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Aliyah Stories
Tracking a CEO: Janine Kutliroff

When Janine Kutliroff boarded the first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in 2002, embarking on her Aliyah adventure with husband Gershom, and three small children, she had no clear career plans. With minimal Hebrew skills, and little experience in Israel, the natural business woman expected to ‘explore her inner housewife self’, and concentrate on her family as they integrated into their new lives. As it turned out, she ended up in the executive business world and today is the CEO and Co-Founder, along with her husband, of the Israeli startup - Omek Interactive.

Almost immediately after her Aliyah, Janine secured the top position at IDT, a corporation headquartered in New Jersey which opened a call center in Jerusalem in 2002 to help Olim find work and boost the Israeli economy. Janine had previously been CEO at an IDT subsidiary in the US so the timing of her Aliyah proved fortuitous . In the six years that she served as   CEO of their Israel operations, she hired hundreds of Israel-based employees, to the point that IDT became known as the go-to place for jobs for new Olim (new immigrants to Israel).

After IDT, Janine and Gershom founded Omek Interactive together in 2007. The Beit Shemesh based company develops software for gesture recognition and full body tracking. The technology is based on a 3D camera that converts body movement into 3D movement by an avatar on the screen. The user can control all movement made in a game or application using only body movements, without the need of a keyboard or remote control device.

Omek Interactive has already created 55 jobs in Israel and pumped 16 million dollars into the Israeli economy. They have launched an early version of their second product line, and are part of a cutting-edge technology market building software that gives devices a new set of eyes – 3D cameras – to give computers the ability to ‘understand’ the world on a whole new level.

“Some people thought we were crazy to start a company together,” recalls Janine about her partnership with her husband. But she sees it as a natural extension of their life and marriage. “We have very different skill sets, mutual respect and believed it would succeed. There are definitely pluses and minuses, but way more pluses.  It has also been incredibly intense. Building a company together encompasses every aspect of our lives. While there’s no escape from it, each success is really meaningful.”

“The kids were young when we arrived,” recalls Janine. “Just five, three and one. Though I had always worked, this was a radical change for them. A new city, new language, new house, new school and daycare.”  However hard it was for the kids, though, Janine understood that ultimately they would adapt. “It will never be what I grew up with, but over the years we have become used to it,” she says.

Janine is quick to point out the challenge of the huge learning curve since moving to Israel. “You get something as basic as a school supply list and you have no idea what any of the things are. I remember in that first year I needed hangers. I went to the store and left without hangers. It turns out that not everyone actually speaks English.”

Looking back, Janine is amazed at where they are today. “As far as I was concerned we were just trying Israel out,” she relates about their Aliyah. “I had no idea what to expect. For me it was an adventure. But life here is better than I would have ever dreamed it would be. In the US, I might not have had the chutzpa to start something, here the energy of the ‘Start-Up Nation’ took hold.

“I didn’t grow up Zionistic. Israel wasn’t a part of our lives growing up at all.  But I came here, I live here, and work here and I look at the impact that I have been able to make. In Israel you need to have the flexibility to adapt. Opportunities are there. Sometimes you just have to create them.”

Article by Laura Ben-David