Sharon Paz and Tzvika Markfeld showing President Peres how to use Action Painter. Photo by Mark Neiman/GPO
He didn’t get a “Noogle” propeller beanie – the funny hat awarded to new Googlers with promising tech ideas – but Israeli President Shimon Peres was on hand in late August for the launch of Code Lab at Google Israel’s ultra-hip eight-story headquarters in Tel Aviv’s Electra Tower.
If he has a great idea for mobile gaming, the nonagenarian president could, however, become a Noogler at Code Lab — a brainstorming workshop for mobile game developers. It is part of Campus TLV Google Israel’s shared startup space, which has hosted 73 startups in less than a year, as well as events, workshops, lectures and hackathons for a broad range of Israeli individuals and organizations.
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“We have senior citizens coming with their ideas, we have kids from the age of nine, we have women from our new Campus for Moms program, we have Orthodox Jews, we have Arab-Israelis,” said Google Israel Developer Relations Program Manager Amir Shevat.
“They can come for one day and we give them the right mentorship to help with their ideas for devices or apps. Usually we work with them for a week to 10 days.”
Visiting corporate geeks from Google’s Android Games and YouTube divisions in Silicon Valley explained that Code Lab teaches innovators of mobile games and video products how Google technology can make their ideas pop. Other Code Labs opened earlier the same month in the Czech Republic and the UK.
“We came here so we could meet all the amazing, amazing [Israeli] product innovators and build relationships with them,” said Daniel Dobson, a senior Android Games team member.
Ikai Lan of Google’s YouTube division said he was excited to introduce Israeli entrepreneurs to new platforms. “I get the best questions from Israeli developers. And that helps us back at Google to figure out what we need to do to help developers.”
Keyboard for the blind, tech classes for moms
Meir Brand, managing director of Google Israel, Greece and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Yossi Matias, managing director of Google’s R&D Center in Haifa, gave Peres an overview of the newest developments at Campus TLV, opened in December 2012 by Google for Entrepreneurs.
Google Campus for Moms, launched in July 2013, is a nine-session “baby-friendly” tech entrepreneurship course led by Google and Yazamiyot, an Israeli female entrepreneurship organization. The idea is to create a local hub of female leaders and provide the content and space for learning and networking among young mothers – who are welcome to attend with their babies.
The president tried his hand at UpSense, an intuitive touch keyboard for people with visual disabilities, devised by father-and-son team Ben-Zion and Nissan Yaron through their startup company Inpris. Inpris was founded in 2011 and was one of eight foreign companies selected to participate in Google’s Blackbox Connect two-week immersion program last summer.
Peres also got a tutorial in Action Painter, an Android virtual painting app by Sharon Paz and Tzvika Markfeld; and watched the antics of Eyal Hershko’s little robots controlled by Android smartphones.
During his visit, he chatted with additional Campus TLV innovators such as the team behind Veed.Me, an online platform connecting businesses with a screened community of videographers.
Try, try again
“A few years ago, you had to work very hard to develop your product yourself, while we [at Google] have a platform and technology that will help you to develop the game or app and distribute it to your audience,” said Shevat.
Peres asked how many of the ideas incubated at Campus TLV come to fruition.
“I would say about seven percent make it through the first year,” replied Shevat. “And getting proper investment, that’s much less. But those who become very successful compensate for all those thousands of ideas that did not make it. We see it as a natural selection.”
Lan pointed out that the successful startups often hire talented people from the startups that did not get off the drawing board.
“Not only that, but people who have an idea can experiment, trying it again and again until they get it right,” said Shevat. “The key for Campus TLV is not choosing startups but making the entrepreneurs better. You can have three or four ideas that are not very successful, but you learn from them and then you create something very successful in the end.”
Before addressing all 300-plus Google Israel employees – including the R&D team from Haifa – Peres finished his visit to Google headquarters by pedaling the Google Street View tricycle, a camera-mounted contraption used to map out terrain inaccessible by car.
Earlier this year, Peres had visited Google’s Global Center in Silicon Valley, where founder Sergey Brin introduced him to Google Earth and a driver-less car.