Liat Mazor is Managing Partner at TONBO, a Tel Aviv-based impact investment fund that focuses on enhancing the transition to a low carbon environmental economy. We had the chance to talk to her about TONBO’s method of scaling up impact startups, the importance of meaningful work and, of course, the challenges women face in the startup business. Liat is also part of the Impulse4Women Advisory Board, where she helps our community as a mentor and expert.
Before starting the interview, we ask Liat about the current state of female startups in Israel, a tech and startup powerhouse. She sighs… In the Israeli high-tech sector, as in the rest of the world, senior women employment rate is only 33% and Israeli female founders of startups account for only 9.4% of all the startups. Though it must be said that the Israeli government is very supportive of the hi-tech and innovation local ecosystem through grants, incubators and more.
Impulse4Women Question: Liat, why have you become an impact investor?
Liat: I have been working in the field of environmental and social impact for a few years now. But originally, I come from a financial background. I worked in big corporate accounting firms and investing firms, but I realized that it didn’t bring me joy. At some point, I decided to shift professionally and to dedicate my time to projects that fill me with a sense of doing something meaningful, leaving something behind for my children and doing something good for the planet. So I went into impact investing to share my experience of working with founders, working with Israeli startups that are targeting the world pressing challenges.
I4W: You are currently managing partner at TONBO. What is TONBO?
Liat: At TONBO we work with founders who are sharing our goal of decarbonization, stopping climate change, and creating social impact in emerging markets. Part of that is, of course, to encourage female-led startups. Basically, we scale up and invest in early stage disruptive Israeli sustainable technologies that target key challenges on both, low carbon value chain and on social issues actually globally.
I4W: And how does that work?
Liat: We source and screen Israeli ventures. We have a long screening process for the startups we find most interesting. If selected, we invite them to join our Studio. The studio is actually a program in which we make the ventures’ investment ready. We work closely with the founders, helping them get set up their strategy and execution plans. At any given time we host between five or six startups in the Studio. We help them scale up and to execute their groundbreaking and revolutionary solutions. Then we reach our network of global investors -most of them impact investors. We invite them to participate in the funding of these pre due diligence startups.
So in our Studio we help them through their journey from an early stage startup to a commercialized company. Here they will get market validation and maybe acquire their first customers. But in order to do so, the need to shape the company in order to become commercialized and in order to become fit to scale.
I4W: What is the most important aspect in this early stage when founders enter the Studio?
Liat: First of all, the team. We focus on professionalizing the founding team. That is normal, they are early-stage. So, in our experience, most founders are naturally not equipped with skills and experience that is necessary for scaling up. Those early-stage startup teams need assistance in bridging the gaps between the given skills they came with and what the market or investors or customers or all of those other stakeholders in the sectors they operate, expect from them or want to achieve from the relations with the startup.
I4W: Can you give us an example?
Liat: So, let’s say, an early stage startup aiming for its seed fundraising round. We assist them get there organized and with a complete investor facing story and collaterals. By conducting sessions on the company’s identification, vision, goals, strategy, goto market, work plans for everything and finally the fundraising and exit strategy. We do not and can never replace founders when facing potential investors ! This is their company. We are there to help them reach the right path, to support their decisions, to show them the way from our experience.
The biggest challenges are strategic and operational. How to scale, how to meet market needs, how to reach new markets, how to build a go-to-market marketing strategy? And then, of course, how to initiate and execute these plans. How do you do that when you work lean, with a small team? So this is where TONBO Studio comes in: we assist them with decision-making and a structured process to achieve their goals.
I4W: How do you work with your global impact investors?
Liat: As these investors are based outside Israel, they find a lot of value in professionals who are on the ground and familiar with the local ecosystem that can propose vetted ventures and founders.
Investors know that we are here to help our and their impact startups succeed.
I4W: What about female-led impact startups at the Studio?
Liat: Yes, there is a great example:
TaTiO is acompetencies-based sourcing platform that assesses its candidates beforehand using smart simulations. Two female founders come from the education sector. One of them has a PhD, and they decided to build software for the work employment sector. They have developed a software that helps in the personnel selection process and eliminates the bias, both from the interviewer as from the jobseeker. For example, a company is looking for salespersons. The software can create different sales situations, record them and analyze them to see if the applicant is fit for the job, all based on a database of previous simulations and interviews.
And this software has great results. It finds the right employees. Statistically we can see that those employees are a very good fit for those companies that use the software, also the data shows that they stay longer in the company.
Scaling up TaTiO took years: the R&D and the development of the software, the solution was developed in English, fit to be adjusted to multiple languages… Currently, they have several big US companies as customers. And they have a big social impact because they reach untapped populations that normally would not pass a face-to-face interview.
So this is a great example of two female founders, friends that came from non-technology sector. They had no tech or business experience, but had a vision and ambition, and now they are CEO and CTO of the company. And it’s amazing! They have customers. It’s working. It’s scaling. And yes, they needed help on the way and that’s fine!
I4W: That is inspiring! Still, there are much fewer female-led startups and female VCs. What’s your explanation for that?
Liat: I think it starts with education. But not only school education, I mean not only formal education. Also, education about how to achieve your goals, how to set up a vision for yourself as a person and how to achieve them. I, personally, don’t see the gender difference here because I raise my children to achieve all their goals.
I4W: As a woman in the startup sector, what specific challenge have you been facing?
Liat: I think that women raising money, whether these are founders raising for the startups or investors raising for their funds, face more challenges as women than men do! And I think that if we love what we do, we will do our job in the best way we can – be professional, achieve our goals, and it’s best if we’ll work together to back each other.
Liat, thanks for the interview.