Israel Launches World’s First Accelerator For Startups That Benefit The Disabled

By Sophie Imas, NoCamels February 18, 2014 Comments

Accelerators and incubators usually focus on startups they believe will strike it big, fast. But Israel-based global organization PresenTense has decided to apply its expertise in the field to launch an accelerator that will groom startups that address the needs of people with disabilities.

PresenTense, a largely volunteer-run community of innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world, “who are investing their ideas and energy to revitalize the Jewish community,” has partnered with Beit Issie Shapiro and The Ruderman Family Foundation to launch the new Accelerating Inclusion in Israel (A3i), the world’s first accelerator focused on solutions to the needs of the disabled.

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“Accelerating Inclusion in Israel will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in Israel and across the world,” Guy Spigelman, PresenTense CEO, tells NoCamels. “The innovative technologies and social ventures are an expression of PresenTense’s strategy to transform the startup nation to a ground up nation – where the tools of entrepreneurship are made available to all, for the benefit of all.”

Daniel Freidlin

Daniel Freidlin

Time is better than money

This very idea of social change is what brought the organization, which already has projects across Israel, including a startup accelerator for Israeli Arabs, to collaborate with the Beit Issie Shapiro and The Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities. From this collaboration emerged A3i, a program combining intense training, mentorship, one-on-one consulting and community engagement, to help entrepreneurs catalyze their ideas into fully-fledged ventures which might improve the lives of people with disabilities. PresenTense already has more than 30 volunteers on board, as well five employees.

The program consists of three steps: establishing a community, the accelerator itself and the launch of the product. Throughout the process, the organization plays by the motto “time before money,” putting more emphasis on hands-on assistance rather than financial aid. “We believe that if we just give entrepreneurs money, they don’t know what to do with it. But if we help them define their venture, their lives will be much easier and the venture will be better developed,” Freidlin tells NoCamels.

The program hosts a diverse team, with staff working with the entrepreneurs, trainers who work on the ventures themselves (focusing on software skills), two social business consultants (who develop the business model) and Freidlin, the director. Together, they provide assistance with marketing research, prototypes, social business models and branding to equipp their participants with the tools for success.

Bringing out the best in the startup nation

Ranging from high tech startups to more social oriented ideas, the program has attracted some very promising innovations. Among them, an iPhone platform for people with paralysis to operate their phones with their eyelids and a discount consumption club for those with disabilities. “This project has made me look at disabilities in a very positive and powerful way. This is about more than just the project, it’s an incredibly inspiring journey,” Freidlin tells NoCamels.

The accelerator was officially opened last Monday. The launch of the ventures themselves will be in June 2014, with guests from the Beit Issie Shapiro and The Ruderman Family Foundation, as well as investors, philanthropists and others.

Inspiring social change across the globe

PresenTense has branches in 18 different cities, on three continents. “ In Israel, we work with entrepreneurs at sites all across the country,” Daniel Freidlin, director of the A3i project tells NoCamels. “Actually, just 12 percent of Israel’s population really gains from the startup nation. So, we work with different communities around Israel, trying to mobilize people from different layers of society by entrepreneurship and helping them develop their project. This is all part of building a ground up nation, from bottom to top, rather than a startup nation,” Freidlin says.

PresenTense also sees their work as a key for social change. The company now has six venture accelerators in Israel, all focusing on social projects. “We’re doing a tech accelerator for Israeli Arabs, being the first of its kind. Although this is a tech accelerator, it’s nonetheless very social. If you’re giving certain communities the opportunity to grow and develop their projects, we believe that is social change,” Freidlin continues.

Photo: Disability and work by Bigstock

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