Alon Moss, 19 from Sydney, Australia, and Ilan Lewis 18, from Brighton, England, are participants on Aardvark Israel Programs. Aardvark Israel is Masa Israel gap year program for Jewish students from around the world. One of the ways participants customize their experience on the program is by selecting from a wide variety of volunteering and internship opportunities set up by Aardvark.
Alon and Ilan intern for StarTAU, a non-profit organization which aims to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and the industries they hope to work in by providing educational resources. Alon works for the education department, while Ilan works for the international department. Near the end of March, they attended the first Israel food waste hackathon in Tel Aviv, which was sponsored by three main partners: StarTAU, Unilever, and the Ministry of Agriculture.
At the event, Alon and Ilan were sitting at the back of the room until they were asked to participate by their director. The two students were in competition with a room full of over eighty experts from various fields, the majority of whom, had a minimum of twenty years’ experience in their respective industries. They were rejected twice for collaboration—because they were students—until finally another competitor was willing to join Alon and Ilan’s team.
As the competition began, their team chose to address the challenge presented by the Ministry of Agriculture—to help reduce Israel's food surplus of A & B grade produce. Cucumbers are one of the vegetables that has a high surplus. In Israel, over 310 million cucumbers (31,000 tons) go to waste each year. From this knowledge sprung Alon and Ilan’s idea to use cucumbers in cosmetic products. As the competition progressed, more and more mentors, whose assistance is a part of the process, were impressed by their idea and offered their expertise; from Procter and Gamble representatives to web developers, a wide range of mentors were willing to sit with the students and ask how they could help.
The outcome was Neshama. The Neshama company’s aim is to reduce Israeli’s cucumber surplus by taking cucumbers and drying them out for a powder to be used in cosmetic products, such as facial creams. Neshama would then produce cosmetics and sell through stores.
On Thursday afternoon— only a couple of hours before the completion—they altered their business plan: Instead of being in control of the whole manufacturing process, they would just focus on producing the cucumber powder, which would then be sold to cosmetic companies. Alon (founder & CEO) and Ilan (co-founder & CMO), then pitched their idea to the judges. Out of sixteen teams, who all pitched their ideas in Hebrew, Alon and Ilan were the only ones to pitch in English; while this would appear to be a disadvantage, they like to think perhaps their accents actually played a part in their success.
As the judges revealed the winners, they were stunned; everyone in the room had to tell them to go on stage—as students, they weren’t even expecting to be taken seriously, let alone actually win the two million shekel prize. “Surreal” is how they described it.
Now, their team is growing from the original three founders. Two additional members will be joining them on the Elite Launch, an exclusive accelerator course offered by StarTAU for the winners of the competition. Alon and Ilan are eager to make strides in the accelerator course, and thrilled that Aardvark provided them such an exciting opportunity with Star TAU.