How Israeli Start-Ups Succeed

YU Wall Street Group Event Features Conversation With Ariel Beery, Michael Reitblat, Eran Shir and Michael Eisenberg ’89YUHS, ’93YC

The Yeshiva University Wall Street Group presented a panel discussion entitled “Israeli Companies: Going from Start-Up to Scale-Up” on Monday, March 6, featuring Ariel Beery, CEO of MobileODT; Michael Reitblat, CEO of Forter; and Eran Shir, CEO of Nexar. Michael Eisenberg ’89YUHS, ’93YC, general partner of the venture capital fund Aleph, moderated the panel.

The networking event, organized by the Office of Alumni Affairs, was hosted by McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Approximately 150 alumni and YU staff attended the closed-out event.

Michael Eisenberg ’89YUHS ’93YC (center), general partner at Aleph, moderates a panel discussing featuring (left to right): Michael Reitblat, CEO of Forter; Ariel Beery, CEO of MobileODT; and Eran Shir, CEO of Nexar.

The evening began with the three CEO’s offering a brief “elevator pitch” of their companies. All three startups share a vital characteristic: they are “mission-driven” enterprises, at the forefront of utilizing cutting-edge, mobile phone technology to solve problems in the real world. MobileODT utilizes mobile phones to screen for cervical cancer (one of the most deadly yet easily-treated cancers), particularly in remote areas where physicians are less or not at all available; Forter provides clients with automated, real-time fraud prevention technology; and Nexar has developed an app that can warn drivers of hazards beyond their line of sight, give advice about how to avoid these dangers, as well as provide videos and other crucial information in the case of a collision.

“We’re looking at an increasingly non-linear world,” said Eisenberg, stating the need to better prepare young people within the Modern Orthodox community – who he said tend to pursue conservative professions to afford their children’s Jewish day school education—for the rapidly changing economy of the future. “Technology is becoming more and more of the economy; centers of innovation and people of innovation are becoming more and more important.”

One of the key factors for success is the companies’ collection of large amounts of data, stored in the Cloud. For instance, by applying algorithms to data collected by thousands of drivers over millions of miles, Nexar has “all the artificial intelligence required to help someone make decisions in real time, and really make driving into a connected experience,” said Shir. The more data collected, the more accurate the algorithms become, and the more valuable the Nexar app becomes to drivers.

Similarly, MobileODT’s database of 60,000 medical images from 22 different countries is allowing physician researchers to test hypotheses about cervical cancer that have never been possible before, due to lack of data. “Humanity finally has the opportunity to solve diseases that we never thought could be solved,” said Beery. “We’re just now beginning to touch the very edges of [these possibilities], and I’m very excited about where we can go.”

Even though the startups are mission-driven, Eisenberg stated that such an orientation is good for business in the long-run. Reitblat, who served in Israeli military intelligence and later helped develop the fraud prevention system currently used by Paypal, agreed. Reitblat’s company, Forter, analyzes consumer spending habits to detect whether a transaction is fraudulent, and absorbs a company’s financial loss if their algorithms fail to detect a fraudulent charge. “If fraud happens, it’s on us,” Reitblat said. “The most interesting thing is that when you remove the fear of fraud, sales go up.”

The panelists also discussed considerations to do with location and hiring. For example, Israel (rather than New York or Los Angeles) is not always the easiest location from which to run a global business, but its central location can be convenient when dealing with non-American markets. Meanwhile, Israel’s talent pool is smaller, but often higher quality. The panelists also opined that fear of entrepreneurial failure is greater in the United States than in Israel, which may explain the preponderance of Israeli start-ups.

Attendee Alyson Krause was one of the first investors in MobileODT and serves on the company’s Executive Board. She got on board not only because she loved the fact that the product was going to save lives, but was impressed by the collaborative dynamic between Beery and his co-founder. “It takes a lot of grit to make a startup successful,” said Krause. “I knew they would do what needed to be done to make the company successful.”

In his introductory remarks, co-chair of the YU Wall Street Group Committee, Lawrence Askowitz ’87YC, drew attention to the success of YU Wall Street members in helping YU students achieve promising careers in finance. Askowitz noted that recent summer internship opportunities for YU students have almost all led to permanent positions. “In 2015, we had 13 graduating students attain jobs on Wall Street,” said Askowitz. “In 2016, that number jumped to 37. All of you helped make that happen.”

“Michael [Eisenberg] facilitated an informative and entertaining panel discussion,” said Jonah Abramowitz ’07YC, an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. “It was super interesting to hear from folks who are proving that Israel can produce not only innovative component technologies looking for a quick exit, but also scalable global businesses.”