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Tel Aviv Start-Up Weekend unites Israelis, Palestinians

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Friday, July 23rd, 2010

As reported in IVC:

The language of ideas and technology transcends differences,’ says co-organizer.

Movieoke.tv, a Web-based game that allows players to act out famous movie scenes in sync with actors on the screen, was the winner of the second Tel Aviv Start-Up Weekend, held at the Peres Center for Peace last week.

The event saw computer geeks from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and around the world come together to create new technological start-ups.

The winning program, a fresh take on traditional karaoke, beat out 55 other start-up ideas presented during an intensive three-day flurry of creativity and activity.

“Start-up weekends started in the United States in 2007 and in the last couple of years have spread to 60 or 70 cities. The idea behind the event is to bring people together to network through the process of creative work,” said Start-Up Weekend Tel Aviv co-organizer Amir Harel.

“We get people from across the board, from programmers and designers to entrepreneurs and investors, to come together for three packed days where they can meet new people, come up with new ideas and maybe even start a long-lasting cooperation.”

Twenty-three out of the 140 participants of last week’s event came from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The idea to invite Palestinians grew out of the cooperation with the Peres Center for Peace. Harel said that after the first Start Up Weekend, the organizers wanted to do something different and that inviting Palestinians fit perfectly with the aims of the project.

“The language of ideas and technology transcends differences.

I believe that if we can start by talking about our shared interests and goals, talking about our differences can come later,” he said.

Yoav Stern, director of the Business and Economics Department at the Peres Center for Peace, said that the hi-tech sector was a great arena in which to promote peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The nature of the industry, in which most of the work is done on the Internet and is not dependent on geographical proximity, means that physical barriers like roadblocks and closures don’t influence it,” he said.

“Many may not know it, but there is a relatively thriving hitech sector in the Palestinian Authority. There are hundreds of companies and many workers trained and educated in the hi-tech professions,” said Stern.

“We hoped that by inviting Palestinian to Israel for the ‘weekend’ we could provide them with a platform to hear and present new ideas and meet new people. From here on out, the sky is the limit.”

Harel noted that every participant is different.

“Each participant comes from a different background and with different skills. Some are entrepreneurs, some are potential investors, some are professionals and some are amateurs, the door is open to anyone. What they all share, though, is a similar personality.

They are all hungry for success, all hard workers and all open to new ideas,” said Harel.

“Most of the participants are the lone-wolf type. Sometimes people come in groups, but we urge them not to stick to their friends and instead meet and work with new people.

“The whole idea of the project is the cross-fertilization of ideas. We get people who aren’t even in involved in the hi-tech world and come from sectors like real estate or transportation.

As far as we’re concerned, the more varied the participants, the better chance there is of getting novel and fresh ideas.”

On the first day of the event, which was Wednesday (it being the world’s only Shabbat-observant Start-Up Weekend), every participant who wants to present an idea has 90 seconds to pitch it to the other participants.

After the initial pitches, the organizers list all the ideas on a board and participants choose the 10 percent of ideas that they believe have the best chances of making it to market.

“After the short list is chosen, pandemonium breaks out.

Every participant who was chosen has to set up a team, based on the requirements of the proposal, and the horse-trading begins in earnest. People try to convince each other to take part in their groups, people move from one group to another, people come up with new and interesting developments of the original idea. It’s a real rush to see such a outpouring of creativity and cooperation,” said Harel.

Once the teams are divided, the groups have three days in which to develop their ideas into start-up proposals. On the last day, the groups have five minutes to present their idea, their business plan, their resources and their requirements to a panel of judges and the rest of the participants. The start-up that receives the highest score from the judges wins a start-up assistance package from the event’s sponsors.

The top three start-ups chosen this year were Movieoke, which is already up and running on the Internet; Voice Guide, a mobile device application that offers travelers tourguide recordings of special attractions based on their GPS location and Tiqqy, a propertymanagement tool for mobile devices, for which the organizers have already signed up an American company to partner with on a prototype.

Other notable ideas included an iPhone game for the blind, based on sound positioning; Yalla Plan, an event-organizing tool proposed by a group of seven Palestinian developers; Seat Genie, a program that, for a fee of a few dollars, will allow airline passengers to select who they sit next to on the flight; and Do It There, a task manager that reminds you to do things based on your location, instead of the time.

Though some of the ideas were already quite advanced by the time they were presented, the organizers said that creating new companies was not main aim of the project.

“Sure it’s great if something tangible comes out of the weekend, but that’s not how we measure our success. For us it is important that people made connections, learned new things and developed their ideas,” said Harel.

“This weekend shows that having a great idea is often not enough to draw investors or partners. People need to be able to express their idea and sell it to others, which often requires completely different skills.

“I would urge anyone whose idea was rejected this year to work on their plan and come back next time to pitch it again,” Harel said.