Israeli 18-year-old creates Peninsula tech event

Not all high school kids sit around playing video games. Some design them.

Israeli 18-year-old Michael Matias was so sure Silicon Valley companies would swoon over the high-tech talent of teens that he created an event called Hacking Generation Y.

Michael Matias

Held at NestGSV headquarters in Redwood City, the Jan. 24-25 gathering drew 450 teen techies and high-level representatives from more than 25 companies such as Google, Venmo, Facebook and Yahoo. Despite learning about the event late in the game, the S.F.-based Consulate General of Israel jumped on board as a co-sponsor, offering help to Matias and co-organizer Yonatan Oren, a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.

Matias, whose father is a senior executive with Google Tel Aviv, came to Palo Alto last summer after graduating high school in Israel. Shortly after he arrived and began an internship for world-renowned behavioral economist and Google consultant Dan Ariely, he hatched an organization called Hack Generation Y as a way to promote youth entrepreneurship.

That led to the confab, or hackathon, held last weekend. More than 1,000 people from around the globe applied to attend — most of them under 18.

“Up to now there has been a gap,” Matias said. “You had to be in college to be considered a good developer. Today I meet kids in elementary school able to develop apps for iPhone and the Web. There’s no reason a high school student shouldn’t qualify for this opportunity.”

To wit, Matias is the creator of an app called AnyMeal that finds dishes at nearby restaurants that satisfy dietary preferences such as gluten-free or vegan. In 2013, he had an internship at Google Tel Aviv.

Teens from the all over the U.S., and a few from overseas, attended Hacking Generation Y. Matias said the high point came when teams of teens pitched their apps, games or start-up ideas to a panel of 19 judges — an impressive list of Silicon Valley talent that included Laurie Stach, founder of MIT Launch, and Chris DiBona, director of Open Source, Google. Six out of the top 20 finalists were Israeli.

Matias left the area pretty much at the event’s conclusion, making his way to New York for an internship with a high-tech company. After that, he plans to return to Israel and serve in the military.