Last week in Jerusalem, I joined the second ever Startup Lobby at the Knesset (Israeli parliament). The Startup Lobby was founded in 2015 by Gal Kalkshtein, also founder of GKI Group, and Ministers of the Knesset MK Yoel Hasson and MK Yoav Kish, with the goals of advancing the Israeli startup community, strengthening technological entrepreneurship, supporting technological education, and building up infrastructure for entrepreneurs.
Billions of shekels from both within Israel and outside, are invested every year in hundreds and thousands of Israeli startup companies. These companies are creating new job positions and expansions, including startup service exportation abroad. They are fulfilling an important role in the Israeli modern economy and shaping the lives of citizens throughout Israel. The Startup Lobby believes that “this is the time to jumpstart the startup.”
Young companies in the industry are struggling with various unique challenges. In order to advance these startups, an understanding of their particular structure is needed. The Startup Lobby views startup companies as functioning like small boats, quickly moving through stormy seas. Whereas established high tech companies glide like big boats, slowly and steadily through calm water.
In recent years, there has been an obvious trend of growth in successful startups in Israel, with more acquisitions and deals than ever. The Startup Lobby is here to advance the startup industry in Israel. Through raising current crucial issues in Israel, support of the government can be garnered to push solutions forward.
The topics on the table this past week were “women in technology” and “startup community ecosystems throughout Israel”, although through the discussions, they broadened to encompass more surrounding issues. Minority integration was the overall theme, taking on the meaning of both less involved people as well as less involved places. Looking at key aspects behind why different group aren’t thriving as much in startups, led us to more innovative solutions.
Representatives came to speak regarding startups, on behalf of many types of people, briefing about the situations on the ground. Each person shared a perspective on how and why it is important to include these outlying groups.
Women spoke about the difficulties of getting funding for startups. With motherhood on the horizon, social conditions are more difficult for women to build companies. Working late becomes less of an option when childcare is on the table. Very detailed proposals were presented about how this could be fixed. One solution discussed was fathers being encouraged to stay home and care for children more. Another was that startups who choose to incorporate more female workers would receiving additional funding from the state, but only with a minimum requirement of 40% women. This would push people to add women to their workforce.
As our lives increasingly revolve around technology, worker age has grown into a more serious issue than ever. One speaker explained how past the age of forty, it’s highly unlikely to be considered for jobs. However, by making more resources available to learn new digital software used in startups, age can’t be used as an automatic competitive disadvantage in the same way.
From a religious standpoint, an Orthodox sentiment was shared, saying that many qualified religious women are facing a lack of jobs. An Arab perspective claimed similar feelings, of just not enough opportunity.
Location serves as a key element in startup growth. Many people outside of the center of Israel don’t feel as connected as the main startup hubs within Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Spreading the startup ecosystem throughout the entirety of the Startup Nation is critical to ensuring the resilience of this nickname. Other cities talked about in the lobby were high tech communities being built in Rehovot, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, the Galilee, and Nazareth.
These minorities are a huge asset to the startup nation, and for now virtually an untapped resource. Without including these different groups and areas, major opportunities for Israel and the advancement as a leading force in technology can be missed. Through the issues of religion, gender, age, and location, the different groups in need overlap and support one another in voicing the problems and finding solutions. It doesn’t have to be an issue of men versus women, but can be looked at as how men and women have different strengths. Together they complement one another with their mixed variety of skills and can work together to achieve the greatest results. Therefore this integration is in the best interest of strengthening the companies involved and furthermore strengthening the nation.
Gal Kalkshtein, GKI Group, shares, “Every question you have, every idea you have, everything in this field of startups, we are those who need to pressure the parliament members to act now. That is why the Startup Lobby is here. That is why I have taken on this responsibility and this job. I will not give up and will make sure these things are going to happen. But together, we need the public to bring issues to the Startup Lobby and every problem you have, we would love to cooperate with everybody. We don’t have good or bad. We don’t have right or left; we do not discriminate against anyone.”
Co-written with the help of translations and information by those who attended the Startup Lobby, as it was in Hebrew. Photos by Eyal Gaziel.