Stellar Startups: Education is key

Ultimate startups depend on advancing students of all ages.

Efi Wachtel and students (photo credit: Courtesy)
Efi Wachtel and students
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Startups in Israel come in all shapes, sizes and types; there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there with ideas that may eventually change the world. Investors form Israel and from around the world flock to the companies that build the applications, websites, and services that bring these ideas to life.
But who will invest in the ultimate startups – the places where the magic begins? Those entrepreneurs have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is in school.
Not just university – elementary school, too! It’s there that the future hi-tech leaders of Israel get their training, education, and motivation. And there’s no question that there’s a major payoff for the country from a successful education system.
But while the general Israeli economy benefits from good education, investors don’t get a direct payoff from the money they sink into the country’s schools. As such, most VCs and investment firms don’t see the schools as a place to invest in. At best, they may be persuaded to give an occasional donation, for good PR, if not out of conviction.
But even though they are likely to benefit from an educational system that turns out skilled information workers, such investors want to see more direct payoffs for their investment in shekels.
But there are those who take a longer view – companies like Rad Communications and Radware, who were once startups themselves. Now that the Rad family of companies, led by the members of the Zisapel family, are large, established, organizations, they are taking that long view, and investing in the country’s true “startups”: Elementary schools, high schools, and universities.
“Supporting education works on both ends – for the recipient of the help, and those providing the help,” says Roy Zisapel, CEO of Radware. “Hi-tech accounts for half of Israel’s exports, and we need to groom and encourage young minds to get involved in those areas, for all our sakes.”
As a result, says Zisapel, the company conducts a wide-ranging program where workers go into schools in local communities, both well-to-do and disadvantaged, and preach a gospel of hi-tech success, in the hopes that they will encourage youth to emulate their example and get serious about the subjects that are the building blocks of the hi-tech future – mathematics, science, and of course, computer technology.
“We are strong believers in encouraging workers who have made it to give back to society,” Zisapel says.
Radware has indeed made an impact on Israel’s cash-strapped education system, both materially and via employees’ presence in the field. Employees have worked in schools in Bat Yam, says Zisapel, providing training, guidance and inspiration to students who might otherwise have chosen a “lesser path.”
In south Tel Aviv, the company runs a unique after-school program, “where we provide intensive guidance for 40 promising students who have the potential to advance, but are having a hard time getting ahead,” Zisapel says.
“We provide tutors to work with these students one-on-one, helping them advance in mathematics, English, and the sciences,” he adds.
And that’s not the end of it, either: “We follow their educational careers, helping to keep them on top of their studies, with the result that they are able to live up to their potentials.”
Radware does what it can for more advanced levels of education as well, Zisapel says. The company runs a special program with the Technion in Haifa, where it takes students with potential from northern development towns and puts them on an educational track to get into the Technion. The idea is to provide them with the help they need to move from three bagrut units to the five needed to get into top Technion programs, and to score high marks. The company also provides numerous scholarships for university students, and even works with the Technion on developing startups in an incubator.
Of course, Radware isn’t the only company that puts an effort into working with schools and advancing the education of Israeli students, but it is one of the most active and one of the most modest. There’s barely a hint of the company’s activity in education on its website and a brief scan of the English language internet showed almost no mention of the company’s prolific educational work. But Radware isn’t doing this for the fame and glory; the company knows where its Israeli bread is buttered.
“There’s a lot of competition out there, from up and coming third world countries,” says Zisapel. “We have no choice but to remain competitive, if we intend to stay ahead.”