More than 1,000 startup founders, operators, and coders in the U.S. have volunteered to help Israeli tech companies that have lost workers, who are reservists who have been called up by Israel after the Hamas attack.
Because of Israel’s compulsory military service and large number of reservists, some startups have seen nearly their entire staff go off to war, according to interviews with half a dozen people connected to the Israeli tech industry.
Zoe and Michael Burian, New York city residents who work in tech and have lived in Israel, came up with the idea to help startups stay afloat: They created an online form and asked family and friends if they could donate their time to Israeli startups.
Michael said company representatives have told him one of the most immediate needs is administrative. “They don’t have people to answer the phones,” he said.
Some people have offered to volunteer up to 20 hours a week. About 25 Israeli companies had also signed up (on a separate form), and the couple on Thursday was in the process of matching employees with companies.
Sonny Gindi, an entrepreneur in New York city, follows Zoe on Instagram, where he learned of the fledgling project. He signed up, offering three hours of his time per day, despite having a six-month-old newborn and a startup of his own, a retail operations company called Stour.
Gindi said he could help with everything from marketing to social media to creative strategy.
“As a founder, I know how volatile it is to run your own company and how important every single day is to the survival of your business,” he said, adding that he didn’t think twice about spending the extra time. “Every Jew right now is in a fight for their lives.”
Zoe, who is on maternity leave with a newborn, is working on matching volunteers and startups that need help during nap time, but so far nobody has started working. The volunteers are from a wide range of backgrounds, from customer service to engineering to nursing.
“In the startup community, it’s so fresh right now,” Michael said. “They don’t really know what they need yet.”
Israel, often called “The Startup Nation,” has the highest number of startups per capita in the world, according to Deloitte. By some estimates, half of Israel’s exports come from technology companies.
Before the attacks, some of Israel’s tech entrepreneurs were frustrated by a plan they thought would weaken the judiciary and threaten the democratic process. Some tech entrepreneurs considered moving their companies out of Israel.
But since the attacks, those debates have largely been put on hold. Political differences matter little in Israel at the moment, as the country unites to defend itself.
As several people have said to me in recent days, Israelis are “built differently,” having grown up in close proximity to war. Nearly everyone has served and everyone has experienced loss.
That upbringing breeds a unique resiliency, which may help startups survive an unprecedented period of difficulty.
The View From Saudi Arabia
Israel’s technology ecosystem has helped forge a bridge with other Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has quietly invested in Israeli startups and Israeli startups have quietly worked with Saudi investors and customers.
As tensions rise in the region, it’s unclear whether the fallout from the Hamas attack will chill relations between the tech scenes in Saudi Arabia and Israel or continue to act as a bridge.