Koret Foundation paves the way for free enterprise in Israel

Eran Schachri of Kibbutz Hagoshrim in Israel bought new repair equipment for his auto shop with the help of a loan from KIEDF.The San Francisco-based Koret Foundation sponsors a host of causes in its local area, but its most ambitious …

Eran Schachri of Kibbutz Hagoshrim in Israel bought new repair equipment for his auto shop with the help of a loan from KIEDF.The San Francisco-based Koret Foundation sponsors a host of causes in its local area, but its most ambitious outreach is across the ocean to aid free enterprise in Israel with its Koret Israel Economic Development Funds.



The program, in partnership with Israel’s Bank Otzar Hahayal, provides loans and loan guarantees so that entrepreneurs can receive funding from Israeli banks to establish and expand small businesses. The program is targeted particularly at recent immigrants to Israel, those who have been recently unemployed and members of the Israel Defense Forces who are retiring.



Joseph and Stephanie Koret, who were born in Eastern Europe and immigrated to San Francisco in the early 1900s started the Koret Foundation in 1979. The couple founded a women’s wear company called Koret of California in 1938, which pioneered an innovative method of keeping clothes wrinkle-free and originated the idea of color-coordinated skirts and blouses.



The sale of the company in 1979 to San Francisco’s Levi Strauss & Co. and other investments became the endowment for the foundation. It now has assets of more than $300 million and has awarded more than $200 million in grants in its 23-year existence.



Since KIEDF began in 1994, it has distributed $50 million in financing and $8 million in loan guarantees, said Sandy Edwards, director of grants for the foundation. The financing has helped more than 1,200 new and expanding small Israeli businesses and has strengthened Israel’s private job sector.



“In order to establish our company, we presented our business plans and requested a loan to renovate our premises, purchase office equipment, a computer, initial inventory and a commercial vehicle,” said Yoram Dickman, founder of Steritech of Nes Tziona, Israel, a company that imports and distributes clothing and cleaning material to high-tech companies that use sterile rooms. KIEDF gave us a loan and we were able to commence operations.”



Yaakov Skorik, who moved to Israel from the Ukraine in 1994, was one of the founders of Salatei Amim, based in Ashdod, Israel, that produces a wide range of salad products. Skorik first heard about of KIEDF through his financial adviser at Mati, the Center for Encouraging Entrepreneurship. “I heard that the fund provided financing on better terms than what was offered at a bank,” Skorik said.



Financing received through KIEDF enabled Skorik to expand the company’s operations and increase its production. Today Salatei Amim employs 13 workers. “The connection with KIEDF was excellent. If and when we need additional financing we will not hesitate to turn to them again,” he said.



Ofer Barmor, founder of the Oferim Dairy in Kfar Yeheziel, twice turned to KIEDF with requests for small loans. The dairy, based on output of the Barmor family’s sheep herd, was founded 31/2 years ago. The KIEDF funding enabled Barmor to purchase a cooling truck and additional production equipment. “They were just fine,” Barmor said, recalling his connection with Fund officers. Oferim Dairy, which now employs five workers, is expanding its line of cheeses and has begun baking specialty breads as well.



With the aid of KIEDF funding, recent immigrant Veronica Zinnenberg was able to begin marketing her pastry products at outlets of the Cookie Land Bakery in Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. A KIEDF loan enabled Oded Bakar and Lior Berkovitz to expand Green Fields, their landscaping and garden projects company located in Lahavim. And Eran Schachri of Kibbutz Hagoshrim was able to purchase modern equipment and additional inventory for his Big Auto Service vehicle repair company.



Koret also sponsors a microcredit program for women entrepreneurs in Haifa, Israel. The program begins with training in developing a small business and a business plan. The women in the program then receive guaranteed loans of between $1,000 and $5,000 to get their small businesses started.



Edwards said applications for the larger small business program are up 100 percent this year, in part due to Israel’s rising unemployment situation. The fund’s program for 2002 also calls for the initiation of a small business economic development program in the Israeli Arab community.



Besides its programs in Israel, Koret is especially active in supporting education at all levels in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a long list of charities benefiting the homeless and needy. It also provides support for Bay Area arts and culture organizations, including the San Francisco Opera Association, the San Francisco Symphony, the American Conservatory Theater, and many others.