In 2004, Ariel Beery was fresh out of the Israeli army and an undergraduate student at Columbia University. Israel was a hot topic on campus, and Ariel found that the discussions were far from nuanced. There were pro-Israel activists and there were anti-Israel activists, and thousands of miles from the Middle East, the student body could not find common ground. Ariel took his frustrations to the Columbia Daily Spectator, penning op-eds that sought to make sense of both sides. In response, he received both hate mail and letters of support from pro-Israel students who had faced intimidation in the classroom. “The more I wrote, the more stories came out,” said Ariel. “And I felt empowered by the people who put their trust in me to fight for justice on their behalf.” Ariel shared his fellow students’ stories in his op-eds, and helped form a student activist group that promoted Columbia Unbecoming, a documentary that aired students’ testimonials and called for more academic freedom on campus. The controversy garnered national media attention, gaining coverage in outlets from The New York Times to CBS News.
A JEWISH ACTIVIST GOES GLOBAL
After leaving the negative campus atmosphere and witnessing the beginnings of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), Ariel was searching for ways that young people could positively reflect their Jewish identities. Growing up in New York City, Ariel had been active in the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement, and in 1998, at the age of 19, had made Aliyah with a cohort to volunteer in Israel and fulfill its ideology. “I wanted the community to think about how being Jewish adds to our identity, and doesn’t restrict us,” said Ariel. He decided to launch PresenTense, a magazine that provided space for young Jews to exhibit the diverse expressions of their Jewish identities. Together, Ariel, and his co-founder Aharon Horwitz, launched the PresenTense Institute, a six-week incubator and accelerator in Jerusalem for budding entrepreneurs.
“From our perspective, the group of Jewish technologists and social activists reflected the realization of the collective potential of the Jewish people,” said Ariel. They named that realization, Creative Zionism. Over the course of eight years, PresenTense grew to become an international accelerator for Jewish social entrepreneurs. But once Ariel became the Global CEO, he found that he missed working one-on-one with people. He was given the opportunity to get his hands dirty once again when David Levitz, a childhood friend, asked Ariel to advise him on his biomedical optics fellowship in Israel. After a year of working together, Ariel and David realized that they could use mobile technology to solve global problems. “I told my co-founder, I can do this, but I want to work on something that will save the most lives as quickly as possible,” said Ariel. From MobileODT’s Tel Aviv office, they chose to fight cervical cancer.
For Ariel, Israel has always been the best place to be an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurs are the heroes in Israel, and the community is very supportive of their work,” said Ariel. “Israel encourages risks in a way that other countries do not.” He didn’t realize, though, how much cachet Israeli technology carried throughout the world.” At a medical device conference in France, a North African representative approached Ariel and attempted to buy MobileODT’s prototype on the spot in cash. “You Israelis are so good with technology,” said the representative. “This must be excellent.” Since developing the prototype, MobileODT has been marketing it in Kenya, which sees cervical cancer as the number one cause of death among women. Soon, they will be expanding further into East Africa, as well as to India and the United States. In recognition of MobileODT’s commendable work, the company won the 2015 MedTech Innovator competition, and received a “$200,000 prize. Between overseeing a staff of 20+ people and selling a product that he knows is improving people’s lives, Ariel is home to pick up his three-year-old daughter from daycare and eat dinner with his wife, Erin. For Ariel, there are only two focuses in his life—work and family—and both make him feel like he is fulfilling his goal of making the world a better place—from Israel. “To me, being Jewish is about taking action,” said Ariel. “And Israel should be a platform where Jewish people create change in the world.”