Shilo Ben Zeev’s entrepreneurial journey is a multifaceted narrative of resilience, innovation, and a commitment to making a positive impact. From revolutionizing diabetes management with Dario to redefining motherhood through Emulait, Shilo’s ventures reflect an unwavering determination to address pressing challenges and create meaningful change in the world.
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Early Childhood in Jerusalem
Shilo Ben Zeev’s journey began amidst the ancient city walls of Jerusalem, where he was born and raised. Growing up in the heart of Israel, Jerusalem was a small city at the time, fostering an environment where Israeli Jews and Arabs coexisted harmoniously.
Shilo reminisces about a time when Jerusalem was a tight-knit community, a stark contrast to its current status as a bustling metropolis of over a million people.
From Childhood Challenges to Entrepreneurial Vision
Shilo’s childhood, embedded in the fabric of the insular religious communities of Jerusalem, shaped his early years. At the age of 12, he left home to attend a school with a unique structure—three weeks on campus followed by a 24-hour return home.
This unconventional childhood, marked by complexities in his relationship with his father, laid the groundwork for what Shilo now refers to as a “non-epic childhood.” Acknowledging the challenges in his family life, Shilo reflects on the impact it had on his ability to study conventionally.
Admitting that he didn’t finish high school, Shilo’s self-awareness led him to a profound realization—that he needed to find his own path, be independent, and pursue what he was passionate about.
Living with type 1 diabetes from the age of 8, a condition managed and experienced very differently today, catalyzed Shilo’s mission to transform the market and improve the quality of life for those with diabetes.
Dario: Transforming Diabetes Management
This resolve materialized into Shilo’s first entrepreneurial venture—Dario. The company, which ultimately went public and reached a valuation of $300 to $400 million at its peak, marked Shilo’s entry into entrepreneurship.
Dario revolutionized diabetes management by introducing a product that connected directly to smartphones, changing the way people with type 1 diabetes monitored their blood sugar levels. The journey, however, wasn’t without its challenges.
Convincing investors and venture capitalists in the early days was no easy feat. Shilo vividly recalls the skepticism surrounding the need for change in the diabetes market, especially from larger companies focused on drug and insulin sales.
Despite initial resistance, Shilo and his team persisted, envisioning a product that catered to the needs of the younger generation—a smartphone-connected device that eliminated the need for conspicuous blood testing.
Eventually, Shilo successfully raised $6M for the company before taking it public. Once the company went public, raising funding became a lot easier, and he recalls raising $40M before leaving the company.
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Embracing Change: Shifting Perspectives in Diabetes Management
Dario’s groundbreaking approach not only paved the way for a successful company but also initiated a paradigm shift in the medical device and diabetic world. Shilo attributes Dario’s success to its focus on user experience, a concept that wasn’t fully appreciated at the time but later became a pivotal factor in shaping the industry.
The company’s product, which connected directly to the iPhone, presented a novel concept to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Convincing the FDA that a smartphone could be a medical device took almost a year of persistent effort.
Shilo vividly recalls the challenges, with one of the initial questions being about the device’s battery life. His response, “You’re going to charge it,” reflects the foresight and determination that became characteristic of Shilo’s entrepreneurial journey.
Beyond the hardware, Dario also developed the first diabetic management app. Shilo believes that Dario’s impact extended beyond its immediate success—prompting major companies to recognize the importance of user experience in the medical device sector.
Simultaneous Ventures: Emendo, Smartyme, and My Biotics
Post-Dario, Shilo ventured into three projects simultaneously—Emendo, Smartzyme, and mybiotics. Each project had a distinct focus, with Emendo Biotherapeutics and mybiotics Pharma LTD delving into genetic research and microbiome engineering, respectively.
Smartzyme, on the other hand, aimed to address the significant problem of accuracy in continuous glucose monitoring. Emendo and mybiotics presented a departure from Shilo’s comfort zone as they delved into areas not directly aligned with his expertise.
However, with strategic partnerships and the support of scientific experts, these ventures made strides in their respective fields. Emendo, in particular, was eventually sold to a prominent Japanese pharmaceutical company for $350M. Smartzyme, with its mission to enhance the accuracy of continuous glucose monitoring, faced an unexpected challenge.
Despite successfully achieving the goal of improved accuracy through direct evolution and protein modification, the venture was halted by investors. Shilo attributes this decision, in part, to the emergence of a competing product in the market.
Reshaping Investor Relationships: A Call for Change
Reflecting on his experiences with investors, Shilo voices his dissatisfaction with the traditional venture capitalist approach, especially in the medical device and consumer sectors. He emphasizes the importance of respectful collaboration and early-stage investments in innovative ideas.
Shilo contends that venture capitalists often underestimate the value of groundbreaking ideas and their potential impact on industries. He criticizes the lack of appreciation for entrepreneurs in these sectors, highlighting the dismissive attitude and age-related biases that he and his fellow entrepreneurs have encountered.
Shilo’s plea for a shift in perspective calls for investors to recognize the pivotal role that entrepreneurs play in driving innovation and reshaping industries.
Emulait: Redefining Motherhood
Shilo’s latest venture, Emulait, represents a departure from the medical device and diabetic world. Inspired by his family’s struggle with breastfeeding, Shilo embarked on a mission to redefine motherhood with Emulait.
The journey began with a profound question he posed to a doctor during a challenging period when breastfeeding proved difficult for his wife: “If I could 3D print my wife’s breast and nipples, could that help the baby?”
This question planted the seed for Emulait, a revolutionary product designed to aid breastfeeding mothers. Leveraging advancements in deep camera technology, Emulait’s 3D-scanning app allows mothers to customize breast shapes, ensuring a comfortable and effective feeding experience for their babies.
The scan avoids the use of intrusive photography by detecting several different data points on the breast to establish size, shape, and skin tone. Emulait’s vision extends beyond creating innovative products for mothers to include caregivers. In this way, it aspires to capture a significant portion of the parenting market.
Shilo envisions Emulait becoming a global force within the next 12-16 months, aiming to secure 5-10% of the market. The broader goal is to redefine the parenting landscape globally, providing mothers with the tools and support they need to navigate the challenges of motherhood effectively.
Challenges in Fundraising for Emulait
Despite Emulait’s groundbreaking nature, Shilo faced challenges in fundraising. The unique blend of hardware and software required a leap of faith from investors, and not all were quick to embrace the vision.
However, Shilo’s perseverance and the support of a network of informal investors who recognized the potential impact of Emulait helped the venture secure funding and move forward. He managed to raise $20M simply by sitting down with friends and talking about his vision to help parents with their babies.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Shilo Ben Zeev was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
As a seasoned entrepreneur, Shilo shares valuable advice for those embarking on their entrepreneurial journey. His emphasis on not succumbing to fear, embracing change, and maintaining focus on building the right product underscores the importance of resilience, vision, and adaptability.
Shilo encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a strong support network, seek out mentors, and be unafraid to ask for help.
Shilo’s story serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, emphasizing the importance of vision, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace change. Shilo Ben Zeev’s odyssey is not just a chronicle of individual successes but a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship in shaping industries and improving lives globally.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- The journey from the streets of Jerusalem to global entrepreneurship underscores the transformative power of resilience and vision.
- The groundbreaking venture, Dario, not only went public but reshaped the landscape of diabetes management by introducing smartphone-connected devices and emphasizing user experience.
- Juggling three ventures simultaneously, Shilo delved into genetic research, microbiome engineering, and continuous glucose monitoring, each leaving a distinctive mark on their respective industries.
- The candid critique of traditional venture capitalist dynamics highlights the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in gaining support and recognition, especially in the medical device and consumer sectors.
- Inspired by personal challenges, Emulait blends deep camera technology with a 3D-scanning app to revolutionize breastfeeding support, reflecting his commitment to addressing fundamental parenting needs.
- Emulait’s unique blend of hardware and software faced fundraising challenges, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and securing support from investors who recognized its potential impact.
- The vision for Emulait extends beyond innovative products for mothers; it envisions capturing a significant portion of the parenting market, redefining the global landscape of parenting support within the next 12-16 months.