Masa gap year student wins two million shekels

April 13, 2017 by Hayley Hadassin
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At 19, Alon Moss decided to spend his gap year in Israel and applied for the Masa Israel Aardvark program through the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel Program Department…and won two million shekels in a food waste hackathon.

Alon Moss gets his cheque

A hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects.

Aardvark allowed former Moriah College student Alon an opportunity to tailor make his time abroad and incorporate an internship programme into his gap year experience. Alon was partnered with another Aardvark participant, Ilan Lewis from Brighton in England and the two of them were sent to StarTAU as interns.

StarTAU is Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Center, a non-profit organisation that aims to link entrepreneurs to their industry. As part of their internship Alon and Ilan were invited to observe the very first Israeli food waste hackathon, co-sponsored by StarTAU along with Unilever and the Ministry of Agriculture. The two teenagers (the youngest at the event) sat at the back of the room to watch the 80 experts from various fields compete for the 2 million shekel prize money [A$725,000], until their director invited them to participate. No one wanted to collaborate with the students until one other competitor agreed to work with them.

Their team addressed the challenge presented by the Ministry of Agriculture – which was to reduce the surplus of produce. Cucumbers were on the list of products, with over 310 million cucumbers wasted annually Alon and Ilan came up with the idea to use the surplus cucumbers to manufacture cosmetic products. Sydney-based Alon said: – “Honestly, we never thought our chances were good.”

The competition progressed, more mentors heard their idea and offered assistance and so ‘Neshama’ was born – a company that reduces Israeli cucumber surplus by drying them out to a powder for use in cosmetic products. They developed their business plan. Alon became the founder and CEO and Ilan co-founder and CMO of their business. They pitched their idea to the judges. Alon said: – “We thought we’d get on the stage, give our pitch and we’d get a clap for going out of our comfort zone and being teenagers”

They won.

Alon said: – “Winning was completely surreal. To hear the announcers say my name and shake my hand is a moment I’ll never forget.” They took the 2 million shekel prize money.

The money will be used to fund their business idea that they pitched at the event .

Gap year can change your outlook, perspective, relationships, but for Alon it has changed his life – “In terms of my future, Masa has clearly changed my path. Prior to this I had a more of a “planned” gap year whereas now it’s all a bit everywhere. I still want to go to university in Australia, but in the short-term future I’d really like to continue working on this project and making lifelong connections in Israel.”

The ZFA currently have eight Australian participants on Aardvark and over 300 on other short and long term gap year programs. To find out more about this program or the many others, the ZFA Gap Year Fairs will take place at all the Jewish day schools across the country in May. Parent information evenings will be held in Melbourne on the 4th of May, Sydney – 14th of May and Perth – 25th of May.

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