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One Woman's Journey From Israel's Elite Army Corps to Tech Startup Founder

Google Encourages Women in Technology
A Google event for Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that helps high school girls prepare for tech industry jobs, in New York, on March 27, 2013. Google Campus for Moms encourages women to become tech entrepreneurs. Photographer: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times via Redux

Marina Orenstein was used to being alone in the ladies room while serving in the Israeli army's 8200 intelligence corps, the vaunted unit that has spawned countless technology startups including Check Point Software Technologies.

Now a mother of two, Orenstein, 31, has found a place where she can collaborate with other ambitious and technical-minded women. She's one of about 100 graduates of Google's Campus for Moms , a nine-week educational program aimed at encouraging Israeli women to become entrepreneurs.

"I read in the news about all my friends building startups," Orenstein said of her fellow army recruits. "I said to myself, 'Why not try it?'"

Related: Israeli Moms Mentored by Google for Women Making Startups

Women are underrepresented in technology, and Israel's industry is no exception. Nurturing the country's startups and positioning them as leaders are among the government's priorities. With technology making up about half Israel's industrial exports, the future of the industry has been a primary talking point for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on recent trips abroad . The Israeli leader was in Silicon Valley this week to visit tech companies including Apple.

But it's the iPhone maker's rival that's helping to empower Israeli businesswomen through a unique program. Google created a space in Tel Aviv for those on maternity leave to network and develop their ventures with babies in tow. Google's Campus for Moms was the brainchild of Tal Sarig Avraham, a product marketing manager at the search giant, and Hila Brenner, an entrepreneur and founder of the women's entrepreneurial group Yazamiyot.

"The situation in Israel is much worse than in other places in the world. We are behind in a lot of things, in particular in women entrepreneurship," said Brenner. "The culture hasn't really matured into allowing women to work long hours and take risks, and you don't get help as far as raising kids and doing housework as much as in other places."

Orenstein's startup, called BeautyBooker, makes a website and mobile app for scheduling visits to beauty parlors and spas. The software aims to let customers book appointments around the clock, and help small businesses keep track of their schedules and cut costs. She said her classmates in Google's Campus for Moms gave her the confidence to start her own business.

"There is no doubt that the technology industry all around the world, and especially in Israel, is very male," Orenstein said. "I'm used to being the only person to use the ladies room, both in the army and at the other companies I worked at."

Mor Assia, a mother and co-founder of equity crowdfunding platform IAngels, said the first steps women take into the risky world of entrepreneurship often involve subjects within their comfort zone.

"Many women entrepreneurs have fashion startups," Assia said. "We don't see them in heavy technology because that is a male-dominated industry, and it is hard to penetrate."

But they aren't lacking in spirit or capability. "We need to encourage more women to take the leap," Assia said.

Orenstein's BeautyBooker is going after the market in Israel first. Later, the Ukrainian-born entrepreneur plans to target Russia.

"At Google Campus, I saw mom founders raising children and their company at the same time," Orenstein said. “I thought to myself, 'If they can do it, maybe I can do it, too.' The first step is the hardest, and Google Campus helps you take it."

Probably the only drawback: waiting in line to use the bathroom.

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