Maayan Ziv has been something of an entrepreneur her entire life. Not necessarily the “develop a product and bring it to market” sort of entrepreneur; more the “see a problem, find a solution” type of entrepreneur.
Ziv, 27, was born with muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since she was a child. That meant the sorts of things that came naturally to other kids – getting around, participating in events – were more difficult for her. So she had to come up with creative solutions, in order to adapt.
“I’m often making my own way and that trained me to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid,” Ziv said. “With my disability, it led me to think outside the box.”
That approach carried over into her business life, where she developed an app and website for people like her. Called AccessNow, it’s sort of a Canadian take on Waze, the crowd-sourced driving and traffic app. AccessNow presents a map with information on the accessibility of various venues – restaurants, public transit, museums, businesses – provided by other users. The app proved so popular that she won Startup Canada’s Resilient Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2016.
Ziv leveraged her win into another success, applying for, and being chosen, by Startup Canada, a grassroots network of entrepreneurs, and the Israeli Embassy, as the Canadian representative to the Start JLM (Jerusalem) Conference.
Ziv, who has relatives in Israel and has visited the country many times, traveled to the Holy Land to participate in the conference, which runs from Nov. 4-10.
Start JLM is a global competition organized by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jerusalem Development Authority. It brings together startup entrepreneurs from 35 countries who attend hands-on workshops, network with the country’s leading entrepreneurs and investors, and, of course, listen to speakers describe the reasons for their success.
According to the event organizers, Jerusalem has become one of the fastest growing tech hubs in Israel over the last four years.
“I’m really excited about this,” Ziv said. “It’s going to be a chance to see Israel in a completely new way. I’m honoured to represent Canada.”
Like others in the tech world, Ziv recognizes that Israel is known as “startup nation,” a reference to the disproportionately large number of new tech companies that launch in the country, compared to its small size.
Getting some of Israel’s “secret sauce” is one of her goals for the trip, particularly the opportunity to network with Israeli entrepreneurs and perhaps secure some investors for her app.
An activist from a young age, Ziv was working as a photographer when she enrolled in a course in digital media at Ryerson University. While at the school, she brainstormed ideas that eventually led to AccessNow.
So far, AccessNow shares nearly 20,000 locations between its website and mobile apps.
Sites receive either a green thumbs up (accessible), a red thumbs down (not accessible), a yellow pylon for places only partially accessible and an orange parasol for places that have patio access only.
While 3,200 of the locations are in the Greater Toronto Area, and hundreds more in New York City and its environs, AccessNow has crowd-sourced information for venues in Italy, Cyprus, Johannesburg, even Iran, Pakistan, India and Bhutan.
As for Jerusalem, not so much. So far, there are only two locations listed: one is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, which is fully accessible; and the other is Hummus Ben Sira, a restaurant that is “accessible,” with the caveat that there’s “no accessible washroom, but there is a disabled parking spot just near by and you can enter this place with a wheelchair.”
Looks like there’s work to do in startup nation to make it more accessible.