If you could create a symbolic portrait of Israel’s youthful startup culture, it might look a lot like Michael Matias of Tel Aviv.
At 19, Matias has already made an international splash as an entrepreneur and tech visionary.
After graduating as valedictorian of the class of 2014 at the Walworth-Barbour American International School in Even Yehuda – where he captained the robotics, varsity tennis and Model UN teams – Matias took off for Silicon Valley to intern for eight months in Google’s Irrational Labs with Dan Ariely, a noted Israeli-American behavioral economist.
During his internship, Matias founded Hacking Generation Y, a 36-hour coding competition model to promote entrepreneurship among high school students. The first one was organized in just two months.
“Most hackathons are targeted to college and post-college students, almost completely disregarding the younger generation,” Matias tells ISRAEL21c in an interview two days before beginning his four-and-a-half-year service in an elite IDF technological unit.
“I organized HackGenY to bring together top high school minds from across the world. We got 1,200 applications and partnered with Google, MIT Launch and Tango, along with 30 other sponsors. We had judges and mentors from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Intel, VCs Andreessen Horowitz and Upwest Labs, and several angel investors. And we were able to get sponsors to cover participants’ air fare.”
The 450 kids chosen to participate in HackGenY Silicon Valley (from 10 countries including Israel) created prototypes such as an Oculus Rift headset integrated into a wheelchair and a reverse-engineered Tinder dating app used 4,000 times during the hackathon. Several days later, Matias and partner Yonatan Oren, a California teen, were asked by students in Jamaica to organize a hackathon there. That event took place in April, drawing 150 participants.
“In light of that success, we’re bringing HackGenY to Israel in June, and to make it more special we’ll do HackGenY India in Bangalore that will be livestreamed at the same time,” says Matias, who is working with fellow Israeli whiz kids Iddo Gino and Mickey Haslavsky. Haslavsky is also serving in the military now.
“Every entrepreneur has challenges, and ours will be organizing the hackathon while in the army,” says Matias.
[Photo: TEDx Talks / YouTube ]