Amit Lubovsky has developed software (tawkon.com) that alerts you when your cell phone’s radiation exceeds a certain threshold. Eran Galperin’s company, binpress.com, is a one-stop market for open-source code for Web and mobile developers. And Ido Gaver (loyalblocks.com) wants to turn your mobile phone into a store loyalty card; when you walk into a store, you’ll receive targeted coupons and special offers right on your device.
The three Israelis arrived in New York on Sunday as part of the first-ever Tel Aviv Tech Tour, in which 10 Israeli startups and one Palestinian startup will visit nearly a dozen college campuses in a span of two weeks. Their goal is to put Middle Eastern politics aside and introduce their mobile apps and other innovations directly to their target audience — young, technologically savvy college students.
The group met at GarageGeeks, a monthly gathering of tech types that takes place in a real garage near Tel Aviv. It is presided over by venture capitalist Yossi Vardi, who is famous for being a “godfather” to more than 40 startups, and was an original investor in ICQ, one of the first instant-messaging platforms. “We celebrate innovation, talk about technology and drink beer,” says Yosi Taguri, co-founder of fiddme (fiddme.com), an iPad app that helps people locate new restaurants by viewing photos of favorite dishes at nearby eateries that other users have uploaded.
The idea for the Tech Tour was born out of a common frustration among entrepreneurs in the Middle East: the difficulty of creating a loyal American following from thousands of miles away.
And so, within a span of four weeks, Taguri mobilized his techie friends and planned this trip in which the Israeli and Palestinian startups would hop from campus to campus, and meet with potential investors in between.
“It’s our first chance to really present our products to real people, face-to-face and get their take,” says Nir Ofir, founder of ChatSq (chatsq.com), a mobile app that enables people to instantly connect and communicate with people around them in real time. “For some of us, students are our potential users. We’d like them to spread the word.”
After a morning breakfast at David Sable’s office at communications firm Wunderman on Monday in New York, the group took the train to Washington, D.C., where they met with students at the University of Maryland. They ended the evening with a gathering at law firm Nixon Peabody, where Scott Deutchman, President Barack Obama’s deputy chief technology officer, was in attendance. On Tuesday, the Tech Tour made stops at George Washington University and New York University. The itinerary includes campus stops at MIT, Harvard, Santa Clara University, and University of California, Berkeley, as well as a visit to Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., and AOL’s headquarters.
While the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid for the group’s airfare, members of the tech tour were quick to say that the purpose of the trip wasn’t to defend Israel.
“We’re not professional diplomats,” says Taguri. “We’re not here to make any political statements; that’s bad for business. We’ll show our technology and innovation and talk about entrepreneurship on both the Israeli and Palestinian side.”
So far, the trip is shaping up to be a lesson in coexistence — thanks to the low-budget decision to sleep five to a room.
“I feel like I know all of the guys already,” says Fuad Hawit, the lone Palestinian entrepreneur in the group. Hawitt, of Ramallah, is the founder of GSoft Tech and creator of the free iPhone app called Monica (mymonica.com), a virtual assistant that reads you your e-mails, Facebook feed and voicemail messages on the go. “While driving to your office, you can navigate all five of your e-mail accounts safely, without even touching your phone,” he says.
Technology really brings people together, Hawit says. “Technology doesn’t have borders. It’s not something you have to send through a checkpoint that could get stopped.”