New Fund Hopes to Boost Former Soviet Scientists

An Israeli from the former Soviet Union is launching a business fund to help her fellow immigrants.

Hana Shavit, who moved to the Jewish state 30 years ago from Russia, began the idea for the Starter Fund in 1997 after she saw how well-trained scientists from the former Soviet Union were stuck in low-level jobs in Israel.

Shavit took her idea to former Israeli Minister of Finance Ya’acov Ne’eman, who in turn helped her contact Israeli and American businesses to contribute to the fund.

The fund, incorporated in the United States, differs from venture capital funds because it will help scientists develop a business plan to propose to investors, and not share in any of the profits, said one of these contributors to the fund, Felix Zandman.

The immigrants “don’t know how to make a business plan, how to explain their inventions,” said Zandman, the CEO of a U.S.-based electronics company, Vishay Intertechnology. “They need a businessman with them to create business plans.”

Money from the Fund — which hopes to raise about $5 million in its first round — will supplement grants the scientists may have received from the Israeli government or elsewhere.

Successful businesses would be expected to pay the fund back, so that the fund would eventually be self-supporting, says Shavit.

At this early stage, Shavit could not say how many scientists the charity would fund, chosen through an application process. “When you’re feeding the chickens, you can’t know how many eggs they will make,” she said.

More than money, however, Shavit said, she hopes that the Starter Fund would ease the absorption of Russian immigrants to Israel and encourage more Russian scientists to immigrate to Israel.

“This is a human affair,” said Zandman. “I can’t stand to see a scientist who has a high degree serving in a gas station.”

The Starter Fund will be officially launched Sunday in New York.

(For more information about the Starter Fund, call 212-751-1523.)

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