welaunch – Launching the Silicon Prairie
Baruch HaLevi and Don Schoen are on a mission to unite the Start-up Nation and the Silicon Prairie through welaunch, a U.S.-based not-for-profit that connects Israeli companies to business and investment opportunities and resources throughout its Silicon Prairie network.
CEO and cofounder HaLevi says he has deep roots to the American Midwest. He was born and raised in Omaha, went to the University of Kansas, and led his first synagogue in Des Moines before moving on to Boston, then Israel.
However, he found himself more attracted to the entrepreneurism and innovation of the communities he was serving, rather than to the traditional role and responsibilities of a rabbi.
“I wanted to be involved in entrepreneurial and also the narrative of Israel around entrepreneurism and innovation,” says HaLevi. “I saw an opportunity to connect my two homes––the Midwest and Israel––and that’s what we set out to do.”
HaLevi teamed up with Schoen, an entrepreneur with business oriented background and now welaunch’s cofounder and COO.
Schoen helped evolve welaunch in terms of business practices.
“There’s a real passion behind the individuals we have in our organization,” says Schoen. “We’re really trying to evolve welaunch to be a focal point for Israel in entrepreneurial aspects and bring them to the U.S.”
Israel has more startups per capita than anywhere in the world outside of Silicon Valley, more venture capital than the rest of Europe combined, more companies on the Nasdaq than any other country outside of the U.S. and China, the most college graduates second only to Canada, and they’ve done it all with a population equal to that of New Jersey.
HaLevi says one of the driving elements of the country’s startup success is a necessity.
“Israel is mostly desert,” says HaLevi. “It’s the only country in the world with receding deserts, and it’s the only country in the world that’s water independent and recycles [over] 90 percent of their water. But it’s out of necessity. There is no water source. They’re not getting water from their neighbors. That’s a good example of why Israel is leading in water tech––because they have to.”
The other factor is the country’s advanced military. Everyone serves in the Israeli military and becomes technologically oriented. Then, after the military, then they go on to college.
“When you start adding those things up, you have a great recipe for entrepreneurship and innovation,” says HaLevi. “It’s a pretty remarkable place from an entrepreneurial, innovation and technology, aspect. There are certain areas which they lead the world in technology. That said, there’s no market and Israelis don’t know how to scale up.”