(This post first appeared in Jewish Business News.)
Meirav Oren is one of the women behind Israel’s Startup Nation. A mother, a long time professional, a military veteran and an entrepreneur, Meirav has started a new high tech company.
She is the co-founder and CEO of Versatile Ventures. The new Israeli startup is developing the technology to bring the Internet of Things to construction sites. Specifically, it will allow for the integration of construction cranes with a central server to ensure greater efficiency in their use.
A resident of Moshav Taoz near the Latrun junction on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway, Meirav is married with two children.
Meirav was an officer in the Israeli Air Force where she finished her service as a First Lieutenant. No she was not a pilot. She was the operations officer for an F-16 squadron. As such, she commanded the team of specialists who managed the flights in terms of which missions and training would be done on a given day, as well as who gets to fly and in which team.
And Meirav could tell the pilots what to do if there was a problem on the ground or in the air. How cool is that?
As an officer, Meirav needed to serve in the reserves as well, unlike most women. This continued until the birth of her first child six years ago.
Not impressive enough for you?
Well Meirav Oren also has three different higher diplomas. She has a B.A. in Economics and Management from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, an L.LM in law from Bar Ilan University, and an MBA from Tel Aviv University.
She also worked for Intel for ten years where she became a business operations manager. All of these experiences have given Meirav Oren, now in her thirties, the tools to be a successful entrepreneur today.
“I never planned to stay at Intel so long,” Meirav explains. “But it just worked out for me. I got promoted and great work experience, but it was not the career path that I wanted.”
Meirav also once helped to found a new democratic school in Israel. This is a school where the students have a say in the curriculum.
So why construction cranes?
Construction and cranes are usually associated with boys. They like to play with blocks and Legos building things as high as possible. Anyone remember playing with Tonka Toys when they were a kid?
Well Meirav grew up around them. Her father was a contractor and she spent time hanging out on construction sites since she was young enough to remember. Her brother currently works as a project manager for a construction company.
What exactly does Versatile Natures do?
Basically it is a data mining platform helping field construction managers and their headquarters build faster and safer with better cost & efficiency, using the crane as an IoT data provider. It does so by utilizing advanced process control methodologies.
The new company boasts that by connecting any crane to the Internet, it can collect and analyze data to provide construction sites with real time actions, insights and alerts creating over $1 million in potential direct savings per site.
The platform will automatically load all the relevant data about every project onto a database. With the help of cloud computing the cranes will be integrated to a system which will monitor their every move and deal with any inefficiencies.
So why is this necessary?
Well where we all look at huge cranes in operation on urban construction sites in awe and see something amazing, Meirav sees a problem. That problem is waste.
“If you ask any construction manager what it will take to build faster and more efficiently he will say that it’s another crane,” she said. “But this is a mistake. They all believe that their cranes are being utilized at 80 or 100 percent efficiency. But is really more like 30 to 50 percent. Bottlenecks are always a problem.”
Meirav cannot stand to see piles of materials like cement and building girders lying around a construction site since she knows that they could have already been put into place.
Versatile Natures was founded in February of this year by Meirav and her partner Dan Shelly, the company’s CTO. He previously worked for Checkpoint and is responsible for programming the system.
There is a third co-founder who wishes to remain anonymous. They applied for a place in the MassChallenge’s first ever Israeli accelerator program and were accepted. Only 48 out of more than 500 startups were admitted to the program.
With its Israel offices located in an old building right next door to Jerusalem’s famed outdoor Mahane Yehuda market, MassChallenge offers its participants a wide range of benefits to help them get their ideas off the ground.
In addition to free office space, they get mentoring from professionals. The startups’ founders’ also get help in preparing their business pitches. And access to a global network of MassChallenge partners and supporters.
The company moved into its space in the partially renovated former school building back in July. Interestingly, it is surrounded by the ever continuing building in downtown Jerusalem and high cranes can be seen opposite its entrance.
Of the 48 companies in MassChallenge Israel, 10 made it to the final round. A ceremony was held on November 9 at the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus to honor all the finalists and their founders each gave two minute presentations. Five received cash awards.
Two companies won 300,000 NIS awards ($80,000) and three were awarded 125,000 NIS ($33,000). Versatile Natures was one of those three.
Meirav did not know that her company would win a cash award. The accelerator gives the funds away without any conditions. MassChallenge takes no equity in the startups and none of them are required to ever refund the awards no matter how successful they may become.
She was, of course happy about winning though. “It was never about the money,” she says. “It was about advancing my company, using the resources that MassChallenge was gracious enough to give us.”
So why was she more successful in the MassChallenge than 43 other startups who won no awards?
“It was about working. About engaging with the program. I had a plan,” she says. “I truly believe all finalists are as worthy and will make an impact on our world.”
The winners were picked by teams of judges who gave each participant scores based on a number of factors. The judges were not employees of MassChallenge. They were industry leaders, VCs, executives, lawyers, accountants and more.
So what’s next?
Versatile Natures is looking to raise $2 million in seed funding in the next few months. It will use those funds to continue developing the company.
Meirav hopes to bring in interns and have more employees in total. The basic code for the system is already in place and they already have three working devices. Versatile Natures is conducting beta testing with Tidhar Construction.
Once the $2 million is raised, they hope to get the product to the market within 12 to 18 months.
Meirav had a few things to say about what it is like for a woman entrepreneur to try and make it in the world of high tech.
“I see being a woman in this male dominated industry as a source for pride, a challenge to be met and as a real opportunity to make an impact.”
“We need more female entrepreneurs and the only way this will happen is if we give the right example to the next generation while inspiring others in our generation to join as they see more success stories and realize they can do this too!”
Meirav hopes to one day be a mentor and help young female entrepreneurs make it to the top