Two Israelis have won the JC’s first Young Entrepreneurs’ Challenge. Nitzan Yudan and Tomer Kalish, now based in London, were chosen by the judges to receive the unprecedented prize: £10,000 from the judging panel, £10,000 from Investec Specialist Bank, £5,000 of strategic consultancy from Albion London and free accountancy advice from leading north London firm, Berg Kaprow Lewis.
Mr Yudan was successful with his start-up, Flat-Club, which he founded with Mr Kalish. It helps young professionals find short-term accommodation by renting through their trusted social networks. It is aimed at students and alumni of top universities.
Launched in November 2010, the business started with five apartments on its books. Within two weeks it had 70 and today, it boasts 3,000 apartments across 10 global cities. It is targeting £1.2 million of revenues this year and hopes to achieve £30 million by 2015.
Flat-Club is aimed at young professionals, specifically students and alumni of top universities and business schools. It works with UCL, King’s College London and INSEAD, among many others. The business also plans to tie in with employees of top companies and recently completed a successful pilot with Barclays, BCG and American Express. It launched in the US a few months ago.
The judging panel comprised Stephen Grabiner, Nick Leslau, Philip Lewis, Claude Littner and Robert Voss. They were impressed with Mr Yudan’s final pitch, which he conducted from Israel via Skype due to family commitments. A father-of-one, Mr Yudan, who was mentored for his presentation by The Apprentice’s Claude Littner, was clearly not put off by his mother making matzah balls in the background.
The decision was a tough call for the panel, who were full of praise for fellow finalist Kelly Klein and her Student@Home venture, which matches IT students with residents and small businesses in need of computer help. As a group, the panel is talking to her further about possible investment.
Mr Yudan and Mr Kalish, both 34, moved to London to complete MBAs at the London Business School. Mr Yudan has a background in IT and finance — prior to Flat-Club, he worked for Bank Hapoalim in Israel plus a few start-ups — while Mr Kalish’s experience is in property. They both served in the Israeli army: Mr Yudan in the special forces unit and Mr Kalish in intelligence.
The duo found out about the JC competition over a Shabbat dinner at friends. Mr Yudan says: “They had the JC at their place, showed it to us and we thought: ‘Why not?’”
Flat-Club has already secured significant investment and counts financier Jeremy Coller (Coller Capital) and Professor Eli Talmor (London Business School) among its investors, but Mr Yudan says winning the JC competition is invaluable. “It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy. This was the most demanding competition and panel I have ever presented to, which makes winning ten times more rewarding. Being an entrepreneur is a journey full of ups and downs. Most of the time you hear the words ‘no’ and ‘it won’t work’ so to have the endorsement of such an impressive panel is a huge boost.
“Stephen Grabiner suggested a name I should contact regarding potential future funds. This is how these things work. It’s all about networks and knowing people who can open doors for you. And getting such direct feedback is so beneficial.”
He adds: “We entered for a couple of reasons: to get the exposure and have access to the impressive panel as advisers and mentors.” He adds: “One of the most impressive things I learned from Claude was his ability, when he met our team, to understand each of their individual tasks and to contribute his opinion on them. This is something that I hope to learn from him — developing leadership skills and encourage motivation, and the ability to execute.”
Flat-Club will use the prize money to recruit another team member in London to further grow the business. It plans to replicate the model of leveraging trust within existing social networks. “We want to go into more networks where trust already exists, and in more locations.”
The other finalists were Student@Home, Pashkes of London, Written Medicine and Cyclebeat.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
“For me, there were two key features in participating as a judge in this challenge. First, it was a delight to be involved with my fellow panelists and secondly, in meeting a number of really interesting and outstanding
“It was refreshing to participate in this competition where we were exposed to some wonderful young entrepreneurs and their exciting businesses. To the finalists, I offer my sincere congratulations. You were worthy participants and I look forwarding to following your progress with great interest.”
“This was a fascinating experience during which I was surprised by the very high standard of the contestants and all five finalists deserve to be highly commended. It was an enlightening experience for the judges as well as being most enjoyable.”
“It has been a great pleasure to be involved in this challenge. Meeting the entrepreneurs has reinforced my belief in what people with vision and commitment can achieve. It should stand as an example for others wanting to start out on their own. Good luck to them all.
“This has been a fun competition and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of entrants. We had a great range of businesses and found it hard to select the winner. It was a treat to share the judging with Stephen, Nick, Claude and Robert.”
... AND WHAT DID THE SPONSORS THINK? WE ASKED THOSE GIVING THEIR TIME AND CASH
DOUG KRIKLER, INVESTEC:
“Investec is committed to supporting entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses. We are delighted to be involved in this initiative, nurturing entrepreneurial talent among young people. Congratulations to Nitzan Yudan’s Flat-Club and we wish him and the team the very best of luck in the future.”
JEFF HARTSTONE, BERG KAPROW LEWIS
“Many congratulations to Nitzan and the team on winning the JCYEC. Their impressive academic
and business backgrounds show in the formulation of the company’s strategy and the quality of
their presentation. Berg Kaprow Lewis is very much looking forward to working with Nitzan and his
colleagues over the course of the next year.
JASON GOODMAN, ALBION LONDON
“Our team at Albion are really excited to be working with Nitzan and Tomer — two really talented entrepreneurs from the “Start Up nation”.
It is a zeitgeist concept for a student generation needing to economise however they can.”
£10,000 investment From the judges
£10,000 from Investec Specialist Bank
A year’s free financial and tax advice from Berg Kaprow Lewis
£5,000 of consultancy from Albion London
Profiling in the the JC
Opportunity for further funding