Israel in the Gardens | Innovation Alley will showcase high-tech startups, nonprofits

Adam Swig is becoming a go-to guy for putting together exciting events for young, community-minded San Francisco Jews. His latest offering: Innovation Alley, a new component of Israel in the Gardens celebrating high-tech and nonprofit startups.

“Word travels fast in the Jewish community,” said Swig, who helped organize the successful “Big Mitzvah” celebration for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Young Funders’ Impact Grants Initiative (IGI) earlier this year. It didn’t take long for the Israel Center to tap him to come up with something innovative for young people at this year’s Israel in the Gardens.

“I have met a lot of young Israelis who are tech entrepreneurs, so I thought it would be great to celebrate them and what they are doing,” Swig said. Inspired by the SXSW Interactive Festival model, a coming-together of the brightest minds in emerging technology, he decided to set up an area in the alley-like space between Yerba Buena Gardens and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts dedicated to Israeli tech innovation.

Adam Swig photo/daniel murphy

Visitors will find tented booths and tables where companies and cutting-edge nonprofits — all with a Jewish or Israeli connection — will showcase their products and their missions. “Young people should bring their resumes, and venture capitalists should bring their checkbooks,” said Swig.

“It will be good for showcasing, but it’s really about coming together as a community and networking with friends and colleagues,” according to Omri Mor, founder and CEO of ZIIBRA, a subscription service for creative artists. Mor, an Israeli-American, was introduced to Swig by a professional mentor, and immediately saw the benefit of signing up for Innovation Alley.

In addition to reconnecting with old acquaintances, he’s looking forward to meeting new people and introducing them to his company, which allows individuals to support young creative artists by buying subscription packages giving them opportunities to interact with the artists, as well as access to the artists’ work before it hits the market.

Other Innovation Alley companies include: Tapingo, an online and mobile food delivery app; Tappapp, a flirting app for live events based on location and common interests; and Tawkon, a mobile phone radiation tracker. FoldiMate will introduce people to its laundry-folding machine, and Instapparel will demonstrate how it helps people design their own clothing based on Instagram photos.

The event, sponsored by Janvest, sf.citi, Parallel Advisors and IGI, also will include accelerators like UpWest Labs, which helps tech entrepreneurs develop

their products in Silicon Valley and Israel. In the event’s nonprofit component, Swig is particularly excited about the Roselyne C. Swig Tikkun Olam Innovation Prize, which will be awarded at the event to a local Jewish innovator solving global problems. The winner, determined by a judging panel of high-tech and venture capital professionals as well as a live vote by the crowd at the event, will receive $2,013 (contributed by Swig, his older brother Benjamin, and IGI), as well as a sit-down with a venture capitalist.

The award is a surprise 83rd birthday honor for his grandmother, Roselyne “Cissie” Swig, who has been an inspiration to her 28-year-old grandson, a San Francisco native who worked for years for the Giants, starting as a bat boy. More recently, he’s been working as a tech consultant, and his grandmother’s been in Boston this year studying in the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative. A well-known Jewish civic leader, she’s encouraged her grandson’s desire to give back to the community.

“I was actually on vacation with my grandmother and asking her for advice about how I could step up my involvement with the Jewish community when I got the call inviting me to join IGI,” Adam Swig recalled. “I’ve been very involved in the sports and entertainment worlds in recent years, but my first job was actually as a second-grade teaching assistant at Temple Emanu-El. I feel like I’ve now come full circle back to the Jewish community.”

Making sure there are ways for people to connect is high on Swig’s priority list. With the younger, tech-savvy crowd in mind, there will be event-organizing and dating-service apps relating to Innovation Alley, as well as the Israel in the Gardens pre-party that the energetic Swig is also helping to organize.

But you don’t have to be especially young or technologically proficient to enjoy Innovation Alley. There will be a phone-charging station, which will be a good place to juice-up your mobile device and chat with other people doing the same thing.

“There’s something for everyone,” Swig said. “It’s really about building community.”

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.