By Gwen Ackerman
Marina Orenstein was used to being alone in the ladies room while serving in the Israeli army’s 8200 intelligence corps, the vaunted unit that has spawned countless technology startups including Check Point Software Technologies.
Now a mother of two, Orenstein, 31, has found a place where she can collaborate with other ambitious and technical-minded women. She’s one of about 100 graduates of Google’s Campus for Moms, a nine-week educational program aimed at encouraging Israeli women to become entrepreneurs.
“I read in the news about all my friends building startups,” Orenstein said of her fellow army recruits. “I said to myself, ‘Why not try it?'”
Women are underrepresented in technology, and Israel’s industry is no exception. Nurturing the country’s startups and positioning them as leaders are among the government’s priorities. With technology making up about half Israel’s industrial exports, the future of the industry has been a primary talking point for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on recent trips abroad. The Israeli leader was in Silicon Valley this week to visit tech companies including Apple.
But it’s the iPhone maker’s rival that’s helping to empower Israeli businesswomen through a unique program. Google created a space in Tel Aviv for those on maternity leave to network and develop their ventures with babies in tow. Google’s Campus for Moms was the brainchild of Tal Sarig Avraham, a product marketing manager at the search giant, and Hila Brenner, an entrepreneur and founder of the women’s entrepreneurial group Yazamiyot.
“The situation in Israel is much worse than in other places in the world. We are behind in a lot of things, in particular in women entrepreneurship,” said Brenner. “The culture hasn’t really matured into allowing women to work long hours and take risks, and you don’t get help as far as raising kids and doing housework as much as in other places.”
Orenstein’s startup, called BeautyBooker, makes a website and mobile app for scheduling visits to beauty parlors and spas. The software aims to let customers book appointments around the clock, and help small businesses keep track of their schedules and cut costs. She said her classmates in Google’s Campus for Moms gave her the confidence to start her own business.
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