He didn’t know Hebrew. He had no friends. And he was just 13. But Konstantin Berezin’s difficult start in the country in 1991 after arriving from Uzbekistan with his parents didn’t get in the way of his later making it big time in a Russian-speaking start-up.
“Very fortunately, I came to a new high school, Aleh, now called Atid Raziel, in Herzliya. It was established in 1992, with only two grades of mostly immigrants,” recalls Berezin, now 45. “It is one of the best high schools in Israel, and I still support it.”
“Very fortunately, I came to a new high school, Aleh, now called Atid Raziel, in Herzliya. It was established in 1992, with only two grades of mostly immigrants.”Konstantin Berezin
“Not a lot of immigrants become co-founders, especially not from Russian-speaking countries. Tons of Russians are in C-level positions such as CTO, project manager, IT manager, R&D manager. Only a few are leading the company, and I find it strange,” he says.
“I think immigrants don’t feel confident enough. To be an immigrant is hard, and it influences your development; you don’t reach the peak of the Maslow Pyramid [the level of self-actualization] as easily, if ever. My generation takes 30, 40 years to reach that peak, and it’s sad.
“I am trying to change this with the new wave of immigrants. I’m trying to push the entrepreneurial way of life because we should have more influence.”
One of the few successful Russian-speaking start-up founders
Berezin was one of the first employees at Samsung Electronics’ Israel office, which opened in 2006. That was a year after he met his future wife, a Moscow expat now working in the finance department of Viola Ventures.
In 2012, their daughter was born. Berezin quit his job and earned an executive MBA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“I changed my life totally and became an entrepreneur. In 2012, the law on recycling home appliances was passed, and I was part of lobbying for that law while I was at Samsung,” he relates, “so I wanted to improve the environmental aspect in our country and start an electronics recycling project.”
However, following a long and costly journey, his start-up didn’t win the one government license available for providing this service.
BEREZIN’S NEXT venture seemed headed toward success. He founded a company around his invention, BrighTap, a smart water meter and analytics platform intended to let households monitor water use and quality by attaching the sensor to any standard tap, pipe or hose.
The design prototype won several awards, including a top-five spot in the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit’s World Positive competition and a $50,000 prize in Unilever’s Ideas for Life competition.
“I made a lot of connections with relevant customers, large and small, and I even met Barack Obama,” Berezin recalls. “But BrighTap wasn’t ready for the market yet, so I paused it – because as a businessman you need to generate a margin. You can say ‘Let’s save the world,’ but it doesn’t matter if it’s not supported by the numbers.”
He also co-founded a few start-ups in the virtual/augmented reality and Web3 space, currently in growth stages.
In 2017, he and three Russian-speaking co-founders established Caaresys to develop vehicle passenger monitoring systems powered by contactless, low-emission radar.
“Safety features in cars became an issue when people were forgetting their kids in hot cars. It was personally concerning to me and my co-founders as parents of young children,” he explains.
Last September 6, Caaresys was acquired by Harman International, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, Berezin’s former employer.
“I’m happy to say that Caaresys was chosen to supply the lifesaving technology that a European car maker will incorporate from 2024 to prevent children being left inside,” Berezin says. “All my colleagues went to work at Harman, helping to establish a cabin-safety division based on Caaresys radar technology.”
Berezin chose not to rejoin a large corporate structure. “Since September, I’ve been searching for my next thing,” he says.
“I’m an angel investor, and I advise some start-ups based on my 15 years of experience. There’s a lot of regulation in the automotive industry and once you’ve done that, you can do just about anything,” he explains.
“I’m glad I made my mistakes and learned from them and can help others. To rephrase George Bernard Shaw’s famous saying: Those who can do, teach. But I cannot sit at home. I plan to have another venture in a short time.”
Despite having lived here most of his life, he says he feels only “99% Israeli. I have an accent and a different look and habits. Sometimes people still see me as Russian, but I’m not.”
IN HIS spare time, Berezin plays tennis, a passion he passed on to his daughter, who is on the national team. He was one of the first Israelis to buy an electric Tesla, and he enjoys driving it.
“I like technology that can improve lives and sustainability,” Berezin says. “Electric cars are not the full solution and there will be a lot of changes in this industry, probably toward hydrogen and other technologies, but it’s a good start toward getting away from fossil fuels.”
Living in Netanya since 1998, Berezin and his wife speak Russian to their two children “because it’s a free resource we can give them.”
As a fluent Russian, Hebrew and English speaker, Berezin theoretically could relocate anywhere.
But, he says, “I prefer living in Israel. We are a unique country, and there is much to learn from the Israeli entrepreneurial way of living. I find it inspiring to live here,” he says. “The mix of different cultures spawns a lot of innovation.”
Nevertheless, he laments the fact that “we produce technology for the whole world, but in the local market we are dinosaurs in using our own technology, such as in the banking system. With newcomers like One Zero digital bank, I am sure we are on the right track. However, it takes time to adjust.” ■
KONSTANTIN BEREZIN, 45 From Uzbekistan to Netanya, 1991