Photo Courtesy of Lilach Amit-Holzer
Business 01 February 2018
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.
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were resistant to implementing remote work for a variety of reasons such as concerns about technology and infrastructure, a lack of trust that employees would get their jobs done, the longstanding (and understandable) bias in favor of face-to-face interactions, or some combination of these factors. However, not only has the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to switch to remote work despite their reservations, it's clear at this point that it's going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Remote work is here to stay, at least partially. By analyzing the pros and cons of remote work we've witnessed over the past few months, we can apply various insights towards maximizing its benefits while minimizing the downsides.
Remote Work Can Be Productive But Also Challenging
Ever since companies implemented remote work en masse, we have witnessed several general tendencies. One is that despite early concerns about remote work leading to less productivity, what many have seen firsthand is that a lot of work can indeed get done via remote work — in many cases even more than before when people were physically going into offices. There is a wide range of possible reasons for this, from having a quieter environment to work in (which is obviously not always the case for everyone, especially parents) to having more time freed up due to less commuting to no obvious start and end time to the work day.
Alas, the results have not been uniformly positive. One problem many of us have experienced is that remote meetings can be more difficult. The actual platforms used to run meetings online like Zoom or Google Meet are in themselves relatively simple and straightforward to use. The challenge is that online meetings come with some intrinsic limitations such as the inability to incorporate the same level of non-verbal communication that we use interacting in-person. Non-verbal communication plays an influential role in conveying meaning, and when it is absent, we lose important nuance. Perhaps the most annoying obstacle is that online people tend to talk over each other, albeit unintentionally. Part of this is because we cannot use those non-verbal signals to signal we want the floor, and part of it is technical issues of buffering, delays, and audio/video synching.
This is the time for employers to be analyzing, strategizing, and planning, to find out what employees need.
Making Up for Lost Planning Time
Companies have had to grapple with the lack of time to plan and prepare for a complete switch to remote work. COVID-19 forced them to go from 0 to 60 mph in what felt like a nanosecond, resulting in many hiccups along the way. Looking ahead, now that much of the initial craziness has ebbed, many companies will have the opportunity to make up for that lost planning time. They should make this a deliberative process and include to identify what worked and what didn't in the remote work process. Good, clear communication will be key. What limitations did employees run up against over the past several months, and what are their ideas for getting around those? What kinds of hardware and software do they need to acquire or upgrade? This is the time for employers to be analyzing, strategizing, and planning, to find out what employees need. They should also prepare thoughtful responses if and when they cannot make the changes employees request.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Overwork and Burnout
Of course, a flexible workplace culture of this sort requires a great deal of trust, and good communication is the foundation of this trust.
As mentioned, remote work has not led to people being unproductive or doing less work. If anything, people are working more, and therein lies a potential problem. For many, COVID-19 has caused work-life balance and healthy boundaries between the two domains to effectively disintegrate. This is why communication is so important, particularly for companies preparing to offer a permanent remote work environment to staff. Companies need to encourage employees — remote or in the office — to take work-life balance seriously. In a tough employment environment, with so many layoffs and furloughs, many people feel lucky just to have their jobs. They are anxious about keeping them, and so succumb to the temptation to be available 24/7 as a way of demonstrating their value to their companies. This isn't good for the company, and it is definitely not good for the employee.
Overwork, stress, and burnout have detrimental effects on employees' functioning and job engagement as well as their performance and productivity. To help avoid this, companies will need to set clear expectations, clearly communicate what those expectations are, and, if necessary, actively encourage employees to take enough time away from work. They may also benefit by changing their workplace culture to focus more on results and final products and less on strictly defined work schedules. For example, as long as your employees get what you need back to you by the time you need it, perhaps the actual hours or days that they work should not matter so much. Of course, a flexible workplace culture of this sort requires a great deal of trust, and good communication is the foundation of this trust.
The Importance of Informal Communication at Work
One dimension that was largely lost because of the widespread transition to remote work was informal communication in the workplace. This is the casual socializing and interaction that naturally occur among employees in the workplace — the proverbial water cooler talk. It just seems odd to schedule Zoom calls for engaging in small talk or socializing with our work colleagues.
Good, clear, and frequent communication, once again, will be the key to maximizing the benefits of remote work and minimizing its potential pitfalls in the post-COVID era.
However, workplace informal communication is important and serves multiple beneficial functions. Conversations build interpersonal relationships and have positive effects on work whether or not the topic relates specifically to the job at hand. It is likely that going forward, companies will move to a modality that incorporates both remote and in-person work, although some may find staying remote works for them. If the company has all or many or some employees working remote, it will be worth considering how to create space and opportunities for informal communication. This could be through hosting virtual happy hours, recreating morning coffee breaks, or hosting brown bag lunches or whatever else fits companies' needs and situations. No reason these events could not include the employees in the office as well as those working remotely. A company wanting to celebrate could host a luncheon on campus and send takeout to those working from home — a truly virtual brown bag lunch!Despite the numerous logistical challenges that the sudden shift to remote work has presented, the consensus among many employers and employees alike is that remote work can work. Not only can it work, it can be highly efficient and productive and provide employees with the flexibility they want as well as offer numerous advantages to companies. Good, clear, and frequent communication, once again, will be the key to maximizing the benefits of remote work and minimizing its potential pitfalls in the post-COVID era.