Bereaved Dad Vows: A Startup For Every Israeli Killed In War

Shay family launches Next October project to ‘plant a business’ commemorating each victim, from babies to soldiers.

<p>Fallen soldier Yaron Shay’s father, Izhar, and brother, Ophir, talking about the 21-year-old’s special character. LEVI SHAPIRO/MHEALTH. </p>

“My son Yaron, ‘Noni,’ was killed on October 7. He was 21,” said Izhar Shay, an entrepreneur, social activist, venture capitalist and former Minister of Science & Technology.

He was telling the audience at the recent mHealth digital health technology conference in Tel Aviv about the unusual startup initiative he’s launched to commemorate Yaron. 


“He was part of a special unit in the Nahal Brigade. They were stationed in Kerem Shalom, on the southern border with Gaza. Ironically, their mission was to keep the peace on both sides of the fence, mainly for the agricultural businesses,” Shay said.  “His unit faced the initial attack on Israel early that morning. They were the first and only line of defense between the kibbutzim and the terrorists who came to kill, kidnap and commit atrocious actions. 


“They ran a very heroic effort for a few hours, and at the end of the day kept Kibbutz Kerem Shalom intact. Their actions saved the lives of hundreds of civilians and noncombat soldiers. The toll was significant: 18 soldiers killed that day.”


While the Shay family sat together at the shiva – the traditional seven days of mourning – they discussed how to keep Yaron’s legacy and spirit going. And not only his, but also the spirits of the other 1,200-plus soldiers and civilians murdered by Hamas. “After speaking to many people, we came up with a concept,” Shay said. 

“When someone dies, sometimes you plant a tree. Instead of trees, we are going to plant companies.”


Planting companies

“For every fallen soldier, for every baby killed, for every elderly person&mldr; for everyone who lost their life that day, we are going to build a great business that can change the world in many ways but also commemorate the lives of those victims.” Shay noted that “the Israeli ecosystem produces, in a normal year, between 350 and 500 early-stage seed companies. We want to do more. We need a special infrastructure to support the growth of many hundreds of companies founded by Israelis to make a better world.”

Next October isn’t raising money. Rather, it’s recruiting partners. 


Already, the logos of about 150 companies, VCs, law firms and other entities appear on the Next October website, signifying their readiness to provide mentorship, networking, office space and possible investment.


Launched officially on December 14 in London’s financial community in partnership with RestartIL, Next October aims not only to connect early-stage Israeli startups with practical support but most importantly to integrate the stories and memories of the victims into the core of each venture.

“We aim to transform the legacy of loss into a driver of global innovation and progress,” said Shay.


Honor each victim

Ophir Shay, Yaron’s brother, said participating startups don’t have to be brand-new.

“The profile we’re looking for is early-stage Israeli companies that were just founded, companies we believe could and should get funding.”  Startup founders joining Next October, he said, “should commit to doing good and pledge to honor the chosen victim,” and maintain contact with the family. 

A few dozen startups have committed to commemorating specific people who fell during the war, he told ISRAEL21c on December 24.

Next October’s leaders will make sure each family is happy with the match. They plan to facilitate and track the relationship between the startup and the family over the years. Above all, Ophir Shay said, the startup must take into account the character, interests and passions of the person being commemorated. 


“My brother, for instance, didn’t like the beach, so a beach cleanup venture wouldn’t be an appropriate way to remember him. He was a huge fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball club, and they run a nonprofit with youth in southern Tel Aviv. So, if you want to pay more accurate respect to my brother, that would be a better way to do it.”

Fallen soldier Yaron Shay’s father, Izhar, and brother, Ophir, talking about the 21-year-old’s special character. Photo by Levi Shapiro/mHealth
Fallen soldier Yaron Shay’s father, Izhar, and brother, Ophir, talking about the 21-year-old’s special character. LEVI SHAPIRO/MHEALTH.

An 18-person startup called Pery has already claimed Yaron Shay as the person the business will honor going forward. 

Pery offers subscription-based support for parents of children with ADHD, providing nutrition education, medical consultation and school advocacy, among other services.


Israel is open for business

What’s in it for the startups?

“Credibility,” said Ophir Shay. “We want Next October to be a national project. We want our logo to be recognizable, for companies to put our logo on their websites. We want to make the companies on this platform valid investment opportunities within the Israeli ecosystem.”


Especially at such a difficult time in Israel’s history, added Izhar Shay, Next October is proving that “Israel is open for business, and showing our resilience, character and optimism.”  “We need everybody to support the notion of responding to evil with doing good, with innovating, with working hard towards the creation of a better world for our next generations,” he said.


Additional events in the United States and Europe are planned to help spread the word. “You’ll be making a moral commitment, not a financial one,” emphasized Ophir Shay.

“From our end, our commitment is creating a database matching the companies, investors and mentors; international promotion; tracking the progress and commemoration efforts over time.”


Produced in association with ISRAEL21c