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Start Up Nation, Say ‘Shalom’ to Chicago

A new program brings Israeli start-ups to the Windy City

Gretchen Rachel Hammond
September 06, 2017

The app is called Castor, and it promises to revolutionize 3D printing. With the push of a button, users can send whatever character, tool, or piece of merchandise they can imagine on a digital screen to a 3D printer, which converts it into a tangible object to be packaged and delivered in time to fulfill a marketing, whimsical or practical need. And here’s the best part: The app is coming to you not out of a sunny campus in Silicon Valley or a sleek office in New York, but out of Tel Aviv by way of Chicago.

The app’s inventor, Omer Blaier, is one of a handful of Israeli entrepreneurs, representing six of Start Up Nation’s finest start ups, who arrived in the Windy City this week for an intensive two-week incubator
at Chicago’s technological and entrepreneurial ecosystem hub 1871, situated under the the historic, industrial ceilings of the city’s famed Merchandise Mart. All are affiliated with Tel Aviv University, and will be hosted in Chicago courtesy of 1871 and IDEAS (Israel, Digital, Entrepreneurs, Arts and Science) Immersion, an organization founded in 2015 with the goal of bringing Israeli innovators to America and connecting them with mentors, funders, and partners. And while California was the obvious first stop—an IDEAS delegation visited Silicon Valley last year—the group’s founder, David Dorfman, said the Midwest offered its share of advantages.

“It’s exciting to be a part of an ecosystem that’s so dynamic,” Dorfman said. “When we go to Silicon Valley it’s very entrenched and the rules of the game have already been established. When you look at an ecosystem like Chicago there’s still a lot of room to make things in a new and creative way.”

Castor will be joined in Chicago by PANCHO, a mobile app that connects tourists with emergency services in any location; Vet My Hood, connecting users to on-demand veterinarian services; the on-the-go tooth brush and breath freshener TFRESH; a daycare-finding platform for parents called KINDR; and, lastly, PRforALL, a global B2B platform that increases PR coverage for public relations firms and their clients through targeted media inquiries in real time.

These companies were selected from two dozen applicants associated with Tel Aviv University’s School of Management. And the leading criterion, Dorfman said, was how dynamic the team’s leadership proved to be.

“In entrepreneurial work, ideas change all the time,” he said. “We look for a team that is committed, that is working well together and is able to meet the challenges that they are going to face cohesively.”

Which means, Dorfman explained, quickly studying the United States marketplace and everything from legal and financial basics to cultural and design frameworks. To that end, each of the teams will leave with their ideas pitch-ready to a customer or an investor, a goal that will be tested at a September 15 Chicago showcase during which all the start-ups will be asked to present their work to the public.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to entrepreneurs and start-ups, success can be measured,” Dorfman said. “If in two weeks we can speed them up by six-to-eight months in terms of what they have to learn the hard way, to us that is a success.”

Gretchen Rachel Hammond is an award-winning journalist and a full-time writer for Tablet Magazine.