It wasn’t any one particular moment that put aliyah on Jordan Pollack’s agenda during his first trip to Israel at age 15, just before the Second Lebanon War. But that trip did plant the seed.
“I was just overwhelmed with seeing all of Israel and how beautiful it is. And I still feel that way,” says the 30-year-old biomedical engineer from Chicago, who moved to Tel Aviv in March 2019.
That first Israel trip with his grandparents in 2006 was followed by a group tour with his synagogue in 2008. In 2009, Pollack went on The March of the Living during his senior year of high school.
“We were at Auschwitz in Poland and then the following week in Jerusalem for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). There was something really powerful about seeing the ashes of the Shoah and then coming to Israel and understanding that despite all we’ve been through as Jews, we’ve succeeded. The Zionism really started there.”
In the summer of 2010, he came back to volunteer with Magen David Adom. In 2012, he did a semester abroad at the Technion during his junior year at the University of Michigan.
With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering, Pollack worked at Boston Scientific Corporation in Minnesota for four years.
“That laid the groundwork for my career here in Israel and my ability to start a company because I understood the engineering behind medical devices and how a large company successfully designs and manufactures lifesaving medical devices,” he says.
It also introduced him to the MEDX Xelerator, an Israeli medical device and digital health incubator that participated in a joint project with Boston Scientific.
Today, his start-up VeinWay is a member of MEDX Xelerator’s X Lab program, which supports and helps inventors and entrepreneurs cultivate early-stage ideas addressing complex unmet clinical needs.
Pollack joined the MEDX Xelerator as part of its Entrepreneur in Residence Program, which presents fledgling entrepreneurs with clinical problems needing solutions. The problem that caught Pollack’s interest is the blockages in veins associated with peripheral vascular disease. He proposed an innovative way to change the treatment paradigm to address that problem.
VeinWay recently received a $35,000 grant from Tnufa – The Ideation Incentive Program of the Israel Innovation Authority.
“I’ve wanted to start my own business for a long time,” Pollack says. “In college, I told my friends I would do that before I’m 30. I started VeinWay when I was 29, so I guess I succeeded.”
But it’s not easy establishing a company anywhere, let alone in Israel, and especially not for a newcomer. Pollack says that “a series of lucky events” led to the realization of his dream.
HE’D LINED up job interviews before making aliyah, and within two weeks was working at a small medical device company in Tel Aviv. He moved to another start-up in August 2019, but last May he faced a furlough due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I asked to be fired instead of furloughed because I saw it as the opportunity to start my own company,” he says. “I was already in conversations with MEDX and being fired gave me severance pay so I didn’t have the pressure of making a salary right away.”
He credits Gal Atarot, chief technology officer of MEDX, for helping him get this far. “I have only the highest praise for him. He has my back and he’s coached me through everything, including mistakes, and [he] pushes me to succeed.”
Pollack finds the Israeli start-up ecosystem “so much more welcoming of entrepreneurs than in the US and more tolerant of mistakes and failures. It’s also surprisingly easy to network. I thought reaching out to someone I didn’t know for help or money would be nerve racking, but everyone has been welcoming and warm.”
On the negative side, he says, “there’s a lot of bureaucracy and the government moves incredibly slowly. I didn’t expect that. But Israel has taught me to be more patient.”
He has put a lot of effort into learning the native language. His favorite Hebrew word is nachush, determined.
“I did ulpan and I write down new words I learn every day. I am not going to be that oleh (new immigrant) who has been here 10 years and still doesn’t speak Hebrew,” he pledges. “The rest of the culture and mentality will come when you know the language.”
Accordingly, his circle of friends includes both fellow immigrants and sabras. He and his roommate live right off Sheinkin Street, 10 minutes from the beach and near Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv’s start-up sector.
“I love how easy it is to meet people here. Israelis are generally kind and very willing to help on a professional and social level. The wonderful people are what will keep me here,” Pollack says. “The flip side is also the people – they can be difficult and impatient and lack tact and politeness,” he adds. “For an American that is difficult to integrate into, but gradually I’ve become more Israeli.”
During corona times, he has plenty to keep him busy at home – but not Facebook or Twitter. “I’m a millennial against social media,” he says. “I think it’s ruining how we interact with each other.”
Two of his favorite pastimes are Masterclass cooking classes and playing the four guitars he brought with him from America. “My taste runs the gamut from blues to jazz to rock and combinations of those. John Mayer is my favorite artist. I also love Israeli artists like Hebrew country band Jane Bordeaux and rock band Girafot,” he says.
He packed high-quality cookware in his lift. “I excel at French-style cooking and I’m really trying to get into making Israel cuisine, since I live here and I love the food – once a week I crave shawarma and a good plate of hummus. I started making a lentil soup spiced with turmeric, cumin, coriander and cardamom, and the flavor is so fantastic.”
Pollack also started studying part time toward a master’s in business administration at IDC. And when conditions allow, he enjoys visiting Israeli wineries.
Pollack’s parents and three younger brothers were not surprised that he moved to Israel. “They are proud of me for pursuing my dreams and doing what I thought was right for me,” he says.