Meet the entrepreneur pledging to build a start-up for every victim of 7 October

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Meet the entrepreneur pledging to build a start-up for every victim of 7 October

Israeli tech veteran Izhar Shay has set in motion a unique project to honour his son and the 1,119 others who were killed during the Hamas massacre

Entrepreneur Izhar Shay with Yaron, Yaron, Yaron's brother Ophir and mum Hilla
Entrepreneur Izhar Shay with Yaron, Yaron, Yaron's brother Ophir and mum Hilla

When prominent tech entrepreneur Izhar Shay finds himself awake in the crazy hours of the night, he messages fellow high-tech veteran Eyal Waldman, who is also awake. 

The two of them are bound by bereavement. Izhar’s son Yaron, 21, was killed protecting civilians at the Israel/Gaza border on 7 October when Hamas terrorists attacked, around the same time Eyal’s daughter Danielle, 24, was murdered at the nature party near Kibbutz Re’im, in what was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Around 1,200 innocent Israelis were murdered. Hundreds were taken hostage. A huge number of people are left grieving. A countless number unable to sleep.

But Izhar is determined to make sure that Yaron, Danielle and the thousands of other innocent civilians and soldiers who lost their lives that catastrophic day did not do so in vain.

The former Minister of Science and Technology has pledged to create 1,200 new start-ups, each one bearing the name of someone who was killed. Each one “to make the world a better place.”

Yaron Shay was killed on 7 October, aged 21

He is asking the global tech community to help him with his project, named Next October, which stands for hope, resilience and optimism. Around 150 companies, including Meta, OurCrowd and Pitango, have already been confirmed as partners.

Izhar and his son Ophir – Yaron’s older brother – are coming to London, to present the initiative to a selection of business managers and leading investors at the Restart Il. Economy London summit held in cooperation with the Israeli embassy, Economic Office and
UK Israel Business.

The summit – on December 14, one day after what would have been Yaron’s 22nd birthday – will unite economic, investment and technology leaders, led by Professor Amir Yaron, governor of the Bank of Israel.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about the right way to deal with the atrocities,” says Izhar. “My wish is to create as many start-ups as people who lost their lives; soldiers, civilians, tortured babies and women, and for all those who had to endure the monsters that came after them. On the military front, we will destroy Hamas but the best way to fight terrorism is to build a better world.”

He wants to develop ‘tech-for-good’ solutions for agriculture, sustainability, healthcare, life-saving devices for children, assistive medical solutions and more.

“Just think what an impact all these start-ups will have, and globally. They will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, contributing to the workforce, the overall economy and making for a better world.”

Izhar and Yaron at a family function earlier this year

Izhar and Eyal, both luminaries of the high-tech sector, have been brought together in, as Izhar puts it, “a tragic partnership of fate”.

He explains: “Eyal and I have known each other for years – we both come from the tech ecosystem. We were always in touch, but fate brought us together in an ironic way. Now the nights are sleepless so often that Eyal and I will find each other awake at crazy hours and talk.”

On the morning of Yaron’s funeral, Eyal wrote to Izhar: ‘‘My brother, what happened to you hurts me, I want to come to the funeral but I’m looking for my daughter who is missing.”

“I told him: ‘Of course, go and look for your daughter, let’s hope for good news.’ Then I saw the news that his daughter had died. I cried terribly.”

When Izhar saw the date of her funeral, he sent Eyal this message: ‘’I’m at Yaron’s shiva, but I’ll try to make it.” Eyal replied: “Don’t worry about attending the funeral, we’ll see each other soon
and do good things together.”

Izhar recalls: “After our shiva, Hilla and I went to his shiva. It was surreal – we had just finished sitting shiva for our son in order to comfort a friend who was sitting shiva for his daughter.”

Yaron with his siblings Ophir, Shir and Lior during a family trip to Greece in 2019

Before October 7, the Shay family was having a celebratory year. Izhar’s wife Hilla was marking five years free from breast cancer, the couple were celebrating their 60th birthdays and the birth of their first grandchild, and their son Lior had just got married – he had been called back early from honeymoon in Argentina to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). He was on the plane when his brother died.

Their beloved ‘Noni’, as he was affectionately known, was stationed on the southern Gaza border with his specialist Nahal Commander unit. In a chilling twist of irony, their mission had been to keep the peace in the area so civilians on both sides could go about their lives. They were looking after Kibbutz Kerem Shalom.

“Military-wise, it was a very successful mission,” reflects Izhar. “The kibbutz was not conquered by the enemy, the people suffered minimal casualties and all the female soldiers were saved without any physical injury. It was an extremely heroic unit.”

Yaron was taken out of the area by helicopter, but died on his way to
the hospital.

The youngest of Izhar and Hilla’s four children, Yaron was, as Izhar softly shares with me, “handsome and beautiful with bright blue eyes and an exceptional sense of humour – he loved comedy and was always making his friends laugh. Yet he was shy and modest”.

A “natural leader”, he worked his way up in the Israeli scouts, where he became a counsellor leading dozens of children. During his gap year, he volunteered as a mentor for socially and economically challenged children in south Tel Aviv. Many have contacted the family since his death.

The agonising sorrow is still visibly raw for Izhar as he tells me about his “beautiful boy”, of whom he is so obviously proud.

“He excelled in the army. Not because he was the strongest, but because he gave it his all. He was the one to take off the storm suit in the pouring rain and give it to someone else when he saw theirs break at the end of a gruelling course.

“His brothers said he was the most successful, talented and beautiful, not from jealousy, but as a matter of fact.
Of course this made him laugh, but he heard that all his life, and I’m so happy about that.”

Yaron’s 91 year-old grandfather Yeshaiau putting flowers on his grave at the funeral on 10 October

Yaron loved all types of music. “When we got his phone back, one of the things we did was check his recent Spotify playlist – it was a real mix of
old and new.

“He played piano for 11 years, and when he started playing, we would stop and listen. I played for a year when I was eight, but sometimes he would ask me to join in. We sat shoulder to shoulder, playing, among other things, Hallelujah [by Leonard Cohen]. I would get emotional. It was clear I was winging it, but he adjusted himself to my rhythm so as not to embarrass me. These are moments that connected us.”

Yaron and Mika, his girlfriend of over four years

Yaron’s other love was sport, particularly football. He had dreams of being a coach and supported both Hapoel Tel Aviv and the UK’s Cardiff City. “He knew the names of all the Premier League players and coaches and would follow Hapoel Tel Aviv around the world.” Hundreds turned up to Yaron’s funeral wearing the Israeli side’s red kit and colours.

Some two months on, and Izhar is “fully committed to the start-ups. We are building the infrastructure for it now and have been approaching investors – a number of organisations are already engaged. We will push this forward, connecting investors with entrepreneurs and giving back to communities to make sure every baby, every soldier, every lost person has a company as their legacy.”

Yaron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a training site in the Golan Heights

Izhar hopes each start-up named in memory will be committed to activities that commemorate that person. What might Yaron’s be? “Something related to sports or music tech. That would be his passion and I’m sure he would have been a very successful CEO,” he says.

Izhar is confident that 600 of the start-ups will happen within the year,  and all 1,200 within two.

“And I have this vision, that when one of these companies goes public and the CEO rings that iconic bell on the Nasdaq, they will do so with the bereaved family and an image of the person they lost will be displayed.

“This will be the real win. Hamas came after us and tried to destroy us and this is our sign of victory – building a better world. This is the best way to
fight terrorism.” 



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