Men dominate in the Israeli start-up world, but there’s room for women, too. And even though the start-up world can be a bit clubby, with many of Israel’s start-up stars meeting in college, the army, or even kindergarten, there’s still room for the occasional American immigrant.
Both those principles are demonstrated by the presence of Shefa Weinstein in the male-dominated Israeli-oriented start-up scene. Weinstein’s Shopetti, which she says “will provide women with a special online shopping experience,” is one of 13 start-ups participating in the second round of companies enrolled in the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure.
Weinstein isn’t the only female CEO in an Israeli start-up, but she’s one of the few to hail from the US (Manhattan’s Upper West Side). “I’ve been in Israel since 2001 and opened a web development company,” she told the Times of Israel, “but I felt that I was missing my true calling.”
To find it, Weinstein decided to develop a Facebook app that she promises will be “the next big thing in online shopping. Unfortunately I can’t talk too much about it yet because it’s not ready,” she added, but her enthusiasm was supported by Tzachi Weisfeld, Microsoft Israel’s director of business development, who said that it was a “really creative idea that hasn’t been tried yet.”
The app should be ready by March, when the companies enrolled in the Azure incubator make their final presentations. Between now and then, Weinstein will be able to avail herself of a comprehensive mentoring program offered by the accelerator, matching her project with experts who will be able to guide her on everything she needs to make her idea a success, from business planning to programming to marketing.
“We have over 100 mentors participating in the program, and each start-up gets at least four hours a week with mentors,” said Weisfeld. The mentors are among Israel’s top tech figures, including current and retired heads of companies, investors, leading academics, and serial entrepreneurs, said Weisfeld.
Weinstein has been consulting with others in the business even before joining the incubator — and says that she has had no problem whatsoever, despite her “being different. I decided to go full-force into this after attending Start-Up Weekend last May and presenting some ideas about our project. Everyone wanted to see more, so I decided to seriously develop it.” Her project came in second out of 170 contenders – and that was the clincher, she said.
Being a woman in a largely male world has not hurt her. “No one goes easy on me because I am a woman, and I have to deal with the same criticism as everyone else, which is exactly what I need to improve,” Weinstein said. “You have to have a thick skin to succeed in the hi-tech business, you just take the criticism and move on.”
And as far as being an American goes, that has only helped, since it means that she speaks English — the lingua franca of the Israeli hi-tech world — and finds it easy to communicate with everyone.
She has only good things to say about her tech colleagues, both inside and outside the accelerator. “My experience has been nothing but professional, and often warm. People are really interested in helping,” said Weinstein. “The community is very warm, giving and supportive, they open up their rolodexes and provide contacts, and help in many ways. This is a business I could recommend to any American oleh, man or woman.”