Israel: “do not meet investors if you are pregnant”

Series: women entrepreneurs worldwide Israeli founder: "Don’t meet investors when you’re pregnant"

Pierre Heumann

She is considered a model entrepreneur because she managed to raise $190 million in capital from investors in three rounds despite her three pregnancies.

Tel Aviv The corona crisis and the accompanying trend toward videoconferencing also had positive sides for Eynat Guez. The founder and head of the unicorn Papaya Global was able to hide the fact that she was pregnant during on-screen discussions. During the third round of funding, that was an advantage, as Guez knew from experience: investors don’t trust an expectant mother to run a company.

Her advice to women expecting a child is therefore clear: They should avoid meeting potential investors during pregnancy. That is sad, she admits, but "now times the reality". One could not ignore the fact.

Guez is the most successful entrepreneur in the Israeli startup scene. Five years ago, she founded Papaya Global, a company that automates payroll for companies with a global presence, taking into account benefits and bonuses in different countries.

Today, Guez’s startup soon employs a total of 300 people and generates the equivalent of 50 million euros in sales in 40 countries, including Germany. She is also currently planning branches in Germany and the United Kingdom. These two markets in particular are becoming increasingly important for Papaya Global.

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She has only been able to manage the dual role of mother and entrepreneur because she is supported by her husband, she says. The former military pilot, who later flew airliners, takes care of the children and the household. "I couldn’t run the business or grow it without his full-time support," says the 41-year-old mother of three young children, adding, "We have to be honest and not pretend that the dual role can be managed without help."

Israel’s flagship entrepreneur has raised $190 million in capital

Guez is considered a model entrepreneur because she managed to raise $190 million in three rounds from investors despite her three pregnancies. She is the only Israeli woman to head a unicorn, or growth company with a valuation of more than a billion dollars, which she plans to expand further. Her company, with employees from numerous nations, processes payrolls worth three billion dollars. But Guez is also an exception in Israel.

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85 percent of all startups are founded by men, figures from the non-governmental organization Start-up Nation Central (SNC) show; four percent were launched by women, and 11 percent were founded by mixed teams. In an OECD country comparison, this puts Israel above the average of 9.2 female founders. Ten years ago, it was just seven percent.

For Lital Kiperman Vaknin, who works on innovation and partnerships with the business community at the Peres Center for Peace, it is clear that "women still have a long way to go before they can catch up with male founders." There is a lack of "female success models," she says. SNC innovation consultant Anat Greemland has specific advice: "Women should acquire more computer skills and take an interest in science." They are grossly underrepresented there, she said.

That’s exactly what Talia Cohen Solal has done. A neuroscience graduate, she uses biological, medical and genetic data to personalize depression treatment with her start-up, Genetika+. Her product, she hopes, will be on the market by 2023 at the latest – five years after she founded her startup. She currently collaborates with another eight scientists; they total six women and three men.

All 70 antidepressants and antidepressant combinations, if successful, should be able to be tested on the basis of a blood sample, also based on the genetics of the patient, their medical history and individual neurological biomarkers. Cohen Solal says he is convinced that this will make individualized drug therapy possible. The method has the advantage that a lower dosage with fewer side effects is possible.

Because Cohen Solal, a native of Britain, has lived in Israel for only four years, she lacks the network that long-established Israelis can count on, she says. On the other hand, however, Israel is small, the high-tech community is manageable and people are open, so even recent arrivals can make contacts quickly, he says.

The Israeli state resorts to the means of positive discrimination

Numerous studies show that women are more risk averse and fearful of failure than men. Therefore, the Israeli state resorts to the means of positive discrimination. Women can count on more government help than men when launching a startup. "We want to reduce the gender gap in the high-tech sector," says Hagit Sela-Lidor of the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA), the government agency responsible for promoting research and development in Israel.

For research and development projects, young female entrepreneurs can be supported by the IIA with up to 75 percent of the initial investment in the first year; men can only count on 50 percent.

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In addition, the "Women Founders Forum" (WFF), which aims to support female entrepreneurs and offers them a framework up to the first major round of financing, helps female founders. "We offer a network that gives female entrepreneurs access to venture capital funds, but also helps with problems such as marketing strategy or financing," says Irit Kahan, who is partner in charge of the venture capital fund at DTCP (Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners) in Israel.

Similar to Germany, Kahan also advocates that more female students should be interested in the classic STEM subjects, mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology. Change, she said, must start in school and continue later at universities, where women are underrepresented. There are also too few women in the military. This is especially true in the army’s tech units, which are a springboard into the startup scene for many men, Kahan says: "That’s why men have the better connections."

The WFF network currently includes more than 50 female founders, who can rely on the support of more than 100 active mentors, in addition to recognition and support from funds and the largest companies.
Eynat Guez, who heads the first unicorn founded by a woman, also benefited from the WFF at the beginning of her foundation because she was able to exchange ideas with her mentors. Meanwhile, she can give advice herself.

Her company Papaya Global, says the mother of three, is like a fourth child to her. She needs to find the "right balance" between all of them, she says. Her advice: "Distance yourself from the ‘role model mother’ – but also from the claim to be a superwoman who can handle everything herself."

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