Almost-free space, free rein, free ideas, free help – and no strings attached. For an aspiring start-up short on cash but long on creativity, it may sound too good to be true.
But Lighthouse Innovations, partly led by entrepreneur and “super-angel” Amos Talmor, is for real.
“There are other accelerators in Israel, and they all have their role and purpose. The idea here is to start not just an accelerator but a tech community, expanding the range of Israeli tech beyond the Tel Aviv-Herzliya area and bringing hundreds of creative people under one roof.”
While there is a nominal membership fee for companies that are selected to join Lighthouse, qualified start-ups will have their membership comped and will receive a benefits package that includes services worth up to a million dollars. For entrepreneurs who don’t qualify for the freebie, the cost for membership is next to nothing – NIS 290 ($75) a month.
That makes Lighthouse unique among accelerators in Israel, and maybe around the world. Unlike at other accelerators, companies can stay in Lighthouse as long as they like; there are no set graduation dates (there are demo days, but companies participate only when ready); there are no milestones or goals, other than what an individual company or entrepreneur sets up with their mentors; and there is no pressure to hurry up and make way for new companies.
“We figure that if it does everything right, a start-up will be ready to move out on its own in a reasonable amount of time,” said Talmor. “But ‘reasonable’ has different meanings to different entrepreneurs, and we want to ensure that entrepreneurs are ready for the market before they leave.”
To help them get ready, Lighthouse offers a wide array of services, including mentors to help start-ups with their technology, marketing plans, methods of reaching customers, and more. Among the mentors are some of the biggest names in the Israeli high-tech industry – Shlomo Nataf, Hayut Yogev, Lior Cochavi, Prof. Ron Nabarro, Prof. Miriam Reiner, Shai Shiller, and attorney Yonatan Klinger.
Talmor himself is a long-time veteran of the industry, having worked in management (at ECI and other firms), and as an investor in companies such as TipRanks, Saguna, Covertix, Koranga, Global ePay, Storewiz, Kenshoo, HopON, Simple Order and others.
“The companies and entrepreneurs will have an effective eco-system at their disposal, as well as my broad-based connections and those of the rest of the individuals involved. Those connections will be used to bring together start-ups and investors, and we will provide them with help to make the right impression on investors.”
As members, entrepreneurs and start-ups get super-fast wifi, cloud storage, meeting rooms, secretarial services, kitchen privileges, and all the coffee they can drink. Legal services, private conference areas, and other advanced perks will cost extra, but most early stage start-ups are unlikely to need those, said Talmor. And companies that join the program will benefit not only materially, but spiritually, said Talmor’s partner in the venture, Ido Manor.
“It’s a collaborative space – and the one requirement we have of participants is that they be community-oriented and participate in what is going on around them. Focus groups and rap sessions which we will conduct on business, management, and other issues will serve to make the participating start-ups stronger and better. In our case, one plus one equals three – the more cooperation and collaboration, the stronger the community, and the individual start-up, gets,” said Manor.
“We’re not a real estate firm, and from the fees we are charging – or not charging – you can see that we are not looking to make money on this. The idea is to build an ecosystem and environment that promotes innovation, and a hub that will provide broad-based activity to support entrepreneurs,” said Talmor.
The money to run the brand new, 1,500-square-meter facility (it is being built in the Ra’anana industrial zone, and will be ready in April) is coming from Talmor and numerous investors and entrepreneurs who are just as determined as he to raise the success rate of Israel’s start-up ecosystem. The space will be able to fit about 350 people – either individual entrepreneurs or small, early-stage start-ups, with as many as 100 companies.
“It’s first-come, first-served, and after we put out a post on Facebook a few weeks ago, we have been inundated with requests. That’s good, because it gives us the opportunity to select the best ideas and teams, the ones that will thrive under this system,” said Talmor. “Other accelerators either have rigid tech models – all of the start-ups work on medical technology, for example – and most of them charge substantial fees, far more than we do. And even among the big accelerators run by tech companies that are free, many take equity in the company as the price for their help.
“There are just too many rules for entrepreneurs to comply with, and it gets in the way of their creativity. Our idea is to create an island where entrepreneurs can concentrate on their project, taking care of their material needs while they do what they do best – create,” he added.
Talmor’s payback, he said, will be in seeing the start-ups go on to success – which, if companies choose to share with him and the other investors in Lighthouse, would be most welcome.
“We’re not expecting to get out investment back – this is truly a labor of love,” said Talmor. “But if I and our partners invest in the right company, the payback could be many times more than what this project is costing us – and we definitely plan on actively engaging with the companies in Lighthouse.”
While Israel has many accelerators, Talmor believes that the time is ripe for Lighthouse’s approach. “This is the start-up nation, but statistics show that even here, the vast majority of start-ups die before they get anywhere,” said Talmor. “Maybe 2 out of 100 will make it. This, to me, is a scandal – and a tragedy, because with the right approach we can raise that number significantly. That’s the point of Lighthouse.”