New start-up guidance program is ‘today’s Zionism,’ university believes
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New start-up guidance program is ‘today’s Zionism,’ university believes

‘If there was a guarantee for start-up success, this would be the place you would find it,’ says head of Center for Digital Innovation

(L to R): Boaz Lavie, a CDI founder; Ben Gurion University Dean Rivka Carmi; Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich; Ziv Ofek, CDI CEO; Sharon Sasportas, a CDI founder, at the opening of CDI , August 30 2015 (Shai Shmuel)
(L to R): Boaz Lavie, a CDI founder; Ben Gurion University Dean Rivka Carmi; Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich; Ziv Ofek, CDI CEO; Sharon Sasportas, a CDI founder, at the opening of CDI , August 30 2015 (Shai Shmuel)

A new project sponsored by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev aims to professionalize the often-chaotic business of starting up a start-up.

The ‪CDI (Center for Digital Innovation)‬ is a “paradigm shift” that will provide start-ups – first in the healthcare space, and later in other areas – with the direction and guidance they need in order to succeed, according to CDI director Ziv Ofek.

The program, said Professor Rivka Carmi, the president of Ben-Gurion University, “has the ability to turn the University, and the entire Negev, into the world’s engine for innovation. This is the essence of Zionism today – taking Israel’s knowhow and capabilities and using them to make the world a better place.”

On paper, CDI looks like another of the many projects in Israel offering assistance to start-ups, from the government programs and funding provided by the Office of the Chief Scientist, to the elite accelerators run by companies like Microsoft and IBM, to the lesser programs where companies pay for office space in an accelerator and get help and advice along with all the coffee they can drink.

But CDI is different from any accelerator in Israel, said Ofek; in fact, it’s the first program of its type in the world.

“There are so many great ideas here, but only 1% of them make it to market, with the rest falling away for a wide variety of reasons,” Ofek told a crowd of 200 at CDI’s new headquarters Sunday.

“It’s not about money, it’s about return on innovation – getting an idea ready for market while it is relevant, getting the tech ironed out and making sure it can solve real problems. No one has yet taken this approach to start-up success, and we believe that with our organized and professional approach, the chances for start-ups to succeed will increase significantly.”

CDI sees itself as a one-stop shop for start-up success – in essence, running an accelerator the same way a corporation would run a division, evaluating activities and seeing what works, in order to emerge as a winner in the market.

“We have a lot of experts here in the Negev,” said Ofek. “Ben-Gurion University is located here, as are many companies with cyber-security and other labs. Beersheba will also soon be home to the IDF’s cyber-security and technology units, which are moving here from the center of the country.”

CDI intends to marshal all that brain power in order to provide solid business and action plans for start-ups. That includes working with them to improve their technology, helping them develop business plans that will appeal to the American partners CDI intends to work with, and developing a practical approach to bringing their technology to market fast.

According to Ofek, timing may not be everything for a start-up, but not acting aggressively to reach the market has been the great failing of many start-ups that had excellent ideas but lost out to inferior competitors who got to market first.

“By the time the start-ups are ready for the American market, they will be more than ready,” said Ofek. “We won’t let them go until they we know they are going to succeed. It’s a lot cheaper to fail in the Negev than in New York.”

The first start-ups to work with CDI will be those in the medical technology area, which Ofek is intimately familiar with. He is the former CEO of an Israeli start-up called DBMotion, a company that connects medical records in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices, providing fast access to patient records to all parties who need them. The company was bought out by US-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, which specializes in electronic medical records, for $235 million.

CDI will do for the start-up business what Henry Ford did for the car business when he invented the factory assembly line, said Ofek.

“We have an unlimited talent factory here in Israel, and we intend to approach development of these companies as one would develop a product on an assembly line. The path from the door to this room is the path from start-up to success and innovation. There are no guarantees for anything, but if there was a guarantee for start-up success, this would be the place you would find it.”

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