Israeli ed-tech start-up finds fans in Dubai

Quiet behind-the-scenes ties and levels of trade between Israel and the Gulf states are somewhat of an open secret.

AN AERIAL VIEW of Dubai from Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AERIAL VIEW of Dubai from Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There was nothing too remarkable about the email that Raz Wasserstein, co-founder of education technology start-up Remini, received from one of its early users.
The user said how much they liked the product, how well both students and parents were responding and offered up a suggestion for a new feature.
The only strange thing was the signature: The email came from a school in Dubai.
“We were regularly checking our users, and we started to see names like Ahmed, Fatima, Amer, and then we realized they were coming from the United Arab Emirates,” Wasserstein recalls.
Remni is a company that offers an internal social network for schools, where teachers can post updates on students for parents and relatives to see and to document a child’s experiences. Several schools in Dubai picked up the application, and eagerly corresponded with the founders.
“They really, really were among our first users,” Wasserstein said. The company even incorporated some of their ideas into their product.
But Wasserstein couldn’t help wonder: Did the users realize that Remini is from Israel, a country with no diplomatic ties to theirs and technically still under boycott from the UAE? The signature of their emails didn’t mention Israel per se, but the very Hebrew-sounding names of its founders were written prominently: Raz, Doron.
Then there was the time they accidentally sent out a survey in Hebrew. The group in Dubai didn’t seem to mind.
Still, Wasserstein worried that a confirmation of Remini’s origins might hurt the company.
“My mother is an orthodontist and she had a conference in Dubai and couldn’t go because she’s from Israel,” he said. “I don’t know if they know we’re from Israel, I didn’t want to tell them and jeopardize the startup.”
Israel’s ties with the Gulf states have been tumultuous. In the 1990s, Israel opened trade missions in both Qatar and Oman, but both closed down in the aftermath of violent conflict with the Palestinians in the 2000s. Quiet behind-the-scenes ties and levels of trade are somewhat of an open secret in Israel, but countries such as the UAE have banned Israeli athletes and professionals from attending international events there.
For Wasserstein, however, the incident offered a glimmer of hope.
“Children are children, it doesn’t matter if they came from the US or Israel or Dubai.
People are people. My personal opinion is that these kinds of things going on under the radar can help,” he said.
“I hope one day we can go to Dubai and meet them. They have the same thoughts we have, the have the same needs that we have and it was touching to see,” he added.
Perhaps his hopes are plausible.
Just last month, Israel announced that it would open an office in the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency, a global organization.