In first, ‘Inc.’ nominates Israeli college start-up

Alcohoot is the first Israeli company to compete for "coolest" start-up in magazine's annual contest.

alcohoot370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the companies in Inc. magazine’s annual contest ranking “America’s Coolest Start-up” is not like the others: It’s Israeli.
Alcohoot, a start-up that aims to prevent drunk driving by selling law enforcement- grade alcohol Breathalyzers that attach to smartphones, is the brainchild of 24-year-old Jonathan Ofir, a Los Angeles native studying business at the IDC, and his Israel born friend Ben Biron, 23, studying at Wingate University in North Carolina.
As one of the 12 start-ups Inc. selected for 2013, it is the first Israeli firm to appear in the five-year history of the contest.
“It’s a tool to help people make the responsible decision,” Ofir said. He and Biron, friends since middle school, dreamed up the idea of an inexpensive and easy-to-use app during their IDF service.
“We were in the army together in the safety department and learned a lot about vehicular safety and the effects of drunk driving,” Ofir said.
In addition to dealing with drunk driving accidents in their work, there was a sign on the base showing the number of soldiers killed that way, which ticked up at an uncomfortably high rate, he said, adding: “We thought it was ridiculous. This was 100 percent preventable.”
Because socializing in college is so often centered around drinking, Ofir and Biron said they got the idea for the product because it was something they would have wanted themselves.
“The only test you have is just guessing by yourself,” Ofir said.
According to a survey done by the Israel National Road Safety Authority, “Most drivers are not aware of the amount of alcohol that they can drink and be safe to drive in reality.”
The survey also found that in 2012, 33% of Israelis acknowledged driving after drinking at least once during the year.
After raising $100,000 from a private donor, Alcohoot partnered with one of the largest Breathalyzer manufacturers in China to build cheaply an accurate machine that can plug into smartphones through the audio jack. The device is expected to cost less than $100, or just over a third of what a professional Breathalyzer would cost.
The accompanying app, which will be compatible with iPhone and Android, can tell users what their blood-alcohol level is and, if it’s too high to drive, order them a cab or direct them to nearby restaurants to help sop up some of the booze and wait out their intoxication.
The 12 start-ups nominated for by Inc. will compete until May 1 to get the highest number of “likes” on Facebook.
Other college start-ups in the running include FlashFood, a network that helps restaurants donate extra food that usually gets wasted; Flightcars, which lets the owners of vehicle parked in airports rent out their cars to incoming travelers while they’re away; and PayTango, a fingerprint-based payment system.
Alcohoot hopes to win the competition, in which it is currently in fourth place, Ofir said, but just being noticed by the magazine is a boon.
“As college students, sometimes people don’t take us as seriously as we’d like to be taken,” he said. “Really, everyone kind of won because the hard part was just to be nominated.”