Israeli Startups Show Off Tech at Barrack

Students at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy browsed booths of Israeli technology startup companies. Photo provided

It might not seem easy to get high schoolers interested in business networking, but Wayne Kimmel, managing partner of SeventySix Capital, says it’s actually less intimidating than asking someone out on a date.

Kimmel was one of the speakers at the Startup Nation Technology Fair, a joint effort of Israel Ideas and Hasbara Fellowships to showcase Israeli innovations, which took place at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr on Feb. 23.

Usually such fairs take place on college campuses, but the high school location gave Barrack students the chance to learn about the startups and talk to the founders one-on-one.

Kimmel, a Barrack parent, led a panel discussion of three Israeli entrepreneurs — and warmed up the crowd of high schoolers with a brief talk on networking.

Down in the auditorium, about a dozen Israeli startups showcased their work, including Buy for Good, an online store of “social impact products made in Israel.”

“All the products here are made in Israel by people with disabilities and from underprivileged communities,” said Yuval Arbel, Buy for Good’s founder and CEO. “We want to help the nonprofit organizations we work with extend their reach and increase their impact.”

The store sells handmade art, jewelry, tea, toys, mezuzot, coasters, soaps, candles and challah covers.

“By any choice we are making, even when buying something, we can make the world a little better and we can make an impact, so when you buy the products with us, you’re also doing good,” Arbel said.

Arbel hopes people will use his site instead of Amazon or eBay the next time they need to buy a gift.

“You can make the world a little bit better with every small choice you’re making,” he added.

Or Retzkin’s startup also uses innovation to help people make choices.

Retzkin is the co-founder of EyeControl, an affordable communication device for people with locked-in syndrome, who cannot move or communicate verbally due to muscle paralysis. The device allows them to communicate using only their eye movements.

Retzkin was inspired to create the device after watching his grandmother suffer from ALS. The idea behind the technology is a device that’s affordable, wearable and simple to use, he said.

At Barrack, he said he was impressed by the students’ interest and questions.

“I hope they will get to see Israeli technology in a way that Israeli entrepreneurs are establishing companies and solving problems, and most of the cases they have a lot of challenges,” he explained. “As any other startup, I’m glad they’re asking me questions about the challenges.”

Overall, he hopes showing his technology at the fair also illustrates the strength of Israel.

That’s the main idea behind the fair, according to the founder and president of Israel Ideas, Mark Cohen, who noted that most people only know about Israel from what they see on the news.

“The fact that Israel is also, on a per-capita basis, the most innovative country in the world is not known to many people, and that’s the side of Israel we’re trying to show,” he said.

He added that the most important thing students should take away from this fair is an understanding of what Israel is doing with technology to help others across the world.

“The challenge in this century is for every country to be an idea factory,” he said. “Innovation can inspire and create. We want the students to see not only another side of Israel but also something that will hopefully inspire them to innovate and create in their future.”

When the fair hits the college campus circuit, many attendees are looking for jobs. At Barrack, the kids were much more interested in learning about the technology, Cohen said.

But when millennials out in the workforce acknowledge these companies, he said it “enables them to see that Israelis not only help people but help people just like them.”

“Knowledge and creativity and inspiration are not faith-specific,” he added.

Adam Mermelstein, a 17-year-old 12th-grader at Barrack, praised the technology fair for its melding of messages.

“This event is unique because it combines Israel and what our school is about with science,” he said. “It’s something you would only find here because science conferences can happen anywhere, but combined with Israel and Judaism is really unique.”

Mermelstein will pursue something in the biochemistry field when he goes off to college next year. Ultimately in the sciences, he said what the field is working toward is tikkun olam.

“The merger of the two is really brings out a lot of what I take pride in,” he said. “Science is the primary means by which we can do that.”

Cohen saw that merger firsthand on a trip to Israel in November 2012.

“On the last day of my trip, I got caught in a rocket attack from Gaza,” he recalled. “I was lying on the side of a highway with my head down pressed into the ground. It was the very first day that the Iron Dome missile defense system was deployed. I got a chance to see the Iron Dome technology operating in the sky over my head. Bombs were exploding on the ground around me and I was pretty scared, but I got a chance to see this incredible technology really perhaps saving my life.

“I became convinced that there was a story about technology coming out of Israel that needed to be told.”

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