Two Israeli entrepreneurs are set out to transform the global retail industry with a new innovation hub aimed at tapping into Israel’s world-renown cutting-edge tech to breathe new life into the field. And they’ve snagged multinational e-commerce giant eBay as a key partner in the new venture.
Yael Kochman and Alla Foht, both with marketing and fashion backgrounds, inaugurated earlier this month a 2-floor complex in the heart of Tel Aviv to be an incubator for Israeli startups in the industry and provide them with a physical space to work, mingle and exchange ideas with international corporate retailers, potential investors, and others entrepreneurs – all in a rather swanky setting. Think WeWork for retail.
Steps away from Dizengoff Center mall complex, Re: Tech, the first hub of its kind, is housed on the fourth floor of the indie vinyl and video shop, The Third Ear, a cultural staple of the city since 1987. What could look like the inside of a warehouse or a cold, barren studio, is instead highlighted with bright wallpaper in bird motifs, big windows with lots of light, wooden floors and modern furniture. The space offers closed office rooms for between six and 16 people and has an open space with 20 workstations.
Re:Tech is already home to Israeli-founded startups like Wishi, a social styling platform, Donde, a search tool that uses computer vision and natural language processing to turn product images into data, Quickwy, a platform for “augmented” retail and personalized shopping, and Loox, a platform for gathering reviews. They are several of among 170 Israeli startups and over 2,000 entrepreneurs and investors using the hub, according to Kochman and Foht. Users pay a cool 1200 shekels ($339) per person.
“We want to be a place where we give startups anything that they need,” Kochman tells NoCamels, “Our space can be a place to work, an accelerator, a venue for an event, or just support.”
The hub helped Israeli startup Hexa build a partnership with fashion giant H&M, which only came to fruition after Kochman and Foht organized one-on-one meetings with startups and international corporations during an event in September, according to Hexa founder Yehiel Atias. The company, which uses a unique AI framework with a complex computer vision algorithm to reconstruct 3D assets from ordinary photos, rents space at Re:Tech.
Atias couldn’t go into specifics about what the partnership consisted of, only that it was “3D related projects for their e-commerce, through the production chain.” He did mention, however, that being a part of the Re: Tech hub’s growing list of startups, particularly the ones housed in their central Tel Aviv hub, was an asset for his team. “Besides the fact that it’s a very interesting combination of other founders that are approaching the same customer, it gave us a lot of value in terms of interacting with different customers,” he tells NoCamels.
Foht, who serves as chief business development officer, said in a statement before the launch that the purpose of the initiative was to show that “in the same way that companies are looking to Israel as a source for innovation in other industries, [there is] disruption happening in the retail space.”
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Re:Tech has already announced eBay Israel as one of its first international partners. Within the framework of this partnership, meetings will be held between representatives of the e-commerce giant and Israeli startups, with the goal of finding ways to incorporate Israeli technologies into the online commerce platform. Founded in 1995, eBay is one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world with over one billion items at any given moment and over 170 million users worldwide.
“We believe that eBay Israel and Re:Tech have created a great partnership based on technological innovation and advanced user experience. We are excited to partner with Yael and Alla in evaluating new technology in online commerce,” said Yan Michelly, Head of Product Strategy, Global Ventures at eBay, in the statement.
From fashion tech to retail tech
The idea behind Re:Tech first began in 2013 when Kochman founded Fash&Tech, a community for the growing number of startups in Israel developing technology that could potentially be used for the fashion industry. These startups were in need of connections and support and there was interest from abroad into fashion tech startups due to Israel’s international reputation as the “Startup Nation,” Kochman tells NoCamels.
Kochman says she met Foht, a fellow entrepreneur with experience working with startups and corporate companies, a year ago and the two quickly partnered for an idea to start an accelerator in the fashion space. After organizing a conference, the first-ever FashTech Stage in September, where over 20 percent of the audience was from abroad and partnerships between startups and brands developed as a result, they realized they needed to go beyond the scope of fashion.
“One of the things we understood is the tech we were working with is relevant to retailers across different sectors,” Foht tells NoCamels, calling the progression towards a broader range of retail a “natural change” for the innovation hub.
“A lot of the startups that we started working with started in fashion and moved on to other realms, like electronics,” added Foht.
Fash&Tech rebranded, calling themselves Re:Tech, and “a good investment” helped them secure their current location.