By Avigayil Kadesh
In just 54 hours, 150 budding entrepreneurs brainstormed new ideas for startups at the first-ever “Startup Weekend Jerusalem” on May 23-25, 2012.
Hosted by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Quarter for Jerusalem, this was the latest in a series of business-boosting events held in 700 different cities throughout the world, sponsored by the Seattle-based Startup Weekend.
Over the same May weekend, enterprising techies and business whizzes in Finland, Italy, the United States, Germany and Bulgaria were also looking to pitch the next big startup. Winners from each event get to compete at an international level for $50,000 in prize money and access to leading investors. The typical event gets just 75 participants, half of the amount attracted to Jerusalem.
“There were 150 people who had 54 hours to produce something wonderful, so it was a very hectic weekend,” says Moran Bar, director of Israeli tech blog Newsgeek and initiator of the Jerusalem event. “They delivered very well.”
Out of 60 idea candidates, judges representing JVP, Google, Microsoft, the Jerusalem Development Authority and After Docs Angel Fund selected SueThem, an app that would allow users to “file a claim at the tap of a finger.”
“I think it was chosen because they gave a wonderful presentation and there is a huge market of potential users,” explains Bar.
“The judges looked at each entry’s business model, customer validation and execution,” she says. “We had a team of judges from different industries — mainly investors – and Daniel Bessis, chief representative in Israel of International Trade and Development from Paris Region, which looks for Israeli startups to cooperate with French startups.”
Getting ready to pitch their ideas to the judges.
Photo courtesy of Newsgeek
Dreamed up by the creative team of Itamar Zabari, Eylon Dekoven, Rami Yushovaiv, Pola Adelman, Yoni Lederman and Issar Tsachor, SueThem is meant to match litigants with lawyers almost effortlessly. And it would do much more, too.
“For example, if someone crashes into your car, you could turn on the app and it tells you to take a picture of the damage for insurance purposes. Then it locates a lawyer that deals with this kind of case, based on your location. If the lawyer wants to take the case, he or she can respond,” explains Bar.
The founders believe there is about $26 billion in potential revenues in the United States every year from small claims, class actions and other individual lawsuits that people don’t pursue because it’s too complicated. The app would make a profit by charging litigants $10 per claim and charging lawyers a $200 monthly subscription fee plus 15 percent of successful settlement fees.
“It’s a very new idea, and it addresses a common need and also taps into the lawyers’ community,” says Bar.
The winners received vouchers for buying equipment; 10 hours of mentoring advice from certified public accountants and lawyers; and of course the possibility of winning even bigger at the global event.
Jerusalem as a startup hub
An additional 13 of the ideas presented at Startup Weekend Jerusalem will be chosen for further development.
Last year there were Startup Weekends in Tel Aviv and Haifa, but Jerusalem is a first-time venue. “Jerusalem has become a high-tech and entrepreneurial hub, so it was important for us to hold the event here,” Bar says.
Israel’s largest city was a perfect setting for fostering collaborative thinking and teamwork among a diverse group of would-be CEOs. Religious and secular, the crowd of hopefuls ranged from 20-year-old Israeli soldiers to middle-aged experienced entrepreneurs “who want to stay in the game,” as Bar puts it. In addition, there were Arab participants from Ramallah and eastern Jerusalem.
“As to be expected, it was mostly men, but I was excited to see many women this time — maybe 10% or more, which is much more than we get usually.”
Making the competition even harder was that each presentation had to be made in English, partly to accommodate the French- and Arabic-speakers but mostly to “educate the entrepreneurs to become as global/international as possible,” Bar explains.
One concession was made, departing from the usual format: instead of taking place over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Startup Weekend Jerusalem was on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so as not to preclude anyone who was Sabbath-observant. That particular weekend was also the Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) holiday.
Neither the use of a non-native language nor the change in schedule had a negative effect on the caliber of the participants, said JVP Partner Uri Adoni.
“Two of the largest exits in Israeli high-tech over the past year have come from Jerusalem, and I have no doubt the city can be an international high-tech hub,” he said. “As a VC working from within Jerusalem, we are committed to giving a platform to young entrepreneurs from the area to flourish.”