Women powering Israeli innovation: Cynthia Phitoussi

The following feature is part of a series of posts highlighting the stories of entrepreneurial women in the Israeli start-up scene. Find out what they believe it takes to get ahead in the largely male-dominated industry, the various challenges their companies face, and hurdles they’ve overcome.

Successful female entrepreneur, Cynthia Phitoussi, is the Co-Founder of SeedIL, an exclusive investment club that provides opportunities to investors around the world, seeking to invest in the Israeli start-up economy.

Ms. Phitoussi has accumulated vast entrepreneurial experience investing in a diverse array of Israeli start-ups, including Sweetch, Curediva, Invoice Cycle and more. Ms. Phitoussi is a graduate of France’s Ecole Superieure du Commerce Exterieur, and received her MBA from University Paris V in internal auditing. Cynthia shared her inspirational story and insights with us.

Tell us a little bit about your company.

Together with another female entrepreneur, Audrey Chocron, I decided to found SeedIL, an international investment club that bridges the gap between the most promising Israeli start-ups on one side, and sophisticated private investors around the world on the other side.

We started SeedIL in early 2014, following our first not-for-profit start-up experience working with one of the first accelerator programs in Israel at the time, TheHive, by Gvahim. This experience gave us the will to do more for the [Israeli] ecosystem. Meeting so many brilliant entrepreneurs in Israel became contagious, and that is how it all started. Today, SeedIL counts over 50 business angels from all around the world. We make seed stage investments and join a lead investor.

What are the biggest challenges your company faces?

As time goes on, we become more and more picky in selecting the start-ups to present to SeedIL investors. We have to be extremely proactive in the ecosystem to bring as much relevant deal flow as possible and extract the very best. This requires continuous efforts and networking. We originally thought the main challenge would be to find the funds, but eventually, it turned out that funds are always there for good deals.

Patience is also a challenging part of our job. Our business model is very much oriented toward the start-ups’ success, and we all know that takes time. In the meantime, we have to keep up the passion and enthusiasm, and continue investing.

Another challenge as women and new immigrants to Israel is to make ourselves as recognised as any other investment group in the country. We too often show up at events where there are no more than 2% to 5% of women. Being outgoing and networking with only men can be quite challenging, but we have learned how to do that with time!

What from your background helps you in your journey as an entrepreneur?

My background helps me in all aspects. I graduated from a French business school and have a Master’s degree in Auditing from University Paris V. My first [relevant] experience was in consumer market research, which always helps me in analysing the markets and consumer behaviours.

I also worked for large FMCG groups like Coca-Cola and Danone. Furthermore, I was an entrepreneur in the UK, setting up a corporate events company. This helped me understand that I want to be an entrepreneur. My most relevant experience remains in the setup of TheHive accelerator, where I met the entire Israeli ecosystem. I learned to select companies, detect the right entrepreneur DNA, and more generally- manage entrepreneurs.

Why do you think we do not see more female founders?

I think in Israel, and abroad, women would love to be entrepreneurs, but they are very often afraid to juggle their personal family life and work life. Once they are done with raising their children, they may feel outdated and don’t find the courage and strength to start all over.

Also, women often wonder if they can earn enough money to justify childcare as opposed to a typical employee job. They too often lack self-confidence. I personally love women founders, I think their multi-tasking capabilities makes them natural entrepreneurs, super-efficient, and straight to the point. I always find relationships with women founders more focused and direct.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other entrepreneurs in general, and female ones in specific?

Make your dream happen, dare, give it a go. We have only one life to live, and it is short. Believe in yourself.

Cynthia Phitoussi

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