Meet the olim contributing to Israel’s hi-tech ecosystem

I’s only natural that olim coming to Israel claim their own slice of the Start-up Nation pie. Here are some olim who have done so.

MARKET DATA at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
MARKET DATA at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

We’ve all heard of Mobileye, Waze and Wix. These extraordinary Israeli hi-tech companies have revolutionized their respective industries and made the Start-up Nation proud.

According to Start-up Nation Central, in 2021, Israeli tech firms raised $25.4 billion, resulting in a 136% increase from 2020, proving that, although Saul Singer and Dan Senor coined the phrase “Start-up Nation” in 2009, Israel continues to prove its reputation as a hub of innovation is not a passing fad.

And yet, despite all the hype surrounding the hi-tech giants, there are hundreds of other smaller, more modest companies, leveraging Israel’s hi-tech prowess and changing Israel – and the world – for the better in the process.

Subsequently, it’s only natural that olim coming to Israel claim their own slice of the Start-up Nation pie. Here are some olim who found that the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and innovation go hand in hand.

 Joseph Bornstein (credit: Reut Mizrachi) Joseph Bornstein (credit: Reut Mizrachi)
Building a philanthropically-driven country

Joseph BornsteinFounder & CEO at CauseMatch

It’s common to hear newly Jewish married couples express their desire to make aliyah after they wed. It’s perhaps not so common for said couple to hop on a plane less than two weeks after their wedding, but Joseph Bornstein did exactly that when he and his wife left Ashland, Oregon for Israel in 2015.

“We both felt the future of the Jewish people is here in Israel. We wanted to come and be part of that,” Bornstein, who made aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh, with the help of Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA. 

The couple had no firm plan, rather a leap of faith that things would work out once they arrived.

Once here, Bornstein consulted with several trusted mentors and decided to parlay his background in sustainable agriculture to provide consulting services, deciding to launch a venture of his own: CauseMatch.

The company “helps non-profits plan, craft and execute smart, data-driven crowdfunding campaigns,” Bornstein explained, addressing perhaps the weakest point in many non-profit business plans – their fundraising efforts.

“Non-profit founders are launching organizations out of idealism and passion and want to help the world and people. Fundraising is not their expertise,” he said. Through CauseMatch’s peer-to-peer platform that encourages non-profits to galvanize their own lay leaders as fundraising ambassadors, organizations have seen their fundraising grow by six times, earning their clients hundreds of millions of dollars.

In many cases, CauseMatch helps these institutions earn money that is used to literally save lives, like with their clients such as Save A Child’s Heart and United Hatzalah.

“The model works for a diverse spectrum of organizations, from community art programs to mental health initiatives to yeshivas and seminaries,” he said. “We’re helping Israel build a more philanthropic society,” adding that they activate Israeli donors – a notoriously fickle demographic when it comes to fundraising efforts.

Israel: Where everyone wants to be a CEO

Yair RudickAccount Executive, Galooli

Yair Rudick always knew he’d trade up his view of the Pacific Ocean living in San Diego for the Mediterranean shores of Israel once he finished school. As the son of an Israeli mother and an observant modern Orthodox Jew, Rudick knew Israel was where he needed and wanted to be.

After he completed his IDF service and graduated from IDC (now Reichmann University), with some networking Rudick was able to ingratiate himself into the sustainable hi-tech scene that he assesses is becoming increasingly welcoming to non-native Israelis.

“Looking at how things were ten years ago, my understanding was that the market was more limited to non-natives. Now, it’s opened up, and a lot of Israeli companies are understanding the value of those who speak foreign languages and understand different cultures,” he explained.

Rachel Berger, Vice President of Recruitment and Employment at Nefesh B’Nefesh, agreed, adding, “The hi-tech world used to be perceived as an elusive space for olim. Today, that is far from the case with more and more Anglos not only making a name for themselves in the hi-tech world, but also changing the face of it for the better. While many of these companies offer competitive salaries, it’s also a great way for olim to really feel like they’re making a positive influence in the Start-up Nation.”

Today, Rudick is currently at Galooli, a hi-tech company that helps facilities remotely monitor and manage their fuel and carbon emissions.

“The company leadership is composed of real salt of the earth people, who started from humble beginnings in Africa,” he said. “They offer a comprehensive and holistic software system that can include a multitude of sites monitoring their batteries, generators and energy grid, all on one centralized and easy-to-use platform,” he said.

Over the years, Galooli has enabled its main African clients to significantly reduce their carbon emissions and fuel consumption at their industrial facilities. For example, between 2017 and 2021, Galooli estimates that its solution was able to assist its clients in reducing their carbon emissions by 200,000 metric tons (equivalent to removing 45,000 cars from the road a year) and reducing their monthly fuel consumption by 52%, which is equivalent to around $400 million (NIS 1.3 m.) annually in fuel costs, among other benefits.

How does Rudick explain the current hi-tech boom, particularly in the ever-growing sustainable tech realm?

“I think maybe one of the greatest assets of Israelis in general – and perhaps it’s also a disadvantage – is that everyone wants to do things their own way. Everyone wants to be their own CEO,” he said. “It’s really great in terms of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit,” he explained. “In terms of sustainability, the younger generation craves being impactful, and for the modern-day Zionist who is also an entrepreneur, it’s not enough to have a great idea, the idea also needs to make the world better.”

Believing we’re a people worth defending

Sara HaleviChief Marketing Officer, MyPwr

When Sara Halevi made aliyah from Northampton, MA, she was looking for a less materialistic and more spiritual life.

Twenty-three years and having raised four children later, she considers that mission fulfilled.

It’s a mission that has also seeped into her professional life as the CMO of MyPwr, an app that provides training and guidance dedicated to changing the culture of violence.

While the platform is still in its beta phase, it plans to leverage the Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) approach so potential victims will know to recognize threats when they see them and respond accordingly.

Inspired by MyPwr’s CEO Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman’s women’s martial art center, El Halev, the company seeks to reduce and address interpersonal violence by incorporating ESD techniques. With MyPwr, Zicklin-Sidikman has capitalized on her success in eradicating violence against women where she trained thousands of people, including women, children and vulnerable populations, and is ushering that success into the digital age.

“The mobile app is the most scalable way to do this,” Halevi explains. “Not everyone can attend an ESD class, but everyone has a phone.”

Accessibility to self-defense techniques is especially important now in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, where many found themselves isolated at home and susceptible to being a victim of domestic violence. In Israel alone, according to the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), domestic violence complaints rose 315% in 2020.

The app will provide games, videos and tutorials all catering to different learning styles.

“We already know the storyline of the world viewing Israel as a hi-tech hub, but we’re not really used to thinking of us a self-defense hub – but it is. We’re ground zero as a form of self-defense. It’s in our cultural lexicon,” she said.

It’s fitting, Halevi argues, that such an initiative is worth celebrating in a magazine dedicated to Independence Day.

“Self-defense is first about believing that we are worth defending, and that’s part of our national narrative – we are worth defending,” she said. “Did we believe that a hundred years ago? Did we believe that as a Jewish nation who walked into gas chambers? I think we believe it now. 

“If we believe it on a national level and an individual level, then we can be a far more peaceful people. This whole narrative is how we can get from where we are now, to a more peaceful country, region and world.”