Israel wants more women and minorities in startups

By Ng Yi Ming

Interview with Aharon Aharon, Chief Executive Officer of the Israel Innovation Authority

Israel has the largest number of startups per capita around the world, with one for every 1,400 people. However, only 8 percent of them are led by women. The Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) wants to tip the scales by making high-tech entrepreneurship careers more accessible.

“Women, the ultra-religious, and non-urban residents are underrepresented in the hi-tech workforce,” says Aharon Aharon, Chief Executive Officer of the IIA. By helping them succeed , Israel can “level the economic and social playing field by bringing educational opportunities, high-paying jobs, and career growth to communities that would otherwise be left behind,” he adds.

GovInsider caught up with Aharon to find out what the IIA is doing to create equal opportunities in the startup workforce and help local startups go global.

Lowering the barriers to startups

The IIA wants to double the number of women entrepreneurs it supports within two years with an incentive programme for female-led startups. Launched in February 2019, the programme offers women entrepreneurs up to 7 million shekels (US$2 million) for product research and development, and is a platform for networking with potential investors. There are also plans to open a dedicated support programme for women entrepreneurs to enhance access to mentorship, further funding, and networking opportunities.

The government will also pay “ultra-orthodox and minority entrepreneurs” to develop products. They can receive multi-year grants as high as 5 million shekels (US$ 1.5 million) to “make their ventures more appealing to investors”, he says.

The agency is encouraging companies and tech experts to move from the centre to the country’s north, which has been “historically disconnected from hi-tech opportunities”. It will give companies that are willing to relocate 10 million shekels (US$ 3 million) over a period of three years, as long as the company conducts 80% of its activity in the periphery and 60% of its employees reside there. It also launched a national pilot program to create thousands of engineering jobs in Israel’s North by encouraging leading Israeli tech companies, like CyberArk and Fiver to open development centers in these areas.

Even as it works on developing the country’s present startup scene, Aharon’s team is grooming the next cohort. The IIA runs a programme for 16-year-olds, particular those in peripheral areas, to get entrepreneurial experience. Over the next five years, the programme will expose high school students to start-ups, academic agencies, technological incubators, and entrepreneurship programmes.

Bridging start-ups with foreign markets

The government is fueling local growth with greater access to overseas markets. The government provides know-how to companies to adapt their products to the needs of other countries - for example, by modifying their manufacturing and adapting their products to meet foreign laws.

The Israel-India Bridge to Innovation is an example of this. Under this initiative, six Israeli startups were chosen to pilot their solutions in the fields of healthcare, agriculture and water management in India. The solutions include a portable drying device enabling dry storage of agricultural produce, and a device to combat fruit flies.

The authority provides matching grants for MNC investments into Israeli startups to diversify the risks for international companies. It also gives Israeli startups preferential access to the resources and expertise of the multinational companies. These will “increase opportunities for collaboration with international companies”, Aharon says.

Together with the IIA’s efforts to boost Israel’s high-tech human capital pool and local startup access to foreign partnerships, the IIA is positioning Israel to continually create new technologies and successful startups.