chariot or palace on the Nile. He wanted to create food sustainability for the region.
No one can question the good of UpnRide. The advantages of a standing wheelchair seem obvious – letting quadriplegics see the world at eye level, and with a single push of a button change their world by allowing them to stand and sit at will. The robotic device is able to navigate on indoor and outdoor surfaces without tipping.
Which brings us back to our beautiful young couple. Adir and Liat Siman Tov.
They met on a dating app, not surprising for two techie young people. Adir was already paralyzed. They dated for seven months, but Liat says she knew he was “the one” from their first date. She was looking for someone who was smart, interesting and religious. She wanted to be able to laugh with her husband and to feel “she was home” when they were together. “When he proposed, I said yes right away. I love him. He’s extraordinary,” she said. She was 26 and he was 27.
She knew he very much wanted to stand at the wedding; but every time she asked him how he was going to accomplish this, he changed the topic – even on the phone the day before the wedding.
He didn’t tell her that 40 days before the wedding he wrote to UpnRide and told them of his dream. They invited him to the company to see the product.
Liat was sitting in the bride’s chair, accepting blessings and praying. Around her, friends were singing quietly “...It will yet be heard in the cities of Judea the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and voice of the bride,” when she saw a group approaching her. “I looked for Adir and saw him standing taller than anyone else. My heart was beating so hard I could hardly breathe. His face is always glowing, but it was glowing more,” she said.
“My heart was beating fast, too,” Adir says.
He approached Liat, and they exchanged knowing, loving glances as he lifted the veil, and the wedding went forward.
“I could do it from above, looking down at my lovely bride, as I dreamed,” said Adir. “I couldn’t contain my happiness.”
The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.