Most influential Jewish innovators, entrepreneurs

From the Jerusalem Post's '50 most influential Jews.'

Shimon Peres
The Jerusalem Post has put together its annual list of '50 most influential Jews' who have impacted the world last year, and have the potential to affect change in years to come.
Shimon Peres
The new kid on the block
He’s been out of office for almost a year, but Shimon Peres has stubbornly refused to become irrelevant.
On the contrary, the country’s ninth president has been busier than ever upon his return to the Peres Center for Peace, the organization he founded in 1996 to build peace through regional cooperation based on people- to-people interaction.
He’s using that platform to maintain his position as arguably the most well-known and respected Israeli in the world – one whose name is synonymous with the growth of the country from a fledgling Jewish refuge into a thriving global powerhouse.
Peres’s daily schedule is still full of meetings with international dignitaries and delegations of pilgrims flocking to the man who was close to the center of some of the country’s most fateful decisions and events in the last 67 years.
But it’s not just a history lesson that they receive.
Peres is still talking about the future. In a meeting last year with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Peres proposed a new global peace initiative called a “United Nations of Religions.”
And the eternal optimist is ready with an answer for those who say he’s being unrealistic by still believing in the principles he helped establish in Oslo back in the last century.
“Those who have given up on peace are the delusional ones, those who gave up and stopped looking for peace. They’re the naive ones, the ones who are not patriots,” he told The Jerusalem Post last year.
According to his office, Peres has no intention of slowing down and will continue to act in his present position “to make Israel a light unto the nations, a nation based on the Jewish values of ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ a just society and a leader in technological advancements.”
Peres will also continue to educate the younger generations – which, for the 91-year-old, means pretty much everyone – to innovate and think out of the box. And above all, “within the framework of the Peres Center, the former president will work toward reconciliation between different people and religions, and will continue to call for religious leaders to make their strong and clear voice heard against terror around the world.”
It sounds like Peres is just getting started on the rest of his life.
Michael Bloomberg
A philanthropic powerhouse
Generous-beyond-belief philanthropist? Check.
Demanding, no-nonsense financial magnate and mayor? Check.
Influential? Double-check.
Michael Bloomberg is a powerhouse who keeps picking up steam as time goes on. The founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, the world’s leading financial news and information company, Bloomberg has handed out more than $3.8 billion of his wealth, including $100 million to the Gates Foundation to help eradicate polio and $1b. to his alma mater Johns Hopkins.
As mayor of New York City for three consecutive terms beginning in 2001 until last year, Bloomberg brought the city back from post- 9/11 chaos to full recovery. New York Magazine may have nailed it on the head in a 2012 profile, calling him “a guy who thinks for himself, but not only of himself.”
One of the world’s richest men, with a net worth of $36.7b. according to Forbes, Bloomberg has used his wealth in the same uncompromising and relentless manner with which he forged his empire and managed one of the world’s most complex cities, to donate funds to issues he feels will impact most effectively on the future of mankind.
Bloomberg has long been a staunch, unyielding supporter of Israel, exemplified by solidarity visit during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in defiance of a US State Department advisory against flying to the country.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein explained Bloomberg’s importance to the world – and to Israel - this way.
“As a visionary entrepreneur, he has transformed the way the world conducts business and created a more open and better-informed world. Mayor Bloomberg has successfully advanced practical solutions to key global issues that range from education and public health to the environment and global innovation. He has also been outspoken in his support of Israel and exhibits a great sense of pride in his Jewish identity and heritage.”
Upon receiving a $1 million Genesis Prize in 2013, Bloomberg indeed credited his Jewish upbringing in laying the groundwork for the success to come.
“Many years ago, my parents instilled in me Jewish values and ethics that I have carried with me throughout my life, and which have guided every aspect of my work in business, government and philanthropy,” Bloomberg stated.
According to the prize committee, he was chosen to receive the award due to his “track record of outstanding public service and his role as one of the world’s greatest philanthropists.”
As one of the top 50 most influential Jews of 2015, Bloomberg shows no signs of changing course.
Jon Medved
The start-up nation’s guru
Jon Medved, founder and CEO of OurCrowd, is convinced he has the best job in the world.
“This is more than just a regular business. Part of what makes this fun for me is that I’m able to combine both my love of being an investor with being a sort of unofficial spokesman for the start-up nation and promoting Israel,” he says.
“What a great job to be able to listen to people tell you their dreams, and try to make them come true.”
OurCrowd is an equity crowdfunding platform – don’t worry, we’ll explain – that has, in just a few years, become the largest in the world, with over 8,000 investors.
So what is equity crowdfunding? While crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter are known for helping people raise money by getting a lot of small donations, equity crowdfunding is a little more complicated. By law, anyone who wants to participate has to qualify as an accredited investor, meaning they have regular income of over $200,000 a year or a net worth of over $1 million. And, of course, they get to own a chunk of the companies in which they invest. OurCrowd serves as the platform, carefully vetting promising start-ups, then allowing its growing ranks of investors to pitch in just a little; instead of making a $100,000 investment, investors can make investments as low as $10,000.
While most people who want to invest in Israel will buy stocks in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange or an Israel-focused exchange-traded fund like those offered by Blue Star Investments, those are only for companies that have gone public.
OurCrowd essentially opens up the door to a range of investors who might not otherwise be able to invest in early-stage companies, long before they go public. At the same time, it provides a new source of revenue for those companies.
“There’s a lot of attention being given to Israel’s tech scene, which is clearly second only to Silicon Valley, and the fact that we’re offering access to these deals to the large number of people who are excited about what’s going on here but haven’t had that access. That’s what’s make this so potent,” notes Medved.
Raised in California and educated at UC-Berkeley, Medved came to Israel for a summer just before the Yom Kippur War. His work defending Israel on campus led him into the advocacy world with the Jewish Agency. In the subsequent years moving back and forth between Israel and the US, his father convinced him to join him in a fiber-optics venture.
He didn’t move back to Israel until the 1990s, where he continued to work in technology companies and started dipping into the world of venture capital. He founding Israel Seed Partners, which grew to $260m., then started mobile social app Vringo, which went public in 2010. All in all, he has invested in over 100 Israeli start-ups, 12 of which reached valuations of over $100m.
With OurCrowd, Medved is scaling up his investment success. It expects to raise $120m. in investments for its company this year, over 80 percent of which will be in Israeli companies.
“We’re building a worldwide army,” he says.
“Until now, the company building process has been a very narrowly based function; nobody has tried to take the credited investors we have and utilize them. CEOs are beginning to appreciate the power of the crowd.”
The crowd of investors, which spans the world from China and India to the US and Australia, turns out to be a very useful social network, helping the businesses connect.
It also, fittingly, fights the cause of pro-Israel advocacy that started Medved’s career.
“Ultimately, it provides a big bulwark against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. This is the vaccine; this is, for once, being able to be proactive instead of just having to react,” asserts Medved, who on May 12 was one of six people to receive the Bonei Zion Prize, which recognizes “Anglo Olim who have helped Israel in a meaningful way, by encapsulating the spirit of modern- day Zionism and contributing in significant ways towards the State of Israel.”
Medved hopes that OurCrowd will help Israel keep telling its story.
“I want to persuade people that they haven’t seen anything yet relative to Israel’s amazing tech story,” he says. When it comes to the start-up nation’s technical achievements, he predicts, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Sheryl Sandberg
Hi-tech’s feminist who taught us all to ‘lean in’
Sheryl Sandberg is not an influential Jew simply because she is chief operating officer of one of the most powerful and valuable hi-tech companies in the world, Facebook. She is not an influential Jew simply because she has helped the company boost its earnings and define its mobile strategy. She is not an influential Jew simply because she has led by example, pledging to give at least half of her net worth (of over $1 billion) to charitable causes.
While these achievements in and of themselves would merit Sandberg a place on this list, it is her feminist advocacy that has cemented her position. Sandberg has changed the conversation about women in the workplace through her book Lean In, which has spawned hundreds of discussion groups.
Last year, she teamed up with stock photography company Getty Images to create “a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them.” Women with tattoos, women of color, working mothers, women lifting weights, women in leadership positions – they were largely absent from the databases of photos that fill our media.
One of the greatest testaments to the impact Sandberg has had came hand-in-hand with a tragedy. Her husband, Dave Goldberg, a 47-year-old entrepreneur and Silicon Valley star in his own right, died suddenly while the two were on vacation. For years, Sandberg had credited Goldberg as a crucial ingredient in her own success, a husband who valued her career as much as his and split the housework and child-rearing duties with her 50- 50. Goldberg, too, was a staunch advocate for gender equality.
“We had 11 truly joyful years of the deepest love, happiest marriage, and truest partnership that I could imagine,” Sandberg wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post a few days after his death.
“But as heartbroken as I am today, I am equally grateful. Even in these last few days of completely unexpected hell – the darkest and saddest moments of my life – I know how lucky I have been,” she added.
The most important career choice, Sandberg would tell career-oriented young women, would be whom they married. It is a testament to both Sandberg and Goldberg that he will be remembered as an uber-successful businessman, but as a husband and father who invested his time in his family.
Few men have the privilege of having the role they played in their family highlighted as one of their central achievements. The way Sandberg has shaped the conversation about women, work and family made that possible for Goldberg.
Ruth Porat
From senior ‘Wall Streeter’ to big-time Silicon Valley CFO
In the eyes of many, Ruth Porat highlighted a trend when she decided to leave Morgan Stanley, where she was chief financial officer, for the same position at Google in May. By making the move from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, Porat confirmed some analysts’ suspicion that hi-tech is seriously competing with finance as the more prestigious and lucrative industry.
Her paycheck, estimated at a cool $70 million, suggest the same thing. It is a substantial increase over her last salary, and one of the highest for a hi-tech CFO.
Money isn’t everything, of course, but the extent of the pay package shows that Google thinks Porat is worth every penny. And why wouldn’t it? Porat, whom press reports often called “the most senior woman on Wall Street,” has had a remarkable career. Born in England to Jewish parents, she moved to the US with her parents as her father Dan pursued an academic career at Harvard and then Stanford, where she would later study economics. According to JTA, Dan Porat had fled Vienna, where he was raised, upon Hitler’s takeover of the country in 1938, and lived on a kibbutz in pre-state Palestine before joining the British Army. Her mother, Frieda, a psychologist, was born when her family was en route to Palestine.
After Stanford, Porat racked up several impressive degrees, including a Wharton MBA and a graduate degree from the London School of Economics, but her career took off at Morgan Stanley’s M&A department in 1987. Despite a hiatus of a few years in the early 1990s, she continued to work her way up the ranks, eventually becoming co-head of technology investment banking and vice chairwoman of investment banking, before taking on the CFO position.
In the middle of it all, in 2001, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but was treated and is now in remission. According to The Wall Street Journal, she threw herself further into her work during her recovery, simply because she loved it.
At Morgan Stanley, she led the bank’s team advising the US government on how to deal with some aspects of the financial crisis, and was rumored to be US President Barack Obama’s choice for deputy treasury secretary in 2013, but withdrew her name from running.
When she starts at Google, Porat will be one of the most high-profile women in the technology world, and her leadership will help shape how Silicon Valley operates – and whether it continues its rise as a competitor to big banks and finance.
Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin
Developing pathways for combating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
She may not be a household name, but Israel Prize winner Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin’s lifetime of work is transforming the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease all over the world.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor developed the blockbuster drug Exelon, an effective medicine manufactured by Novartis to slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and of dementia due to Parkinson’s.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out simple tasks. It affects about 44 million people worldwide, and in the US alone costs healthcare providers about $226 billion a year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Weinstock-Rosin is also the co-developer, with Prof. Moussa Youdim of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, of Ladostigil – a drug that may be capable of reversing brain degeneration and memory impairment, and is now undergoing Phase II clinical trials in Israel and Europe for the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Aside from her work with Exelon and Ladostigil, Weinstock- Rosin has worked on the development of novel drugs for stroke and multiple sclerosis.
Born in Vienna in 1935, she escaped to England with her family the year World War II broke out, and decided to become a scientist at the age of 12. It was not the kind of career girls in England were pursuing at that time, and her headmistress insisted that the highest she would ever go was lab technician.
Weinstock-Rosin ignored her, however, and went to a boys’ school to learn physics.
Despite a quota for women and Jews, she won a place at the University of London, where she studied pharmacy, and later went on to do her doctorate in pharmacology at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School. She became a lecturer at the University of London.
On arrival in Israel in the late 1960s with her husband, Prof.
Arnold Rosin, she joined Tel Aviv University’s medical faculty and later became a professor at the Hebrew University in 1981. Her big discovery came in the 1980s, though she claims it was serendipity.
She was studying morphine’s suppression of the breathing process – a serious issue when it is used as a painkiller – and found that it reduced the release of a brainstem substance called acetylcholine, making the brain less sensitive to carbon dioxide.
She began looking for a substance that could prevent this breakdown and found a molecule that seemed highly effective, but which unfortunately had no impact on the amount of choline in the brain stem.
She was about to give up on it completely when she stumbled upon an article on Alzheimer’s that said the disease was characterized by a deficiency of acetylcholine. That moment marked a complete change of direction for the scientist.
For years, Weinstock-Rosin never really fit in. For some, she was too Jewish, or the wrong sex; for others, she was too British.
Some even thought she was too Israeli. Luckily she disregarded her critics and got on with her research.
In 2014 she was awarded the Israel Prize for Medicine in recognition of the significant work she has done in her lifetime.
Contributors: David Brinn, Niv Elis and Nicky Blackburn (editor and Israel director of Israel21C).