‘The ground is getting more even’

An interview with Anya Eldan, the general manager of the Israel Innovation Authority’s Start-Up Division.

Anya Eldan, the general manager of the Israel Innovation Authority’s Start-Up Division (photo credit: Courtesy)
Anya Eldan, the general manager of the Israel Innovation Authority’s Start-Up Division
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While females still represent only a small fraction of the CEOs and managers in Israel’s booming hi-tech sector, one woman at the top is confident that times are changing.
“If a woman wants to build a career, she can reach any [position],” says Anya Eldan, general manager of the Israel Innovation Authority’s Start- Up Division – formerly the Economy Ministry’s Chief Scientist’s Office, which aims to support the early development stages of technological initiatives. “There are more and more women in key positions.”
Women still represent fewer than 10% of the executives registered in the Israel Innovation Authority’s database, yet Eldan, a hi-tech industry veteran, expresses optimism that this percentage is on the rise. Although many external obstacles still hinder the path to senior positions in the industry, some of these hurdles can be overcome simply through the individual woman’s decision-making process, according to Eldan.
“I think a lot of women decided to not pursue a career,” she tells The Jerusalem Post Magazine in a recent interview, ahead of International Women’s Day. “I hope it’s changing because we really need women in our industry.”
Eldan, 55, assumed her government position just over two years ago, after serving 30 years in Israel’s hi-tech private sector, as a business developer, venture capitalist and manager. Among her most recent roles were president and CEO of Nury Ventures Ltd., CEO of WideMed and managing partner of Platinum Venture Capital. As the head of the Startup Division at the Israel Innovation Authority, Eldan said that she was invited to come build something new.
“It’s a very exciting position for me because I can bring my experience and knowledge from many years in the industry, but also I’m part of the organization that has been extremely successful,” she says.
As the Start-up Division head, Eldan’s first move was to formulate a strategy for her department, by trying to understand all aspects of Israel’s booming start-up sector and what specific areas required extra concentration. With grants for start-ups traditionally coming from large corporations, rather than from government sources, Eldan needed to cement the Innovation Authority’s newfound role as a financial backer for emerging companies.
Among the other critical missions Eldan quickly adopted were encouraging technology transfer from universities and furthering “ideation,” or the creative process of forming new ideas. She also became responsible for regulating a number of relevant policy issues, as well as securing the infrastructure necessary to bolster the country’s start-up ecosystem.
Under Eldan’s leadership, the Israel Innovation Authority’s Start-Up Division has already launched two new programs: Technological Innovation Labs and Innovation Visas for Foreign Entrepreneurs.
Launched in January, the Technological Innovation Labs program aims to help larger corporations establish innovation labs to support start-ups, with the assistance of the Israel Innovation Authority. As part of the project, companies can receive up to NIS 4 million in conditional grants – supporting the establishment and maintenance of such labs, and funding start-ups until their proofof- concept stage.
“This program is very interesting because it’s really creating a platform enabling industrial companies to engage with entrepreneurs and startups,” Eldan says.
Eldan and her team will be choosing the first five companies to participate in the project in July, after which they will participate in the construction of building the labs as well as the management of the facilities for the first three years of operation, she explains.
The Innovation Visas for Foreign Entrepreneurs program – authorized in October 2015 – enables entrepreneurs to receive visas for up to 24 months to come and develop technological enterprises in Israel. The entrepreneurs have the opportunity to extend these visas further, by applying for an “Expert Visa,” if they decide to establish a start-up company in the country.
In addition to her involvement in projects like the Innovation Labs and the Innovation Visas, Eldan is in charge of an older program called Tnufa, which provides emerging entrepreneurs from various sectors and populations with financing of up to NIS 200,000. While the amount might seem small for the entrepreneurial world, this initial funding can enable an innovator to hone an idea, create a prototype and generate a patent, she said.
Another of Eldan’s goals, as well as of the larger Innovation Authority, is to promote what she describes as “inclusive innovation.” Despite Israel’s prominence in the global entrepreneurship community, hi-tech innovation involves less than 9% of the country’s working population, according to Eldan.
“Inclusive innovation is how to bring more people into the sector,” she says, noting that innovating traditional industry is likewise crucial.
As far as women in the sector are concerned, Eldan said she feels that existing female entrepreneurs and CEOs are doing excellent work, but they still do not represent a large enough portion of the industry.
In Eldan’s mind, girls are often more successful than boys in the subjects she studied – math and computer science – yet they often do not choose to pursue managerial positions in industry.
Some might prefer spending more time with their children, while others may simply be “afraid they won’t make it,” she hypothesizes. Nonetheless, Eldan expresses confidence that change is in the air.
“More and more men, especially in hi-tech, actually are taking more responsibility, going home once or twice a week to take the kids so their wife can stay later,” she says. “I think that things are changing. I really hope that more and more women will decide to pursue this career.”
“The ground is getting more even,” Eldan continues. “I would just really like to see young women decide they want to be managers of the world – because they can.”
During her path upward in the hi-tech sector, Eldan says she feels lucky not to experience a significant amount of discrimination.
While some men may have occasionally thrown a sexist comment her way, she is forgiving. She assumes that many of her male peers faced challenges along their career journeys as well.
“I went after what I wanted and sometimes it was difficult, but isn’t it difficult for everybody?” she asks.
“I had a lot of great chances and people who wanted to mentor me and give me a chance, and I also had difficulties – some were because of my character and some were because I’m a woman, maybe,” she says.
As women strive to rise in their careers and take on managerial roles in the hi-tech sector, Eldan maintains that it is feasible to take on more responsibilities at work while adapting these new roles around a family life.
“I think the environment today is very encouraging. I’m optimistic,” she says. “A lot of it has to do with women wanting to take chances.”