The typical Israeli start-up entrepreneur is nothing like Shilo Ben Zeev.
He was not a Boy Scout leader. He did not serve in an elite army intelligence unit. He does not have a university degree. In fact, he barely made it through high school.
Ignored at best and harassed at worst, Ben Zeev had a difficult childhood.
“I was fat and had a lot of health problems. I didn’t have any friends. My father didn’t believe in me. Overall, I couldn’t really be a good student, ”says Ben Zeev, who grew up in a religious family in Jerusalem.
After high school, the military rejected Ben Zeev because of his weight. Determined to be a soldier, he followed a strict diet for seven months. But despite losing 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and entering the Armored Corps – where he made his first true friends – his IDF service was cut short when they found out he had diabetes. type 1.
Nonetheless, with a lot of equity and a knack for identifying golden opportunities and business partners, Ben Zeev has become a serial entrepreneur in the medical technology arena.
One of its co-founded companies, Emendo Biotherapeutics, was acquired in 2020 by Japanese pharmaceutical company AnGes for $ 300 million.
“I want any teenager with problems to know that life doesn’t end with school,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
“I became an entrepreneur without any skills. If you push your dream and don’t give up, there is a lot that you can do. There were years when I struggled to make a living and lost two toes to diabetes. But life isn’t about happiness, it’s about accomplishment. So keep fighting. At one point, Baruch Hashem [thank God], It’s getting better. “
A man who gets things done
After the army, Ben Zeev worked for the Likud political party until he was about 28 years old.
His doctor, Professor Itamar Raz, now head of Israel’s National Diabetes Council, spotted potential in Ben Zeev. “He saw that I knew how to get things done. “
When Raz founded the D-Cure fund in 2004 to advance diabetes research in Israel and abroad, he asked Ben Zeev to be its CEO.
“I can’t say I did very well,” he admits. “I didn’t even speak English at the time. “
But his one-year stint at D-Cure sparked a decisive interest in medical technology.
In 2006, Ben Zeev joined LifeWave, a connected health solution that produced a device to treat diabetic wounds. As COO, he was instrumental in bringing the company to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
His next endeavor was to co-found LabStyle Innovations. Its flagship product was MyDario, a compact glucometer connected to mobile devices through a diabetes management app.
“It was the first time that an iPhone was used as a medical device,” says Ben Zeev, whose business model was to sell test strips for the blood glucose meter.
Although MyDario has won awards for its revolutionary approach, what ultimately survives is the app rather than the device.
In 2016, two years after Ben Zeev sold his stake, the company was renamed DarioHealth and its new owners created a widely used digital platform for chronic disease management.
“Then I met Dr David Baram and we founded three companies: MyBiotics, [a microbiome pharmaceutical company]; Smartzyme Biopharma, [a diagnostics and therapeutics company that builds advanced tools for protein engineering]; and Emendo Biotherapeutics, [which develops gene editing tools for genetic disorders]. We sold Emendo last year as part of a deal orchestrated by David, and he remains the CEO. “
A better nipple
Speaking to ISRAEL21c from his family car in Australia, Ben Zeev says he now focuses solely on Emulait, a startup he founded less than a year ago.
Emulait is developing a 3D printing system of personalized pharmaceutical grade silicone nipples for bottles that are a biomimetic replica of the breast of the nursing mother that is breastfeeding in shape, texture and color.
To understand why Ben Zeev is in Australia to talk about breastfeeding, you have to explain something about his personal life.
At 38, Ben Zeev was in New York on business a lot. In 2013, three different people urged him to meet a woman who had just arrived in Israel from Australia.
“I came back from New York to Israel to meet her in 2013, and we got married a year later,” he says.
Shilo and Tamar Ben Zeev now reside mainly in Australia – he also has a permanent residence in Nevada – with their daughters Amalia, six and a half, and Rahni, three.
“I share everything with Tamar, and she gives me advice, most of the time good advice,” he jokes.
“No, it’s just that sometimes he listens and sometimes not,” calls out his wife from the passenger seat.
Emulait was born from Amalia’s difficulties in switching from breast to bottle. This fairly common problem of “nipple confusion” occurs because the infant has difficulty adjusting to sucking differently from a natural nipple and a false nipple.
Seeing his baby and wife in pain – Amalia even had orthodontic surgery to improve her locking ability – led Ben Zeev to look for a way to scan a woman’s nipple and print one exactly like this for a bottle.
After years of research, Ben Zeev has developed an app that does just that.
“It will help the 20 percent of babies with nipple confusion and will also help mothers who return to work,” he says. “Any caregiver can feed the baby with the Emulait feeding system while the mother is at work, and the mother can still breastfeed when she returns, making the transition from bottle to baby easier. “
Emulait is entering the production and fundraising phase, with a view to launching around March.
“If you’ve got an idea, and you’ve done your research and know it’s right, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong,” advises Ben Zeev, based on personal experience.
On several occasions, potential investors have kicked Ben Zeev out after asking about his background.
“I could sense their disrespect at the time. But I climbed and climbed until someone listened to me. Today if I call the VCs they are respectful – but it took 22 years. There is no doubt that becoming an entrepreneur without experience is very difficult and that you have to work a lot harder, ”he admits.
Although he remains distant from his father, who never believed in him, Ben Zeev takes full responsibility for his own failures and successes.
“Don’t blame anyone,” he said. “Keep striving. If you believe in what you’re doing, do it.