Change diapers, breastfeed baby, start a business

Israeli mothers tackle tech world at Google "Campus for Moms."

ENTREPRENEUR HILLA BRENNER speaks at Campus for Moms, an initiative at Tel Aviv’s Google office to help new moms launch postpartum start-ups (photo credit: NIV ELIS)
ENTREPRENEUR HILLA BRENNER speaks at Campus for Moms, an initiative at Tel Aviv’s Google office to help new moms launch postpartum start-ups
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
In a room lined with baby carriages, a crowd of roughly 100 mothers pay keen attention to a Power Point presentation.
The speaker hands off her baby, who until that moment has been quietly sleeping in her arms, to explain one of the finer points of her start-up idea.
It is the first day of class at Campus for Moms, an initiative at Tel Aviv’s Google office that serves as a sort of pre-accelerator for would-be entrepreneurs who recently gave birth. During the 10-week course, participants do course work, refine their business models, learn about fund rais- ing and sharpen their pitches.
Hilla Brenner, a businesswoman and a founder of the initiative through her women’s entrepreneurship group Yazamiyot, says, “One of the best times in your life to make a change is after maternity leave, because you’re already out of your routine, the people at work have adjusted to you not being there.”
Tal Sarig-Avraham, who leads YouTube’s marketing for Google in Israel and co-founded Campus for Moms, said there was a dire need for the group. Women are sorely underrepresented in business, high-tech and investment, she said.
In the US, she said, women represent 56 percent of the professional workforce, but own fewer than 30% of businesses and own just 16% of businesses with paid employees.
Just 15% of angel investors are women and only 5% of venture capitalists are women.
A study by the Israel Securities Authority found that the situation was similarly dire in Israel. Only 2% of companies listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange had female directors, and just 6% had female CEOs.
“We realized that instead of baby yoga or mom support groups we could do a mothers’ start-up group instead,” says Sarig-Avraham.
One of the program’s graduates, Zoe Bermant, whose company Kiddy Up helps parents find local services and products for their children, says the experience helped her find an investor, as well as mentorship.
“There are a lot of small ecosystems for women, but there’s a general consensus that we’re overlooked and not taken seriously, so it gives you strength to come together and keep going and feel supported,” Bermant says.
That support is important for women playing in a field dominated by men. One panelist recalled how during pitches to investors, she is regularly asked about how she balances family with her start-up. As she spoke, almost every woman in the women in the audience nodded; they’d all been there before.
“I don’t think men are given that challenge. Nobody says to them ‘how many children do you have?’” says Bermant.
“Unfortunately it’s a bias that we face all the time. You’d think that in this day and age it wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s still an issue,” she adds.
In the latest round, which began Tuesday, the women give one-minute pitches about their companies, which run the gamut from being mere sparks of inspiration to seed-funded ventures.
One-cology, for example, deals with creating a better communication system between cancer patients and doctors. Another, CrowdValue, aims to create a platform to match philanthropists with hospitals that need equipment. A third, MyFini, is a tool for personal and small business finance.
Some of the participants offer family- oriented ideas. Several women pitch platforms to store and share memories of watching children grow up or to coordinate family events.
Another pitches an app to help parents who travel with their kids answer questions like “What’s this?” Yet another proposes a social media platform for new parents who turn to the Internet to answer their baby questions.
Brenner told the crowd that they have already gone further than most women in business simply by making the effort to join the program, which Google campuses in London, Krakow and Madrid have emulated.
While it will take time to see women fill out the ranks of the high-tech world, Brenner says she is already seeing progress.
Recently, she overheard her son’s friend tell him, “When I’m older I want to be like your mom, I want to run a company.”