Israelis to help scientists

NEW YORK — An Israeli from the former Soviet Union has launched a business fund to help her fellow immigrants.

Hana Shavit, who moved to the Jewish state 30 years ago from Russia, began the idea for the Starter Fund in 1997 after she saw how well-trained scientists from the former Soviet Union were stuck in low-level jobs in Israel.

Shavit took her idea to former Israeli Minister of Finance Ya'acov Ne'eman, who in turn helped her contact Israeli and American businesses to contribute to the fund.

The fund, incorporated in the United States, differs from venture capital funds because it will help scientists develop business plans to propose to investors, and not share in any of the profits, said one of these contributors to the fund, Felix Zandman.

The immigrants "don't know how to make a business plan, how to explain their inventions," said Zandman, CEO of U.S.-based electronics company Vishay Intertechnology. "They need a businessman with them to create business plans."

Money from the fund — whose goal is to raise about $5 million in its first round — will supplement grants the scientists may have received from the Israeli government or elsewhere.

Successful businesses will be expected to pay back the fund, so that it eventually will be self-supporting, says Shavit.

At this stage, Shavit could not say how many scientists, chosen through an application process, the charity would fund. "When you're feeding the chickens, you can't know how many eggs they will make," she said.

More than money, however, Shavit said, she hopes that the Starter Fund would ease the absorption of Russian immigrants to Israel and encourage more Russian scientists to immigrate to Israel.

"This is a human affair," said Zandman. "I can't stand to see a scientist who has a high degree serving in a gas station."

For information about the Starter Fund, which has headquarters in New York, call (212) 751-1523.