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Tel Aviv Female Founders Month: Are You The Secretary? No, I'm the CEO.

The month of May was female founders month at Startup Grind and we had the pleasure of hosting Merav Oren. Merav is a multidisciplinary entrepreneur, she founded BTL, an experiential marketing agency in 1996 (sold to McCann Erickson in 2000), She is the founder of Agora, a company that
transforms private and public spaces to better serve the needs of the community while highlighting local assets. Merav is also the founder of WMN, an open working space supporting female entrepreneurs.

Liat Aaronson interviewed Merav for Startup Grind and managed to reveal Merav’s inspirations, her experience as a businesswoman, and advice for any entrepreneur. A Ra’anana native, Merav’s family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when she was 8 years old where she had her first entrepreneurial experience when her family hosted a garage sale. Her father’s career sent the family back to Israel when Merav started high school after which she did a year in Israel’s national volunteer service. She has no formal degree beyond high school because boredom led her to drop out prior to finishing a degree in business and economics.

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At 24 she founded BTL a sales promotion and experiential marketing agency as a complementary company to an events and festivals company. As her business grew she invested in the complimentary company eventually buying out her partner and owning it 100%. BTL grew to over 40 employees with millions in revenue with high profile clients like Ernst and Young. Merav sold BTL to McCann Erickson in 2000 completing a very impressive exit in around four years.

When asked about the value of business plans Merav has her reservations. She prefers intuition because as they say in Hebrew "האקסל סובל הכל" or “Excel can handle anything” indicating that business models can be stretched and manipulated to present very attractive views when the reality is anything but.

Merav relies on her intuition and her optimism and says "If you're not optimistic, don't be an entrepreneur." Enthusiasm is just as important "If you're not passionate about what you do, don’t do it." When asked about advice for those who have taken the leap and started their own companies Merav offers, "If you have good talent don’t let them go."

When evaluating business opportunities Merav says "the idea is very important but the team is more important. Often startups change focus but the teams remain intact." She looks for companies with exit potential however she choses growth over a fast exit. Also she urges companies
to "think global, Israel is a great place to start but the answers you'll get in Israel are not the answers you will get in New York."

Currently WMN has 15 startups and 5 organizations. They provide workshops, events, mentoring and are working on a global vision where they will be able to help female run companies globally as well as a crowd funding service. What drove her to start WMN is that "the whole ecosystem of entrepreneurship is low on women." Only about 10-15% of entrepreneurs are women, which Merav attributes to biases in education. "WMN has long been a dream of mine… the house of woman entrepreneurs. Many women entrepreneurs are working from home, which is very lonely, and even if they have one or two people on their team it is still small, they need a place for brainstorming with people. "Just from sitting next to each other we are feedbacking off of each other and helping each other make connections to important contacts."

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Looking to the future Merav believes the next big thing is that the economy is fundamentally changing.
Technologies are allowing people to open their own businesses easier than ever before. Merav's next startup is Open Restaurants: The Airbnb of culinary experiences around the world.

Reminiscing about her time running BTL Merav recalled that even though she owned the company it was often assumed that she was the secretary just because she was a woman. When asked about the current climate for female entrepreneurs 15 years later Merav believes that “Israel has changed…the world has changed." Though the business world is still dominated by men, more women are leading successful companies and females have become much more accepted as leaders and entrepreneurs. This is due in no small way to pioneers like Merav.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ypDMuveUKQ&w=800&h=450]

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Post was written by Shay Mamo