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Israel’s Startup Nation: The Flourish of Female Entrepreneurs

Business

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.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.