#MentorSpotlight || Meet Isaac Hassan

‘In the 3 years we’ve been around, the biggest success is the community we’ve helped to develop, as well as the companies that have grown along the way.’

Rock of Gibraltar to Dome of the Rock

Originally from Gibraltar and then the UK, Isaac settled in Jerusalem full time in the 90’s, after years of commuting back and forth to Europe while involved in tech companies.

Isaac recalls how few startups were in Jerusalem when he first arrived. Even more problematic was that of the few startups that did exist, most closed due to the unsteady security situation at the time and its unfortunate byproduct — economic uncertainty.

The lack of energy upset Isaac enough to make him want to change the situation. With the goal of creating a startup ecosystem in Jerusalem, he and partner Elie Wurtman, serial entrepreneur and current cofounder of Vroom, took to paper.

Contrary to what many believe, it wasn’t simply a dream turned reality. A big hurdle that the founders had to overcome when building their ‘startup- encouraging- space’ was criticism from the community. There was a perception that helping new businesses, specifically startups in Jerusalem, was the wrong thing to do at the time, and if there were any startups, they should be located in the center of town. Isaac explains that he felt quite the reverse: the areas on which to focus were the areas for regeneration. Exposing new communities and fostering collaboration.

PICO was founded in 2012. Isaac remembers the difficulty in coming up with the perfect name for the co-working space. He and partner Wurtman began jotting down words that could encapsulate their vision of what the space should stand for. The first words they came up with were ‘people’, ‘ideas’, ‘community’, and ‘opportunities’.

Isaac’s dream is to build the best kind of city there can be. As he puts it, “we want to make Jerusalem a city that in 5–10 years’ time will be open to all and every type of entrepreneur. The point we know we’ve succeeded is when a startup ecosystem can survive with little to no infrastructure, so that there will be more potential for business in 10 years’ time — this is the best way to do it.”

Finding their edge

In discussion, Isaac and Wurtman came to the conclusion that money, though necessary, was not all that a company needed. Rather, companies needed a ‘place’. A physical space to collaborate, dream, and achieve.

PICO is a paid coworking space located in the industrial area of Talpiot, offering entrepreneurs and founders resources such as space, internet, equipment, etc. Isaac explains that when PICO first opened, the energy wasn’t what they had hoped for, because there were simply not enough bodies in the space.

PICO

They went back and forth between several ideas for finding their ‘vibe’. In fact, it came pretty easily once they started being ‘one with the people’. They started hosting events and meetups and found that having everyone in one room brought great energy to the space. Isaac attributes PICO’s success to the citizens of Jerusalem who’ve helped build the ecosystem into what it is.

In addition to the logistical resources PICO provides, it offers its members a sense of community and a surrounding of like-minded individuals: thinkers, dreamers, and innovators. PICO also mentors and invests in some of the companies it houses. Isaac says: “It was and is our way of contributing to the development of this thriving Jerusalem ecosystem.”

Challenges of startups

Seeing startups interact and problem-solve on a daily basis gives Isaac a good portrait of the ‘#StartupLifeJLM.’ He states that every startup has its own challenges and its own requirements.

  • Most importantly, entrepreneurs should surround themselves not only with creative and intelligent people, but with people who’ll tell the truth and help you succeed.
  • Spend wisely. Just because you have funds now doesn’t mean you’ll have them forever. Don’t be foolish and think they’ll always be there.
  • Never listen to this line, “If you’re gonna fail, fail fast.” How do you know if you’re going to fail? IBM failed tons of times, do we ever hear about it? …. The correct answer is, no!
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