On last year's WEACT Israeli Women Entrepreneurs’ Mission to Silicon Valley, participants visited SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University. (Photo/Harel Meri)
On last year's WEACT Israeli Women Entrepreneurs’ Mission to Silicon Valley, participants visited SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University. (Photo/Harel Meri)

Startup women from Israel get a taste of Silicon Valley

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Darya Shaked has a mission: Connect Israeli women entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley by teaching them the ins and outs of the world’s center of tech innovation. It’s a challenge she had to face on her own when she moved to California two years ago.

“I can relate to the fear,” she said. “They don’t have the confidence to come and work from here.”

But now Shaked, a veteran of the private equity impact investing field, has become what she calls “a bridge” by bringing a delegation of Israeli company founders to the Bay Area for a week of intense networking, pitching and inspiration.

The WEACT Israeli Women Entrepreneurs’ Mission to Silicon Valley is being held this week, marking the second straight year Shaked has engineered it. WEACT stands for Women Entrepreneurs Act.

“The group that we hosted last year was very, very impressive,” said Alon Matas, founder of online counseling platform BetterHelp and an organizer for local Israeli startup club TechAviv, which is meeting with the women.

Shaked said women entrepreneurs in Israel are doing amazing work in cutting-edge technologies, from virtual reality to cryptography and beyond. But, she added, in order to make it in Silicon Valley, where there are large investors that can help Israeli startups grow, they need concrete tools, like knowing the right people or how to approach an investor the American way.

For Israeli women, the physical distance from California and differences in business culture are compounded by the extra difficulties all women entrepreneurs face. Shaked said those range from the challenge of making contacts in a “boys club” environment to the way investors follow a well-trodden path. They see men succeed and then they tend to help men succeed, in a self-replicating pattern.

“The tech industry is very tough for women,” said Shaked, who was featured last December on the cover of Lady Globes, a monthly insert in the Israeli financial magazine Globes.

Dana Porter Rubinshtein, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the Tel Aviv-based virtual reality content network Inception VR, echoed Shaked’s analysis.

“I would love for us to live in a world where gender-based delegations are unnecessary, but the reality is that we aren’t there yet,” she said.

Rubinshtein decided to join the trip because she sees it as a unique opportunity to meet Silicon Valley tech founders and venture capitalists.

“I can appreciate the importance of building a global network and making strategic connections,” she wrote in an email from Israel a few weeks before the mission.

The visit has been jam-packed, with attendees on a tight schedule of talks and networking: visiting Airbnb and Facebook and stopping by Silicon Valley Bank for an overview on investments trends.

There’s been “a pitching opportunity every evening,” Shaked said.

That’s the kind of thing a lot of business trips to the Silicon Valley include. But the Israeli visitors have also been meeting people whom Shaked feels they can really connect with, like Adi Tatarko, an Israeli who, with her husband, founded and runs Houzz, a shoppable interior design and architecture site that has raised more than $600 million. They were also scheduled to meet with members of TechAviv before the mission ends on Oct. 21.

Darya Shaked and last year's mission listening to a talk about investment in Silicon Valley Photog: Harel Meri
Darya Shaked at 2016 mission listening to a talk about investment in Silicon Valley. (Photo/Harel Meri)

“We think that what WEACT is doing is very interesting, very right for the time,” Matas said.

The 12 participants were selected from more than 270 applicants, Shaked said. Those who made the cut include women like Rubinshtein and Meirav Oren, of Versatile Natures, which provides a way to use smart data-collection for construction sites.

Shaked said that six or so women in the delegation had already raised between $7 million and $15 million for their respective companies, and that was before the mission.

“These are very advanced founders,” she said.

“It is always fun to be with a bunch of strong and ambitious women,” said Shimrit Tzur-David, one of those “advanced” leaders.

She joined the trip for Silicon Valley feedback and exposure for her company, Secret Double Octopus, which aims to replace the password with better protection.

“I’d like to hear what these people have to say about our product,” she said in advance of the trip.

Although Shaked is California-based now, companies such as Tzur-David’s and Rubinshtein’s are part of what makes her so impressed with her homeland’s startup scene.

“The innovation economy in Israel is crazy,” she said.

Shaked moved with her husband, venture capitalist Eyal Shaked, and three children under 6 to the Bay Area two years ago. It was a big step for the whole family, but one they were ready for.

“We just decided it’s time to get out of the comfort zone,” she said.

Previously, Shaked was head of partnerships and philanthropy at Vital Capital, a Tel Aviv firm that did impact investing in sub-Saharan Africa. After moving to the United States, she founded Stride Ventures, an umbrella company for WEACT and upcoming ventures, like a shared office space for women-led ventures that she has in mind.

Earlier this year, she was included in an Israel21C article about “15 Israelis making a mark on Silicon Valley’s tech scene.”

Shaked is certain that connecting Israeli women entrepreneurs with contact people in Silicon Valley will lead to great things. According to Shaked, it already has. Since the first mission, one company, facial recognition startup RealFace, was sold to Apple while five more companies set up branches in Silicon Valley.

Shaked thinks that’s a testament to the excellence of the work the women entrepreneurs are doing. And she said Bay Area venture capitalists are looking for diversity in company founders. They just may not know how to get it — but that’s where Shaked can help.

“Many of the VCs want to see change,” she said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.