When it comes to countries with thriving startup ecosystems, Israel ranks among the best. With nearly 5,000 startups currently in business — second only to the U.S. — the country’s pool of entrepreneurial talent has been attracting Western businesses and entrepreneurs for years. But, in January, Gil Ben-Artzy and Shuly Galili launched a startup accelerator that aims to reverse this trend in favor of Israeli entrepreneurs, by bringing the country’s promising founders to Silicon Valley to help them kick start their businesses. And, today, after 10 weeks of mentoring, networking, and iterating, UpWest Labs is revealing the six graduates of its inaugural batch.
As Eric pointed out last month, while Israel has a thriving startup community, challenges remain. The market is small (Israel is roughly the same size as New Jersey), and Israeli venture capital has been making a shift to focusing on late-stage investments. So focusing on early-stage businesses, gathered in small cohorts, is important to UpWest.
Galili also tells us that UpWest is currently the only accelerator in the U.S. focused solely on Israeli startups. Of course, while its entrepreneurs are unique in that sense, UpWest is emulating the litany of accelerators and incubators that have popped up over the last few years, in the sense that it’s bringing entrepreneurs to its offices in Palo Alto, offering them housing in Menlo Park, access to a long list of local mentors, and is providing seed funding in the $15-20,000 range in exchange for up to 8 percent equity.
Though its model may sound familiar, UpWest knows it has to differentiate if it wants to be around for any significant amount of time. So, as opposed to the traditional approach of accelerators, which generally focus on ambitious founders slinging tons of ideas, UpWest is focused on finding entrepreneurs who have already built products that have found some traction, so that they can use their time in Silicon Valley more effectively. UpWest also aims to keep its class size small in order to provide companies with maximum attention.
After officially opening its doors in January, UpWest shortly thereafter welcomed its first class of entrepreneurs to the Valley. As a new generation of consumer-focused startups has emerged in Isreal over the last few years, UpWest is looking to build a valuable resource for this new set of companies tackling the consumer Web.
Last week, the accelerator graduated its first-ever batch of startups, including mobile, social, gaming, and SaaS companies. Six startups are officially being released into the wild, and below we’re offering a glimpse into what makes them tick.
Contapps is a universal contacts platform designed to help you connect, however you want, with the people you care about. The startup is operating under the assumption that the tools and networks we use to communicate all live in apps in our smartphones that are scattered all over our phone, so Contapps has built an app that puts contact info front and center.
The “contacts platform” brings together free SMS, Facebook, Twitter, and more so that you can choose the best medium to reach out to your contacts — all in one place. The startup’s Android app has racked up over 500,000 downloads, and an average 4.4 star rating across 5,500+ reviews.
OffScale is a database version management platform — or, in its own words, Git for databases — aimed at allowing businesses to focus on creating faster product development cycles and releases by taking the hassle out of copying and managing their databases.
OffScale wants to help you organize and manage those snapshots you take of databases, including offering easy rollback, even if your database runs in a third-party cloud, as the software runs the same on your laptop and on the virtual server. The startup is also offering the ability to create and maintain datasets for automatic testing, along with the protection of being able to speedily tag and restore databases. Offscale is currently in beta, and while in beta, the software is free to download.
Tradyo likens its used goods marketplace to a “StumbleUpon for tangible things.” The startup’s iPhone app enables users to buy and sell used goods in your area in realtime. The app uses GPS to reveal the cool stuff available around you, allowing you to sell an item, search your community for cool stuff, and receive push notifications when an item you want gets listed, or when someone wants to buy what you’ve listed.
Like Antengo, Tradyo wants to improve upon the mobile Craigslist model in an attempt to make classifieds safe, easy, and realtime — in other words, leveraging the popularity of the collaborative consumption movement to re-imagine what it means to shop locally.
Senexx is using its patent-pending technology to help enterprise organizations identify and manage expertise via an internal Q&A platform. The startup’s advanced parsing and knowledge-routing algorithms aim to reduce the amount of time it takes for employees to find answers or domain experts with specific knowledge in a particular subject within their company. This is complemented by the ability to catalog past solutions to certain events or situations — the overall goal being to streamline in-house expertise in order to more effectively deal with problems, or opportunities.
The startup’s private, cloud-based service integrates into your company’s exiting enterprise networking platforms to allow it to take advantage of current collaboration systems, whether it be email, instant messaging, or internal social networks, in an effort to improve cross-team collaboration. To find out more about pricing, contact the founders here.
Bfly is a “mobile experience” which enables users to connect to other people, locally and around the world, using a virtual, 3-D butterfly of all things. The startup is currently in private beta, and will be launching its iOS and Android mobile apps in the next few months. But from what we can tell, Bfly is almost like a mobile, virtual chain letter. Each user creates a unique virtual butterfly and passes it to a friend’s mobile device when they cross paths.
According to Bfly, as the butterfly hops from one mobile devices to another, users can track its journey, view stats and photos taken by other users it meets as it goes. The startup is obviously looking to tap into the far-reaching potential of mobile technology to give users a fun, somewhat serendipitous, and quirky way to meet new people.
Invi is currently in stealth mode, so the team isn’t saying much about its product, other than the fact that it is trying to reinvent SMS, and perhaps iMessage along the way, by building a next-gen texting app for mobile devices. If that piques your curiosity, you can sign up for the startup’s beta here.