In recent years, Israel has secured its position as the “Startup Nation," functioning as one of the world's most developed technological epicenters. Having established a distinctive high-tech ecosystem, Israel, a country with a population of only eight million, continues to celebrate its innovative capacity with one of the largest density of startups globally.
Numerically, Tel Aviv ranked number six in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report of 2017, with an estimated 3,000 startups active across Israel as of last year, around half of which are located in Tel Aviv. The country, with a per capita investment more than double that of the US, has founded a number of the world's most in demand products including Waze, Gett and Fiverr.com.
What's contributed to its phenomenal growth in the high-tech field? In the book Start-Up Nation, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer identify the country's level of entrepreneurship as a product of "…the tight proximity of great universities, large companies, startups and the ecosystem that connects them - including everything from suppliers, an engineering talent pool and venture capital." They also address other crucial factors including strong team work, willingness to resource share and the determination of startups to dream big within small realms. Alongside this, a solid integrated framework of accelerators, incubators and co-working hubs provide the space and support to nurture current and future talent.
Women in High-Tech
In the 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking, Tel Aviv placed as the 5th city with the highest percentage of businesses founded by women. Standing at 20 percent, hovering two percent above the global average, Israel's development of equal opportunities and support for women in the field has played a vital role in this statistic.
One of the more prominent establishments is Yazamiyot (Hebrew for “female entrepreneurs"), a community launched in 2012 by entrepreneur Hilla Ovil Brenner with the goal to empower and supporting women working within the high-tech, bio-tech and innovation fields. “We are the leading community for Israeli female entrepreneurs to meet, network, learn and help each other, and our vision is to dramatically increase the presence of women entrepreneurs across these industries in the next few years," says Co-Founder and COO Shiran Melamdovsky. “In Tel Aviv, there is much awareness as to the gender gap, but our community aims to combat this by creating great collaborations and opportunities."
Yazamiyot cooperates with Google Tel Aviv on Google Campus for Moms, a program designed to empower new mothers to pursue entrepreneurial roles, as well as working alongside other initiatives including Microsoft Accelerator, Rise – Barclays innovation program, WIX and the US Embassy as a way of presenting accelerated entrepreneurial programs to women. “This awareness has contributed to a small increase, but women still find themselves in rooms full of men," states Melamdovsky. “Only a few women reach senior managerial positions and there are not enough mentors and role models for women to emulate. The shortage is already starting from junior management positions like team leaders."
Yet, despite the under-representation of women in technological fields globally, Tel Aviv is moving in the right direction to provide growth opportunities for women. The city ranked 24th out of 50 on the Dell Global Women Entrepreneur Cities Rankings 2017, based on characteristics and factors including programs, local policies, capital, talent, technology and culture. The last few years have seen a substantial leap in the number of female entrepreneurs spearheading startups in Israel, in addition to an increased presence of women working in venture capital and investment firms.
Making an Impact
Other establishments are succeeding in their facilitation as a springboard for women in business, to offer support, insight and networking opportunities across Israel. From Women in Wireless, established in 2015 to “…connect, inspire and empower female leaders in the mobile and digital space," and WMN, a co-working space and ecosystem for women led ventures; to Let's Get to 51 percent, a platform for female entrepreneurs to connect with industry high-tech professionals, and Women of Startup Nation (WOSN), an online community founded by Barr Yaron which documents the success stories of women in the field of high tech, a wave of cultural support for female-led initiatives is gaining momentum.
What's more, Israel has produced some remarkable female talent: Yasmin Lukatz, founder of the Israel Collaboration Network (ICON), an organization linking selected Israeli entrepreneurs with venture capitalists and key connections in Silicon Valley; Dr Kira Radinsky, now eBay Israel Chief Scientist, who sold her consumer analytics company SalesPredict to eBay for millions of dollars; and Maxine Fassberg, whose 30 plus years at Intel-Israel, the last decade of which she served as general manager, saw the company's export profits increase by over $1.16 billion within three years.
Whilst the figure hovers at around three percent of entrepreneurs in Israel as female, the crack in the glass ceiling is materializing as more women step into top tier positions - trailblazers of their time, paving the way for others to boldly follow suit.
Female-led Startups on the Rise
At the crux, the issue of success in the field is centered around the support and opportunities for female entrepreneurs to secure funds. “The demand from VCs and investors for women-led startups is increasing, as more women-led businesses around the world show increased results and higher ROI," states Melamdovsky. “There are thousands of women in Israel and hundreds of thousands worldwide that have the ideas, skills, and experience to establish and lead successful and global companies, with the right support and mentorship."
The success stories are trickling in, with more than a handful of Israeli founded female-led startups making their presence known internationally:
Feelter - Founded by Smadar Landau in 2014 as a plugin for ecommerce, utilizing social media content to help increase website conversion rates. It was voted by Inc. as one of the 20 Israeli Startups to watch in 2017 and won first place in the 2016 G-Startup Worldwide competition.
Missbeez - led by co-founder Maya Gura as a mobile marketplace for beauty services matching busy women with self-employed professionals. The startup has so far raised more than $5 M.
Sidekix - an urban discovery app, co-founded by Jenny Drezin, which provides interest based routes across categories including shopping, culture and nightlife. The app has had half a million global downloads since its launch in 2016 and has secured over $2 M in funding to date.
Shupperz - led by Tal Rubinstein, is a worldwide social network of skilled shoppers that enables anyone to shop like a local. This first-of-its-kind social platform is said to be the next big thing in retail innovation. The company has so far raised over $4 M.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.