Israel has an Arab population of about 20 percent: currently that is some 1.7 million people. Yet the percentage of Israeli Arabs involved in the booming field of high tech is far lower—only about 2 percent of Israeli technology workers are Arab. This gap is one of the many challenges in the country today—but it is beginning to lessen, bit by bit. Arabs are represented at Israel’s top universities in numbers that correspond more closely with their percentage in the overall population. And the numbers of Arab engineers at the large Israeli branches of multinational tech companies such as Cisco, Google, Intel, and Microsoft are starting to climb.
In the city of Nazareth, a small startup ecosystem is coming to life, with the help of Arab-focused venture capital funds and undertakings like the Nazareth Business Incubator Center and Stef Wertheimer’s industrial park.
Alpha Omega is one of the Arab-directed companies with headquarters at Wertheimer’s Nazareth park. Founded in 1993 by Reem Younis and her husband, Imad, the company produces cutting-edge products for neurosurgery and neuroscience research. They make a device that functions like a “GPS” system for the brain—recording neural activity, stimulating neural tissue, processing and analyzing data. It is used by neurosurgeons in the treatment patients with a variety of disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and dystonia (a syndrome that causes involuntary muscle spasms).
Reem and Imad Younis met at the Technion, where she was studying civil engineering and he electrical engineering. Establishing Alpha Omega was a financial leap into the void for both of them: the young couple’s starting capital was comprised of the money from selling their Volkswagen Jetta, and four gold coins donated by Imad’s father. Over the following years, the Younises edged the company forward. Reem recalls:
We didn’t begin with an idea to “start a startup”; our only idea was to bring high tech to Nazareth, to the Arab sector, the Arab community. And we called it “Alpha Omega” because the idea was—we’ll do everything, from A to Z. Little by little we went into the medical-equipment business. We are there in the operating room with doctors treating people with neurological and mental disorders, helping them to get better.
While helping people to get better is the Younises’ primary aim, they also have a goal to help Nazareth succeed as a city of diversity and technology. As of this writing, Alpha Omega is thriving: the company employs more than sixty people—Muslims, Christians, and Jews—the majority are Arab (reflecting the demographic of their city). Imad Younis says that the mix of backgrounds has been valuable to Alpha Omega’s success: “When we employ people from different cultures, we can go even further, because each one thinks differently—and that can create inventiveness. . . . We can work together to achieve common goals.”
Alpha Omega’s “GPS systems for neurosurgeons” are used in hundreds of research labs and hospitals around the world. The Younises are proud to say that several of their former employees have gone on to form companies of their own. Most recently, Alpha Omega has released a new product that supports both clinical and research functions. And after securing regulatory approval in China, Alpha Omega has made its first major step into the Asian market.
Reem and Imad Younis are modeling and promoting entrepreneurship among the next generation of Israeli Arabs, encouraging them to take hold of the future and do something great with it.