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Entrepreneurs, executives pitch Israeli resilience at Mind the Tech conference

Israeli high-tech—the economic backbone of the nation—has not been immune to the aftermath of Oct. 7.

Participants at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, held from March 4-5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
Participants at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, held from March 4-5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

For some, though, their thoughts are not about the events of October 2023 but about next October … and the Octobers to come after that.

At this year’s Mind the Tech conference that was held in New York City from March 4-5, former Israeli Science Minister Izhar Shay and his son, Ophir, took to the stage to promote their “Next October” investment project, which aims to create a startup in memory of each of the 1,200 victims of Hamas’s massacre on that Black Shabbat.

That includes Yaron Shay—another of Izhar’s sons and Ophir’s brother—a Nahal Brigade soldier who fell on Oct. 7 in defense of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom along the Gaza border.

“It’s always very emotional. I think the emotions grow as we speak,” Ophir Shay told JNS last week about his and his father’s presentation. “We understand Yaron is one of so many hundreds and that we have the opportunity to set the foundation to commemorate them in a meaningful way.”

Yaron and his commander, along with another Nahal soldier, fought together with three other soldiers and the kibbutz’s standby security team against an onslaught of Hamas terrorists for more than an hour, preventing a massacre of residents in Kerem Shalom. There were no civilian casualties and no hostages taken from there.

The Shays have been traveling to meet with private and institutional investors around the world to help raise capital for Israeli startups, which have been particularly impacted due to Israel’s five-month-old war with Hamas.

Much of this year’s Mind the Tech conference dealt with a post-Oct. 7 world and the challenges that come with it. The annual event drew an assortment of Israel and American-based entrepreneurs and executives. Many who took to the stage called for Israel to seize the moment since the challenges that issues like artificial intelligence present won’t wait for the country to emerge from its doldrums.

A significant number of technology executives and employees are among the 350,000 reservists who have been called up to fight, and the unpredictability of the situation has shaken foreign investors. 

Mind the Tech Conference
Participants at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, held from March 4-5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

‘Build something for the world’

Ophir told JNS that he’s not rattled. His project has been pitching startups in fields such as AI, agritech, foodtech, cyber and security deployment. The initiative hopes to help establish more than 500 startups in the coming year and reach its goal of 1,200 startups by 2025.

“In many ways, we’re still a startup, looking for funding from the right people. We’re pivoting as we go, but I think it’s never been easier to sell a product than the one that we’re selling,” he said. “The Next October vision is one most people find very easy to get behind as well.”

That vision is desperately needed. According to Guy Franklin, founder and general partner of Israel Mapped in NY, a hub for Israeli startups in the Big Apple, “we see more and more Israeli startups expanding to New York, with now over 450 Israeli startups operating in the city.”

But since Oct. 7, Franklin told JNS at Mind the Tech that the investors who have never before invested in Israel “are afraid because of the uncertainty,” creating a vacuum. “And that’s why there is less competition for those who have already invested [in Israeli companies] and are looking for new deals.”

Mind the Tech Conference
Participants at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, held from March 4-5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Franklin says that at least three different funds have been established to support startups that have seen a big workforce reduction due to reservist duties.

“These three funds give money in a safe, which means they give money now, and the valuation of these companies will be decided later,” he said, allowing for some measure of stability for startups going through critical funding rounds.

Ophir Shay, who serves as director of customer success and professional services for Visitt—a property-management software platform—thinks initiatives like Next October are the proper response to Israel’s most tragic moment.

“I just want to spread that optimism with the idea that we’re here to build something for the world,” he told JNS. “People were brought to this great darkness. We’re here to shed some light on the world and spread some good news.”

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