Orthodox Jewish entrepreneurs running start-up technology companies in Israel flew to London this week to present to UK-based investors in a first-of-its-kind event.
Six companies, most founded by Charedi engineers only last year, pitched their ideas to a professional audience at TechSpace in Shoreditch on Tuesday morning, with organisers promising similar events in the future.
Earlier, on Monday evening, Israel’s Ambassador Mark Regev told the delegation that “your success is Israel’s success,” at a private event in north London.
Reflecting on Israel’s economic and social challenges, including the under-representation of Orthodox Jews in high-technology industries, he said: “Thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of innovators like you, the Jewish state today stands out as the innovation nation.”
In recent months the Israeli government has given several Charedi start-ups grants of up to £1 million, while entrepreneurship and innovation centres have opened in Jerusalem, Ashdod and Bnei Brak, and venture capitalists have begun taking stakes.
Despite that, Tuesday’s event was still a new experience both for the Charedi presenters and for UK-based investors used to hearing from Israeli start-ups founded by secular and Modern Orthodox Israelis, but never before from a specifically Charedi tech offering.
This week’s Orthodox start-up showcase was organised by technology “scalerator” BizLabs. The six presenting companies represented the first BizLabs cohort, now approaching the completion of a five-month support programme in Israel, which has included training and mentoring from companies such as Google.
“This was actually only our second ever presentation,” said Yisroel Yakovson, chief executive of NoStack, one of the six Orthodox start-ups, speaking to Jewish News moments after his presentation. “Our first was a practice-run in Israel last week.”
Among the business ideas unveiled were “smart glasses” to help blind people navigate, an organic solution to cut Botrytis damage, app-operated clothing to assist in pain management, an “electronic butler” and even an AI-based model to cut queues.
London-based Benjamin Schimmel, 29, whose family’s philanthropic foundation supports the initiative, said: “It’s a unique event. I haven’t come across many Charedi start-ups in London but the start-ups [presenting] here have done something amazing. They have come this far against all odds. I wish them good luck.”
David Bloom, a partner at the Goldacre investment house in the UK, said “in one sense I’m not surprised at all” at the prospect of Charedi high-tech entrepreneurs, “because innovation comes from looking at things differently, that’s where real change happens”.
He added: “The [Orthodox] community has an amazing insight in to ways of doing things, to problems that need addressing, that perhaps the mainstream venture capital world doesn’t see.
“That comes with challenges as to how you unlock that, but on the other hand the possibilities of unbelievable innovation coming out of these programmes is actually quite high.”
The programme has had support from the Kemach Foundation, set up in 2008 by London-based businessman and philanthropist Leo Noe, and by Achim Global Foundation, which operates an Orthodox business social network.