The Arab-led startups at DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival’s Accelerator Blitz on Tuesday night simply blew away the competition
The Arab-led startups at DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival‘s Accelerator Blitz on Tuesday night simply blew away the competition. Four out of the 11 startups that presented at the pitch night were from Arab accelerators – NazTech in Nazareth, Israel and Arabreneur in Ramallah, West Bank – and NazTech’s two startups impressed this reporter the most out.
Beam Riders, a NazTech startup that has created the first mobile educational platform in Arabic for kids ages 6-12, clearly “won” the evening. Jaffar Sabah, its founder and CEO, proved the need for mobile educational apps for kids in the Arab world. He explained that when you search the term “education” in the app store in English, you get more than 2,000 results; when you do the same in Arabic, you see only a few dozen. There is tremendous opportunity to tap this market since mobile penetration is skyrocketing in the MENA region and there are so few competitors. Plus, they’re actually creating something that is educational and good for children – a true social and economic win-win.
The company aims to develop 21st century skills in children, such as creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership, through interactive educational apps that are also gamified. Though they had no marketing budget, their five first apps got more than 50,000 downloads. In the next few weeks they will be releasing Sinbad’s Adventures, a curriculum-based learning platform inspired by Middle Eastern culture, at the Apple Store and then on Android.
Sabah, a lawyer and MBA by training who has led two tech startups and was a fellow at the Aspen Institute Middle East Leadership Initiative before founding Beam Riders, has an impressive list of support. Jeff Pulver, one of the first investors in Twitter and Foursquare and a serial investor in Israeli startups, has invested $60,000 in the company, while MIT entrepreneurial and educational experts actively advise the startup. Beam Riders fit the rare criteria of not only having a great idea, but also an impressive team.
Yossi Vardi, Israeli tech ambassador, investor, entrepreneur, and long-time advocate for more inclusiveness in Israel, gave a few good one-liners towards the beginning. He promoted Italian accelerator H-Farm by saying Italians had fashion that he sorely lacked – Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s leading newspaper, did vote him worst dressed in 2010.
Many of the teams from accelerators H-Farm, Nielsen Innovate, the Hive by Gvahim, and KamaTech either had solutions for not terribly painful pain points or worthy solutions in already overcrowded markets. The second-best startup of the evening, NazTech’s Optima Design Automation, evaded this problem by innovating something so technical that this reporter needed to get several Intel workers’ feedback to evaluate the startup’s idea – which they liked.
When the radioactive atoms of computer chips decay, they can create “soft errors,” or cause memory cells to change in value. This has serious consequences for large data systems, such as banks, as well as individual computers.
To fix the problem currently, chip designers typically harden the entire chip and enlargen it by 15-25%, which can cost millions of dollars for high volume systems. Optima, led by Technion B.Sc. and San Jose State MBA graduate Jamil Mazzawi (who also has more than 20 years of experience in computer engineering in Israel and the U.S.), has developed software that analyzes the chips and can identify exactly where the soft errors occur. This way they only need to harden the affected areas, and in doing so, enlargen the chip by merely 1-2%, a significantly cheaper solution.
It’s about time Israel invests more in Arab-led startups: it’s only the smart thing to do.