Fadi Swidan has been Director since April 2015 of the Nazareth-based MAOF Business Incubator and Hybrid Accelerator (the latter of which he also founded).
SII: Please briefly describe your work:
FS: The MAOF incubator and the Hybrid Accelerator are governmental projects, budgeted by the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Equality with the mission of encouraging tech entrepreneurship in Arab society. As part of that we support start-ups with at least one Arab co-founder, through the Hybrid accelerator and scale-up program, do a lot of “awareness raising” events and meetups throughout all of Israel, and – perhaps most important – actively engage and connect Arab entrepreneurs with the ecosystem already working in Tel Aviv. We call it “Hybrid” because on the one hand we are encouraging start-ups with joint founders (Arab and Jewish), and on the other hand we aim to be in Nazareth (or any other Arab village or city of entrepreneurs) and Tel-Aviv at the same time.
Since 2012, we made a lot of changes and pivots to achieve our vision and goals, they all came together because of the challenges and obstacles we were facing; the more we endeavored, the more they made themselves clear. One major challenge was to gain the trust of the finance industry to invest in startups with Arab CEOs; that took me to the step of trying to bring one of the main players in the hi-tech ecosystem to join the project – the 8200 [elite IDF intel unit – SII] veterans NGO. The 8200 NGO accepted the challenge, participated in the governmental tender and won. I believe that this step was one of the most important changes.
Despite objections we faced at that time, we decided to ignore the opposing voices from both sides and concentrate on doing what we believe is the right thing: launch startups and bring them as fast as possible to the market, that is to have success stories. The concept behind the joint venture was simple: if we are really willing to effect change, let’s start with ourselves and manage the project by Arabs and Jews, while bringing one of the main players at the Israeli eco-system to share his experiences, networks and business knowhow. Nevertheless, to have the 8200 NGO stamp made it much easier to integrate and engage the startups with the mainstream.
SII: Name three principle values that you associate with your work?
FS: 1. Bridging the gap of families living at or under the poverty line between the two communities by facilitating new opportunities to the Israeli periphery and Arab society, such as creating qualified hi-tech jobs for Arab academics and engineers.
2. Real and active engagement for Arab entrepreneurs with the mainstream and the tech industry.
3. Integration and inclusion: joint co-founder startups, that is: to have an Arab co-founder and a Jewish co-founder working together to bring cutting-edge technology to the world.
SII: What particularly motivates you to make a difference?
FS: The new start-ups born to overcome the challenges and obstacles and see them grow and scale. Raise game-changers and new role models.
SII: What positive impact do you see emerging through your activity?
FS: 1. Effecting change in the mindset and prejudgments in Arab and Jewish communities.
2. Building new bridges between the two communities.
3. Creating jobs: since 2012, we launched, supported and helped more than 80 startups, ensuring more than $150M (grants, investments and CL), and creating more than 400 new jobs.
SII: Where are you headed in the future?
FS: Well, I am looking forward to the appropriate time to “close” the project – when the hi-tech industry and the two communities will no longer need such projects and the goal will be accomplished naturally. Meanwhile, I am making an effort to establish a double bottom-line micro VC – social-impact and for profit – designed to invest in joint co-founder start-ups at the seed stage to catalyst their growth and provide incentive for such model.
SII: What else would you like to share?
FS: The hi-tech industry has a very unique language and terminology; it is all about innovation, penetrating new markets, exits, and solving big world-wide problems. These features make it much more open for collaborations, partnerships, flexibility and accepting the other.
One story that I love to share is Mindolife startup story. The startup has 4 co-founders, two Arab software engineers and two Jews (one from the 8200 veterans NGO and the other from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.). They established the startup back in 2014, worked very hard to develop a unique cyber platform for energy control, and signed a huge sales contract (validated $20M) with the giant Indian company SAR Group.
More about Fadi Swidan:
Co-Founder and Co-Organizer, Nazareth Accelerator, November 2013
Director, Nazareth Business Incubator Center, Nazareth Business Incubator, November 2011
Founder and owner, MMH company, April 2005