Israelis find start-up breaks in Britain

Setting up a small or medium-sized business in the UK is tough. Entrepreneurs say competition is rife, marketing and personnel resources expensive, and the chance of financial backing — from banks to private investors — unlikely in the current climate.

But Israelis who have made the UK their home, say the secret to a successful technology or retail start-up lies in a combination of innovation, resilience and a bit of “chutzpah”.

“It is much easier to start up a business in the UK than in Israel,” claims Shirly Lustik-Cohen, who manages business development for the Israeli Business Club (IBC) and was formerly at the commercial affairs division at the Israeli Embassy in London.

“I never set up my own business in Israel — it can be a difficult environment to work in,” says the Tel Aviv-born CEO of Walls of the Wild UK, a UK-based design company.

Roi Lustik-Cohen co-founded a UK tech start-up

Roi Lustik-Cohen co-founded a UK tech start-up

“But here, everyone is polite and we just get on with things.”

Finchley-based Mrs Lustik-Cohen, 35, set up the company after a friend mentioned a distributor who specialises in the wall stickers used to decorate hospital rooms, public libraries and private-client nurseries.

“I had a bit of chutzpah, directly contacted the factory and got exclusive rights to sell the product,” she says.

“The exclusivity has obviously helped reduce the competition and I now distrubute in the UK and in 10 shops across Europe.

“If you spot an opportunity in life you must grab it.”

In her capacity at the networking IBC, Mrs Lustik-Cohen has seen an increase in the number of “young and enthusiastic Israelis” looking to start-up businesses in the UK.

She says: “Israelis are very talented and creative. We also use resources like Facebook and blogs to succeed in our businesses.”

Michelle Reshef has utilised Facebook to expand her homemade bespoke chocolate company.

Whetstone-based Mrs Reshef, also a self-employed consultant for medium-sized start-ups, says: “It was challenging to start building your whole life and business from the beginning.

“But I’m not discouraged easily. There is some hunger and restlessness in Israelis. We’ve grown up and been pushed further and harder.”

The resilience is evident in Keren Oaknin, from Holon, south of Tel Aviv, who moved to the UK when she was 21 years old. Last week, the 30-year-old opened a new retail shop in West Hampstead selling accessories and clothing for women.

“It wasn’t easy,” she says. “I didn’t just come to the UK and start a business straight away. I worked at markets. I used to work on weekends and open up my stall at 6am in the cold.”

Now launching a new venture, Ms Oaknin says: “I’m a small business and have been through a lot. But I’m a fighter.”

Roi Lustik-Cohen, married to Shirly, is also part of a successful UK start-up. Alongside British business partner Richard Metcalfe, 37-year-old Mr Lustik-Cohen co-founded Arkk Solutions in 2009, a niche software provider for companies and accountancy firms.

Mr Metcalfe handles corporate client relationships while Mr Lustik-Cohen has utilised his Israeli army training to develop the company’s IT software.

Tel Aviv-born Mr Lustik-Cohen says: “I bring the technology side to the company. My experience working with IT in the army is very significant to what I do now.”

Staines-based Doron Myerowitz, came to the UK to pursue a career in design. But after taking a job at Heathrow airport, the Israeli businessman developed a wealth of contacts and set up his delivery Blue Star Express company.

“I recognised a lack of immediate delivery between the UK and Israel,” he says. “I came here from a socialist Moshav background [agricultural community] and had to learn quickly to start here. But that’s business. You are always learning.”

Last updated: 9:58am, August 15 2013