CITI Partnership

CITI Employees Creating Pathways To a Brighter Future

By Guy Spigelman, CEO, PresenTense Israel

Through support from the Citi Foundation, PresenTense Israel, an organization that promotes inclusive and impactful entrepreneurship, has launched “Made in Jaffa”, and “LEAP Haifa”, programs that are helping youth and young adults from the minority Arab population launch and grow startups.

CITI employees together with the team from Innosphere – the winning startup of the LEAP Haifa Accelerator (Photo credit – Shani Halevi)

Part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathway to Progress initiative, which helps young people to build entrepreneurial mind-sets, these programs are working to improve recent findings that only 1.4% of employees at tech companies in Israel stem from the Arab community – despite Arabs making up 21% of the Israeli population.

Crucial to the success of the programs has been the contribution of Citi employees from the Tel Aviv office as mentors, subject matter experts and advisors.

At PresenTense we believe that budding entrepreneurs require three things: time before money, practical tools, and a supportive community. Citi employees were a key part of the supportive community, and contributed greatly to skill building of the entrepreneurs of LEAP Haifa and Made in Jaffa.

The two programs are unique to one another but complementary in addressing the youth unemployment issue in Israel. LEAP Haifa is an accelerator for technology start-ups led by Arab entrepreneurs that have already made some progress, but looking to scale to the next stage – to make the “LEAP”. During this year’s cycle, we worked with 5 start-ups in varying fields like medical technology, wastewater treatment, and the Internet of Things.

Over the course of the program the startups needed some guidance in approaching venture capital funds. Sagit Lampert, the Public Affairs Officer at Citi Israel connected the entrepreneurs to Tomer Zitelny, an analyst in the investment bank.

I asked Tomer Zitelny about his experience:

“There were a few special things about the experience – the first was that it was a win-win for everyone. We were able to support the startups  with  their business plan , business model, building their story, route-to-market, and expanding their network. I think Citi also benefited from it, we were able to show demonstrate  our core values like social responsibility and diversity – particularly assisting Israel’s Arab minority. For the individuals within Citi it has huge benefit. I was fortunate to be able to participate and  share my skills, which was very fulfilling and I got to learn about their culture. A real win-win for everyone. I shared the experience with colleagues in the investment bank inside Israel and people outside the bank – it made me proud to be part of Citi.”

According to LEAP Haifa participant Rami Shacour, CEO of Innosphere, a startup that is developing innovative therapy for Attention Deficit Disorder, Tomer’s contribution was invaluable: “We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to get support from Tomer and his colleagues. They are super intelligent people, who from the very first meeting understood us as people, and our needs as a company. A few days after the first meeting, they sent us our company presentation that serves as the base presentation for all our meetings with investors and key stakeholders. They also assisted us in developing the business model. Even though the program has officially ended, Tomer and other members of the team are always open for us to approach them to get some tips and guidance. We are so, so grateful. I think Tomer and the team enjoyed working with us, we provided them an exciting challenge outside their regular activities.”

Haytham Gannam, Relationship Associate Citi Bank Israeli, Corporate Banking, is the first Arab employee of Citi in Israel, and is thrilled to be involved in both LEAP Haifa and Made in Jaffa. Haytham represents Citi on the steering committee of both projects. Other members of the steering committee include professionals from venture capital firms, city council officials, and local community leaders.

I asked Haytham about his involvement:

“I am involved in the steering committee of both LEAP Haifa and Made in Jaffa. On the steering committee we met with candidates for the accelerators – and we had the difficult task of trying to select the best candidates. Eventually we chose 5 companies for the Haifa program, and 10 companies for the Jaffa program”

This was a fantastic experience; firstly as someone that comes from the Arab minority in Israel, it was great to be involved with this project. I was amazed by the incredible ideas and energy and capacity that were displayed by the entrepreneurs, I really didn’t know we had this in our community.”

“We are just scratching the surface – there is so much more we can do – as there are so many others out there that we can help and provide a stage for.

It made me feel really proud to work at Citi, that we are contributing back to the community – I talked about the program and the start-ups with colleagues at coffee breaks – and many others now want to also get involved.”

On the final event for LEAP Haifa in May, Haytham was asked to represent Citi and say a few words – in the audience were two classes from grade 11 from Arab schools. “When I was at school we were not exposed to these type of things – to show the kids that they have these type of opportunities is incredible.”

From the perspective of the NGO managing the programs, the partnership with the Citi Foundation has been very strategic – obviously the funding is important, but beyond this, the added value that Citi team members provide our beneficiaries and us cannot be appreciated enough.

The Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative is committed to supporting young people develop important entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Pathways to Progress was expanded beyond the U.S. earlier this year with a $100 million investment to impact the lives of 500,000 young people around the world by 2020.

See some highlights from LEAP Haifa on YouTube here.

From left) Haytham Gannam and Tomer Zitelny from CITI Israel talking with Gilad Horn, from Agrobics – one of the LEAP Haifa StartUps (Photo credit – Shani Halevi)

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