Failure is an option in startup nation

Talking tech: American University students speak to startups’ representatives.Owain James
Talking tech: American University students speak to startups’ representatives.
Owain James

Despite the fact that 90 percent of all startup businesses fail, students at American University seemed determined to soak up all the information they could at a startup national technology fair March 2, which featured a dozen businesses with ties to Israel.

The fair, which also took place at University of Maryland and will be held at Johns Hopkins University on March 23, was billed as an opportunity for students to find jobs and internships, but many of the company representatives seemed more interested in finding users for their apps as they did new employees.

The three-hour fair was sponsored by Israel Ideas! and Hasbara Fellowships.

During a panel discussion, Kogod Business School Dean Erran Carmel pointed to Israel’s consistently high ranking for successful startup businesses, noting that the small country has produced many unicorns, companies valued at more than $1 billion.

Yael Vizel, founder of Zeekit, an app which enables people to virtually try on clothing to determine what they look best in, attributed Israel’s high success rate to determination.

“Failure is very encouraged in Israel.” When a business fails, the employees learn from their mistakes and start again, she said.

Shay Dadush, co-founder of an app that enables attendees at a sports game to enjoy the play while their snacks and drinks are delivered to their seats, said Israelis are encouraged to question everything.

Also, he said, serving in the Israel Defense Forces helps a person mature more quickly.

He warned students that starting a company is hard work. “In startups, you do everything,” he said.

That includes raising lots of money from the three Fs: friends, fools and family.

Dadush then told students to start working on their ideas now. “You may think you are busy, but you are not,” he said.

Natalie Shammay, an accounting major from Boston, said she came looking for a job or an internship and was pleased to learn about the Embassy of Israel’s list of internships in Israel and the United States.

Barbara Galizia, an international relations major, said she attended for the networking opportunities.

Students who wandered through the one-room fair listened while representatives from various startups explained what they do and how they got started.

Nathalie Beaudoin, marketing manager at Musketeer, said that her app is designed to “create a community of people” who help others and receive help when needed. When signed up, participants can push a red button if they need medical, police, fire or rescue help; other participants who are nearby can then come to their aid — which could take less time than the police to get there, she said.

“We are trying to get into the American market,” she said.

Leo Moravtchik talked to students about his app: Diggidi is designed to introduce people to each other during what would otherwise be a missed opportunity.

If users see someone they might want to befriend, they hold up their smartphone, which then displays their identifying icon, like a tree or a dolphin. While the two people didn’t speak to each other at that time, if interested, they can still connect by using the app and asking to chat with the person who uses the symbol they were shown.

The app allows people to connect by “turning eye contact into ‘hi’ contact,” Moravtchik said.

“It’s stupid, but it works.”

Other startups at the fair included Scio, which sells a pocket-size molecular sensor to enable someone to quickly learn the ingredients of their food and medicine, and Checkpoint, which uses software to protect someone against many types of security threats.

Also featured was Zuta Labs, which sells a robotic printer small enough to fit into a pocket. It enables the user to print from a smartphone or tablet.

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