InterviewIsraeli Entrepreneurs Have a Daring Mentality, Says Google Mentor
Five Israeli startups are set to graduate at the end of July from the first cohort of Google’s startup residency program in Tel Aviv
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For five months, participating startups, chosen out of a few dozen applicants, enjoyed workspace at Google’s Tel Aviv campus and access to the company’s resources, from technical assistance to networking opportunities. “We didn’t search for a specific startup profile,” Irwin Boutboul, Google’s program mentor, said in a recent interview with Calcalist. Google may choose an interesting team or product, but also a domain in which the company is uniquely equipped to provide assistance, he said.
Google has no hidden agenda, Boutboul said, it simply wants to be part of the success stories of these startups.
The five participating startups are Tel Aviv-based Saillog Ltd., a company using artificial intelligence algorithms to help farmers identify and treat agricultural diseases and pests; Tel Aviv-based Gaviti Akyl Ltd., a payments management software developer; Agamon Technologies Ltd., which helps healthcare organizations manage and extract actionable insights from data; Mona Labs Ltd., which develops an algorithm quality check system for companies using artificial intelligence models for big data; and data compliance company Dattor, incorporated as Pairser Ltd.
The prolonged time Boutboul spends with each startup as a mentor means he can get to know the companies and their leadership intimately and provide a higher quality of help, he said.
Boutboul started as a software engineer in IBM, later taking roles that had him identifying new technologies and developing prototypes for the company. He then spent two years as a senior developer at Lehman Brothers, before joining Google in 2009, where he serves as the company’s “maker of good.”
Google is, essentially, a huge database for different types of resources, be it people, tools, or technologies, said Boutboul. That means that sometimes it takes a while to find the correct tool or reach the right person, he said. “Sometimes I need to go from team to team, and when I reach the right person I discovered they are actually away on vacation.”
The most important virtue he can instill in entrepreneurs is focus, Boutboul said. Steering committees and venture capital investors are important participants in a startup’s decision making processes, but in many cases they are biased, he said, adding that he can provide entrepreneurs with a different perspective. “As an independent, external advisor, I can provide objective feedback,” he said, such as bringing to their attention certain missed details that shareholders will not necessarily mention.
One of the most important tools gained via the residency program is an understanding of how certain processes take place in a giant corporation such as Google, and what standards they adhere to, Michal Meiri, co-founder and CEO of Agamon, said in an interview with Calcalist. Google gains the opposite, she said, an understanding of how startups think and operate, of the needs of different communities, and also exposure to technologies and ideas that the corporation’s daily operations would not necessarily give rise to.
Gaviti co-founder and CEO Alex Komarovsky names the “stamp of approval” the program provides as a top benefit. “When I meet clients and say we are part of Google’s program, it has a big effect, and the same is true for investors.”
Google’s mentors for its global residency programs touch base once a week to exchange professional insights and ideas. The differences between entrepreneurs in the different countries are easy to see, Boutboul said. “In Israel, there is a Startup Nation environment and a daring mentality,” he said. “Entrepreneurs are not afraid to try different things and various directions.”
The biggest difficulty for him, he said, is splitting his time between five different companies when he wants to give each company the utmost attention. It is easy to get drawn into an issue and spend two weeks working with just one company, but that is unfair to the rest, he said.