It’s a simple calculus, the founder of a startup in Israel’s The Time incubator told this reporter.
“I used to run a restaurant. It was hard work, the margins were small, and you could get into a lot of debt. Now that I run a startup, if I succeed, I’ll get rich. If I fail, I don’t have to pay back the investments.”
Welcome to the world of startup incubators and accelerators, where entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, sometimes with as little as an idea and a business plan, can receive investments, facilities, mentorship and contacts, all of which are repayable if and only if the startup succeeds. Investors are willing to put up the cash because the potential returns on startups are so high: 10x, 100x or more.
“Accelerators are just another investment vehicle,” explains Shelly Hod-Moyal, founding partner of crowd investment platform iAngels. Israel has a whopping 207 accelerators, says Koby Simana, CEO of the IVC Research Center, which is a lot for a country with only 8 million people and a little over 3,000 startups. What’s even more surprising is that the phenomenon is only four years old. Israel’s first accelerator, The Junction, launched its first class in March of 2011, just four years ago.
So of these 207 accelerators, how does one measure the best?
Chaim Meir Tessler, a deal flow manager at crowdfunding investment platform OurCrowd told the Times of Israel that “all accelerators/incubators measure themselves on their portfolio’s performance, which is gauged in follow-on funding, as well as exits. Not all of the accelerators are actual shareholders in the startups, but this is still the metric they use to gauge success.”
In lieu of a numerical comparison for all of Israel’s 207 accelerators, which is beyond the scope of this article, The Times of Israel surveyed five prominent figures on Israel’s startup scene: Ben Lang, creator of Mapped in Israel, a crowd sourced map of Israeli startups, Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, Eden Shochat, a partner in the Aleph venture capital firm, and Shelly Hod Moyal, a founding partner at iAngels. The following is their composite list of Israel’s ten leading startup accelerators:
Microsoft Ventures Accelerator
Widely considered to be Israel’s top accelerator, this is a four-month program at Microsoft Israel’s headquarters in Herzliya. Companies have access to all Microsoft products, about 100 mentors as well as networking opportunities with global companies. Microsoft does not invest in the companies nor take equity in them. Notable graduates of the program include Appixia, which was bought by Israeli website builder Wix, MusicSense and KitLocate, which was acquired by Russian search engine Yandex.
This 6-month program is run by Genesis Partners, a venture capital fund. Startups have the option of receiving about $50,000 in initial funding in exchange for five percent equity. They are situated in a hip loft workspace in south Tel Aviv, with weekly workshops in UX/UI, technological backend, marketing, sales, design, business strategy, accounting, law and finance. Notable graduates of the program include AppsFlyer, HoneyBook, Simplee, CyberX, and Air.
Desperate to keep their edge, multinational companies including eBay, Coca Cola, IBM, Havas, Kimberly-Clark and others have launched startup accelerators in Israel. It’s the 2015 version of coolhunting, but instead of looking for fashion or music trends, corporate scouts seek the next SnapChat or Instagram. According to the experts interviewed by The Times of Israel, Nautilus AOL, run by AOL Ventures, is among the best corporate accelerators here. The program is 8-12 months long, during which participants get help honing their product and and getting out to the world with vast BD help. Nautilus AOL then also joins the seed round with amounts of $100,000 or more. Notable startups from the program include Hachiko, Veed.me, Take&Make and Reactful.
UpWest Labs works with Israeli startups targeting the US market. It provides seed funding of $25,000 to $300,000 and brings the startups to Silicon Valley where the teams live in a group house in Palo Alto. Israeli startups get mentorship from executives at companies like Paypal, Facebook and Dropbox. UpWest Labs takes up to eight percent equity in companies it funds. According to the accelerator’s web site, its startups have raised more than $100M in funding with an average seed round of over $1M per company. Over 70 percent of its startups have raised additional funding and a few have been bought by companies like Google and Priceline. Notable alumni include Drippler, HoneyBook, SentinelOne, Keywee and Neura.
Elevator invests in startups it thinks can be “market ready” in under five months. Elevator takes 8-15 percent equity for its initial investment and product validation. Notable alumni include Morpheus, SalesPredict and TalkSpace.
This five-month program says it is not only for alumni of 8200, the Israeli army’s prestigious intelligence unit, which has graduated a disproportionate number of startup CEOs. The accelerator does not invest in the startups, but rather provides a co-working space, mentoring and networking opportunities with other 8200 alums. Notable startups include Carambola, Navin and KeepRZ.
Citi, one of the world’s largest banks, runs this accelerator for fintech startups. Citi does not promise to invest nor must startups give Citi equity in order to participate. It offers a workplace, mentorship, and entry into global financial markets through Citi’s connections. Notable alumni include Pricence, Forter, ThetaRay and Wayerz.
Zell Entrepreneurship Program
The Zell entrepreneurship program allows students enrolled at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, an academic college, to develop and launch a company in a single academic year. Notable companies that have emerged from the program include FeeX, Ironsource, Roomer, Wibbitz, Bizzabo and Argus.
NFX runs a twice-yearly three-month program in the Bay Area for 10-15 digital network and marketplace companies. These are companies that rely on network effects (the more people who join, the more incentive users have to stay) and the accelerator addresses their unique challenges. The program is invite only, and while most invitees are from Silicon Valley, NFX has an office in Herzliya where it recruits Israeli NFX companies, which go through a two-week pre-program in Israel before enrolling in NFX in the Bay Area. Notable Israeli companies that have gone through the program include MyHeritage, Plarium, Playtika, Zula, Graduway and RealMatch.
IBM Alpha Zone
IBM launched its only startup accelerator anywhere in the world in Israel in July 2014. IBM helps startups develop and market their products but takes no equity, no participation fee, no percentage of intellectual property, and does not require startups to sell their products to IBM. Its program managers told The Times of Israel that their gain is contact with innovative minds and companies. The 24-week program offers access to mentors, IBM research as well as the company’s formidable sales force.
The program has several areas of focus: big data analytics, cloud, mobile, security, Internet of Things, smarter commerce and artificial intelligence. Notable participants include Optibus, Doctome, Zoomd, Tekoia and Voiceitt.
FAQs about accelerators
The experts contacted by the Times of Israel answered several additional questions about accelerators.
What is the difference between an incubator and accelerator?
Chaim Meir Tessler, OurCrowd: incubators are usually earlier and keep the company incubated for longer.Accelerators can be at different stages, are looking to help companies do things quickly, and are usually for a shorter amount of time.
Shelly Hod Moyal: It’s very vague today, you can treat them as the same thing.
Who qualifies for an accelerator?
Shelly Hod Moyal: It’s usually first-time entrepreneurs. The good programs help them with their proof-of-concept and pitch, expose them to industry experts and gather investors for a demo day. If the accelerator is prestigious, then that’s another filter for potential investors. There are no accelerators in Israel that are as good as Y-Combinator and TechStars in Silicon Valley.
Are there enough qualified startups for all 207 accelerators in Israel?
Shelly Hod Moyal: I don’t know how serious all the accelerators are. There are only about 3,000 startups in israel. But from Israel’s point of view, the more the merrier. I also don’t think all the accelerators will be there forever. The ones that identify the best startups and add the most value will stick around, and the others won’t.
Can any business qualify for an accelerator or do you have to be a certain kind of business?
Shelly Hod Moyal: You have to be a startup. High growth is what makes a startup a startup and technology is what allows you to scale and become profitable without much capital intensity.
In other words, your local restaurant or dog-walking business doesn’t qualify to take part in an accelerator, not unless there’s a lot of technology involved and not unless it has potential to disrupt an entire industry.
What makes an accelerator successful?
Eden Shochat: I’ve found the network of past participants to be the most impactful aspect of an accelerator. the ability to immediately have customers from that base, or have people that went through the same experience and can provide quick support is hugely valuable.