‘To All of Israel Society and Beyond’

On the cusp of its 10th anniversary, PresenTense Israel celebrates entrepreneurship, inclusion and accessibility

The Haifa Project - the first social entrepreneurship accelerator in Haifa - The accelerator is run by PresenTense and cooperation with the Youth
The Haifa Project – the first social entrepreneurship accelerator in Haifa – run by PresenTense in cooperation with the Youth Center in Haifa and the Haifa-Boston Partnership.

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

Ten to 15 ventures, 15 to 30 entrepreneurs, 45 jobs, 50 to 75 volunteers. All of this from just one accelerator … impacting as many as 1,750 people.

“Do you want to know what cutting-edge looks like?” asks Guy Spigelman, CEO of PresenTense Israel. “I think we have shown that we do that.”

PresenTense Israel was founded in 2007. Then, the organization rented an apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rechavia, “crammed people in for workshops and lectures and networking an all sorts of events,” recalls Simi Hinden, director of resource development and knowledge management for the organization.

Young adults would apply with different projects or ideas and PresenTense would give them the support and tools to get them started or move them forward. Now preparing to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, PresenTense Israel has evolved from its original mission of Jewish social entrepreneurship to one of “making entrepreneurship accessible to all of Israel,” says Hinden.

“Our mission is promoting and developing inclusive and impactful entrepreneurial ecosystems,” says Spigelman. “That one line encapsulates everything that we do.”

That is, if it is possible to encapsulate all the ways in which PresenTense Israel is impacting every nook and cranny of the diverse state of Israel. Today, PresenTense Israel has gone from 55 volunteers in 2007 to 500 in 2016, from 12 entrepreneurs in 2007 to 162 in 2016, from 10 ventures to 135 and from one accelerator to nine.

PresenTense opened the first co-working hub in Israel. It launched the first social venture accelerator, the first accelerator for Arab entrepreneurs in Israel, the first accelerator for ultra-Orthodox women and the first accelerator in the world focused on innovative solutions for people with disabilities.

“A lot of firsts,” says Hinden.

The quantifiable results: 350 businesses, tech startups and social ventures. The qualitative impact: matured local economies and enriched communities.

“We call it going from start-up nation to ground-up nation,” explains Spigelman, who noted that only about 15 percent of Israel’s population actually benefits from Israel’s technology revolution. Further, only about 40 percent of Arab Israelis are even aware of Israel’s tech and innovation scene. PresenTense has a goal of making both of those numbers 100 percent.

PresenTense’s Council for Arab Entrepreneurship promotes tech, business and social innovation at all levels of Arab society in Israel. Spigelman says the program is supported by 10 Arab Israeli lay leaders and has an Arab director. The PresenTense board is now comprised of about one-third Arab citizens. That percentage sounds high in a country comprised of only 20 percent Arab Israeli citizens, but Spigelman says PresenTense is aiming to engage those to whom entrepreneurship is not accessible in Israel – and those tend to be members of the Arab, Bedouin and ultra-Orthodox communities, or Jews living in the periphery.

Sally Hadra and Aseel Kabha’s FeelAgain came out of one aspect of the Council for Arab Entrepreneurship program, through the Q-Start social enterprise, tech and small business accelerator in Baqa al-Gharbiya. FeelAgain is creating wearable devices that alert users to dangerous situations, including high heat and chemicals. These devices are designed for people who have sensory problems from nerve damage due to diabetes, cancer or genetic conditions.

Similarly, Inclusion Technology Israel (iTi) brings together a dozen organizations involved in disability treatment, innovation and inclusion to better align efforts and foster increased impact.

“We’re creating a framework to make Israel a world-leading destination for disability invocations technologies,” Spigelman says.

Take Oded Ben Dov’s Sesame Enable, which he created as part of A3I (Accelerating Inclusion in Israel) accelerator. Sesame Enable is a touch-free smartphone for people who have limited use or no use of their hands. The technology is controlled through head movements. Sesame recently won $1 million from Verizon’s Powerful Answers Award and has partnered with Google.

PresenTense Israel is not that different from the American program, in that on both sides of the ocean, PresenTense uses similar skill-building curriculum to help participants learn what they need to about visioning, writing marketing plans, conducting environmental scans, building solid business models, making the pitch and ensuring a strong financial plan. Participants are also matched with mentors through both programs who can provide advice and support them.

“We have conversations about curriculum and content and refer people to one another,” Hinden tells eJewish Philanthropy. “The workshops – we work together in most of those areas.”

It’s the target audience and the scope that has changed and expanded in Israel. PresenTense in the U.S. works primarily to engage young Jewish adults. In Israel, it works to engage all members of society regardless of religion or age. Spigelman says participants range from age 20 to in their 60s.

“We had this one small idea and look how much over the last 10 years it has grown and expanded,” says Hinden. “What we are doing in Israel has transferred to all of Israeli society and beyond.”