Last night I was given the opportunity to judge the Sam Zell Entrepreneurship competition sponsored by Techaviv and held at Nixon Peabody in NY. The IDC School, located in Herzliya Israel, has an entrepreneurship school named for Sam Zell and each year they graduate 20-30 students. Their senior project is to create a new company; many go on to extend their thesis into careers.
Given Israel's penchant for cultivating technology entrepreneurs, it's no wonder that 4 groups selected to travel to the US and present their early stage companies had internet related ventures. Not to bias you, but I was really impressed by the people, quality of ideas and implementation, the audience participation and the organization skills of the Meet-up host, Yaron Samid.
It's interesting, and upon reflection, not surprising that three of the presenting companies shared social based internet applications, while the fourth is concentrating on internet video. The presenting companies were:
Hobnob (not yet live)- Are developing a mobile application optimized for real-time networking around business events. The application searches your social networks, finds people of relevance nearby and then moves into scheduling mode.
The Gifts Project recently launched (Angel funded by Yosi Vardi). They enable people to come together to buy gifts. The business is around an affiliate model with a recommendation engine that grabs data from the recipient's FB profile.
Wibbitz converts static web content and converts it to an interactive video. Initially targeting the newspaper industry as customers (I really liked this company, but not the target market, preferring to instead go after a market with budget....e.g. I think it would be great for commerce sites)
Trip Angels an online social way to tap into a network of locals to assist in planning a trip. Quite similar to Bitwine in terms of the thesis (e.g. Ebay for services), but in an area where garnering traffic will be prohibitive. With that said, impressive folk presenting.
As noted before, the school and students should all feel proud about a job well done. Watching the presentations gave me a chance to reflect on a couple of things:
FB social graph is rising a sea wave of acceptance. The dream of the implicit web seems to be at our doorstep. An environment where implicit relationships are exposed, and linked in ways only limited by your imagination. On one hand, this is terribly exciting, on the other hand, with so many companies linking to my 'social dial tone' will it make me long for the days of simple phone interruptions? Perhaps, a cloaking device will be the next big hit.
Another point is the changing nature of company creation in Israel. Heretofore, entrepreneurs with rich technical training endeavored to push the technical envelope by developing chips, languages, bandwidth optimization; really anything that required brainiacs to master an algorithm. Now, the best and brightest are building sites to find travel buddies, or give group gifts. Computing power has advanced so far, so quickly, that there's little value in lessening the complexity of building consumer systems. Of course, Enterprise environments, certainly in the Financial Services field, where milliseconds are an eternity remain a rich consumer of traditional infrastructure enhancements.
Finally, being on the panel with Avner Ronen of Boxee and Tal Chalozin of Innovid shows how deep the Israeli ex-pat technology community has grown in NY. There is a vibrant up and coming generation of 20+ and 30's aged experienced entrepreneurs who are serving as mentors here. It's wonderful to see.