By Gil Ben-Artzy
It’s crazy for me to think that we launched UpWest Labs only 18 months ago, and that we’re already accepting applications for our sixth session. We’ve been fortunate to have invested in and to have supported 28 Israeli startups. All 70+ of our entrepreneurs have spent three months in Silicon Valley during “Phase One” of our program, followed by many months of ongoing engagement, and are now lifelong members of our alumni community that help each other throughout their journey.
When we started UpWest Labs, Shuly Galili and I shared a common vision: leveling the playing field for Israeli entrepreneurs. We saw that for startups targeting the US market, being half a globe away – regardless of fundraising status – often inhibits their growth, enabling US competitors to gain traction through easier access to customers and distribution channels. We fundamentally believed that getting to product/market fit by onboarding customers in the target market was a critical missing piece, one that would significantly increase the chances of Israeli startups succeeding. Gaining that all-important momentum would be our program’s main focus.
So just like our UpWest Labs entrepreneurs, we had a vision we strongly believed in, but had to fundraise. We had two choices. The first was to spend 12-18 months focused on fundraising, dealing with tough questions about our ability to invest, how well we work together, etc. The second option was to do what we tell all of our entrepreneurs to do: build the product, drive momentum, show impact, and only then fundraise.
Choosing the second option enabled us to move quickly. We bootstrapped and invested our own money, built the infrastructure and program, met with ~200 Israeli startups, recruited Yael Winer to lead our operations, and brought the first group of startups to Palo Alto – all in less than 6 months from quitting our previous jobs. Investors began showing up, and invested in both the startups and our fund. They shared our vision and wanted to have a stake in all the startups that came through our program. Seeing us in action made all the difference in the world.
More importantly, through this process we were extremely fortunate to add Liron Petrushka not only as an investor in our fund, but also as a Partner in UpWest Labs. As a successful 3-time entrepreneur and an active angel investor, he complements our skillset and adds tremendous value to the startups. We could not have wished for a better Partner.
This fundraising experience really helped sharpen our own fundraising skills, and together with the large investor network we’ve accumulated, it helped us become better advisors to our own program graduates – with most of them going on to raise additional funding themselves, both in Israel and the US.
We hope that similar to us, our startups’ investment process will ultimately make them a stronger team, not just due to the funding they obtain, but also because of the relationships they form and the new people that join and mentor them.
[Originally posted on Start-Up Stadium]