This article was originally published as the cover story of the June 14, 2013 issue of JWeekly.
A dozen and a half young Israelis in their 20s and 30s live together in a big house in Menlo Park. They go grocery shopping and cook dinner together. The bathrooms are shared. This might sound like a bunch of college students trying to save on rent, or the cast of a new season of the “Big Brother” reality TV show. But it’s neither.
These young people are some of Israel’s top young entrepreneurs, and they are in Silicon Valley to take part in a program run by UpWest Labs.
Begun in January 2012 by a group of seasoned Israeli-American high-tech leaders, UpWest Labs is an accelerator that brings teams from early-stage Israeli startups to Palo Alto for an intensive, three-month experience meant to expose them to the U.S. market and help them move their companies to the next level.
“It’s about accelerating the time to market for these companies’ products, and about leveling the playing field for Israeli startups,” said Shuly Galili, who used to lead the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, and now runs UpWest Labs with partners Gil Ben-Artzy, a former Yahoo vice president, angel investor Liron Petrushka and operations expert Yael Winer.
“Israelis are strong on technological research and development,” Galili added, “but they don’t usually have good access to the main market for their products — the U.S. — nor do they have the required connections to U.S. funders.”
Whereas young Israelis a generation ago went to Los Angeles in search of entry-level jobs in the entertainment business, or to New York to work for moving companies or in electronics stores, now they flock to the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s Silicon Alley as founders of high-tech startups.
Thanks to the excellent computer coding skills young Israelis gain in the army and in top-notch engineering programs at the country’s universities, as well as a can-do Israeli attitude, it is not surprising that Tel Aviv is often tabbed the No. 2 high-tech area in the world; with some 700 startups, it is second only to Silicon Valley in startups per capita.
But operating in Tel Aviv’s Silicon Wadi is not enough.
Better-known Israeli Internet companies have shifted some if not all of their operations to the United States. Waze, a mobile mapping company that uses crowdsourcing (contributions from a large group of people, especially an online community) to supply real-time traffic information, is now headquartered in Palo Alto. Waze has been all over the tech news in recent days, after being courted by Google, Apple and Facebook. Google beat out the others and acquired the company this week for a reported $1.1 billion.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.