The field of high-tech and venture capital investment is known worldwide for its low percentage of women in senior roles. In Israel, with its leading position in some high-tech fields and its Startup Nation ambition, dozens of new initiatives have sprung up over the last couple of years to encourage women entrepreneurs in startups. But funding is key, say many.
When VC (venture capital) crowdfunding company OurCrowd last week launched a new initiative to link some of the largest companies in the world more closely to Israeli startups, it was led by its business development partner Laly David. She’s fully involved in investment decisions, a rarity for a woman in Israel, as it is in the international world of venture capital.
David calls the lack of women in VC and high-tech a “painful subject”. In a telephone interview with CNBC, she says it’s something that OurCrowd and she herself are working to address but not enough is being done yet.
“There are different initiatives in Israel that are focused on supporting female entrepreneurs, for example with mentorships, I also mentor different companies. But the really, truly efficient help is funding. So we’re looking at ways for us to be stronger funders of female-led ventures,” says David.
Her emphasis on funding is echoed in conversations with female entrepreneurs and those working to address the gender gap in Israeli startups. Maya Gura, whose startup MissBeez offers online beauty and lifestyle services by and for women, earlier this year received the Israeli Geektime 2017 female CEO of the year award.
“Right now only four percent of investors are female so when women entrepreneurs come to pitch VCs about their ideas, typically they’re just not taken seriously,” says Gura. She calls herself a serial entrepreneur and says she has a network of contacts that help her bypass this problem but it affects many of her colleagues.
“Many ideas, in education, in beauty, in many markets, are not addressed seriously maybe because they less interest or are less of a priority or less of a theme to the people who listen to those ideas,” she says.
Merav Oren is another Israeli self-described serial entrepreneur who’s taken an initiative to help women CEOs and founders of startups. WMN in the port of Tel Aviv and now also in the Atidim high-tech park is not only a co-working space but also an “ecosystem” to facilitate women-led ventures, she says.
WMN helps to provide a physical space for startups with women CEOs and/or founders.
“You need to feel at home in order to flourish. I think for women that’s even more important,” says Oren.
At the same time, there are many other issues that WMN seeks to address. In Israel’s particular high-tech environment, a lot of ties are forged in the army, often in special cyber units. “That’s why we’re working so hard to build an ecosystem for women, for the female founders so they can pay it forward between themselves as well,” she says.
Yet, the central problem that she also comes back to is one of funding: “If we had more women in VCs, women would get more support.” Oren recognizes Maya Gura’s observation that women are looked at differently by investment teams that are overwhelmingly male and says that would be different if more women were involved.
“It’s not that someone is going to support me because I’m a woman but sometimes when you walk into a room and let’s say out of ten people there’s maybe one woman and the rest men, I can’t even put my finger on it but it’s the atmosphere, the way it’s looked at,” she says.
While many initiatives have sprung up since she started WMN, Oren says, none of them are government-led. She says she’s now in discussions with the Israel’s Innovation Authority but it’s early days.
One consequence of Israel’s reputation in high-tech and startups is that its attempts to address the gender gap also receive special attention. WMN is planning to go global and open five international branches within a year from now, as well as a fund or investors’ club for investing in women-led startups. Oren says that she is getting constant inquiries and a stream of very interested foreign visitors.
OurCrowd’s Laly David looks at the gender gap as an opportunity too: “It’s a big issue worldwide, I actually think it’s also an opportunity because to some extent there’s a vacuum created around female-led ventures that are actually very successful economically because females make most of the consumption decisions globally.”