Achieving User-Centered Focus with AtoBe Accelerator


Start-Up Nation Central’s Jerusalem: Where Tech Meets Design is an initiative established with the aim of bringing together entrepreneurs from Jerusalem’s flourishing tech sector and its dynamic design community, to explore the nexus point between these two worlds.

This year, in addition to hosting inspiring events, we also developed a pilot program focused on providing customized guidance to early-stage startups on how to incorporate a more human-centered approach to their product development and pitches. 

To test this model out, we collaborated with Azrieli College’s Atobe Accelerator program. The Atobe program, founded in 2011, offers a six-month program with free academic mentorship, lab support, and connections to a range of mentors. 

We worked with nine startups, each at a different stage in their product’s lifecycle – ranging from those with just an idea, all the way to start-ups with a working prototype and initial customers. 

Why a human-centered approach? 

According to CB Insights, “no market need” or, in other words, “tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need” was cited as the No. 1 reason for startups’ failure. Unfortunately, Israeli startups are not immune to falling into this trap, and perhaps, because of our emphasis on the technical and technological side, are even more vulnerable to it. 

At the core, entrepreneurs must ensure that their startup is feasible (from a technological perspective), viable (from a financial perspective), and desirable (from a human perspective). 

Desirability Viability Feasibility Venn diagram, courtesy of

To execute on this project we enlisted the help of Lihi Laskar Dangoor, a Bezalel graduate and former entrepreneur herself, who worked closely with Alona Stern, Head of Content for Tech Meets Design, to guide the accelerator’s entrepreneurs towards a more human/user-centered approach. Lihi is a designer and innovation manager who specializes in solving complex problems, developing user-based products and implementing design thinking methodologies in large and small organizations. 

Tailored, Group Meetings

The pilot kicked off with a workshop for all the startups providing an overview of the design-thinking methodology. Afterwards, the individual work began as the startups split off into small groups, working through different steps of the process.

1. Getting clear on the target users through user interviews

Perhaps more than anything, encouraging the startups to “get out of the building” and speak to potential users had the biggest impact. All startups were encouraged to set up 1:1 interviews with their customers – no surveys! – with a focus on real, exploratory conversations. Actually visiting potential users in their homes reminded them that their products and services, while perhaps the center of their world as founders, fit within a broader context for their users’ rich, complex, and full lives.

Furthermore, they discovered that many insights can be gleaned from visiting their users’ homes and simply observing; often noticing things that a user may not even be aware of themselves.

2. Prototyping and testing

One of the foundations of design thinking is prototyping and testing. By visualizing and making ideas tangible – i.e., “showing, not telling” – people can understand the idea, product or service more clearly, and share more authentic feedback. Observing users interacting with the prototype can uncover additional insights that wouldn’t necessarily come up during a standard interview.

Lihi and Alona worked with the startups to reframe their thinking on what a prototype could be and to create clear definitions of what they wanted to learn from testing their prototypes. Were they trying to understand whether their value proposition resonated with users? The feasibility of their product? Or which feature to introduce next? What was the simplest, cheapest, and fastest way to create a prototype to test their questions or ideas?

3. Storytelling

Entrepreneurs are constantly pitching the story of their company, whether it be to customers, investors, employees, or the press. How you tell that story can be the difference between success and failure. Humans are wired to pay attention to stories.

The Hero’s Journey offers an excellent framework for creating a story’s arc. Rather than putting your product as the center of the story, consider positioning your customer as the “hero.” Your product (service or technology) is the superpower that helps your customer go out and attain their goals.

Feedback from Startups

The feedback from the startups was positive, with one founder sharing that working with Lihi “taught us how to understand our target market better and led to crucial insights about the financial opportunities of our project.” Another founder commented that the process helped significantly with their pitch, “creating a more coherent story that is easier for people to connect with.”

Nearly all the entrepreneurs shared that they now have plans to continue to converse with their users going forward. One of the biggest takeaways was that they need to deeply understand their users – how they live their lives, what they feel, and not always with respect to the startup’s products. 

Interested in learning more about how to employ a more user-centered approach in your startup? You can check out previous Tech Meets Design events, or reach out to us with any questions!

about the author

about the author

Alona Stern

Product Strategy Consultant

Alona Stern is a product and design thinking consultant. She uses methods including user research, prototyping, competitive analysis, product roadmapping and content design to help organizations identify and act on untapped opportunities.

Alona has served in senior product management positions in a number of consumer and manufacturing companies in Israel and the U.S. She taught design thinking & prototyping in the Masters program at Bezalel Academy of Art, is a mentor and speaker at Mass Challenge Jerusalem, and is a regular speaker at the Delta Pre-Accelerator class at Tel Aviv University. She has an MBA from MIT with a focus on marketing and operations, and a B.A. from the University of Chicago where she studied Economics and Public Policy.

Outside of work, Alona enjoys spending time with her husband, Gilli, her 4.5 year old son Asher, and her big-eared dog, Amalia. She can usually be found with her nose in a book and is most excited about her recent local finds for herring and kombucha.

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