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Israelis, Palestinians Brainstorm on Businesses

TEL AVIV ( TheStreet) -- Last weekend, 145 Israelis and Palestinians gathered at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, putting aside political differences for the purpose of entrepreneurial brainstorming.

The gathering was one of some 60 annual worldwide events hosted by Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that brings together restless geniuses for intensive 54-hour sessions in which they conceive and launch technology companies.

The organization is sponsored by several major companies, including IBM (IBM - Get Report) and Google (GOOG - Get Report). Thirty-six percent of the companies spawned at Startup Weekends are still up and running to some extent, with more than 10% receiving significant funding or generating substantial revenue, according to Marc Nager, director of the organization.

"Our primary mission is educating entrepreneurs," says Nager, who's based in Seattle. "In our experience, money, while necessary in some cases, is not the critical component in the earliest stages. Just taking that first step is really the biggest roadblock."

Companies birthed at Startup Weekend that still exist include Twitpay, which processes charitable donations through Twitter; Foodspotting, a social-networking site for gourmands; and SubMate, which hooks up like-minded subway commuters in Paris, London and New York.

The weekends start with an open-mic pitch-fest, after which the crowd chooses favorites and teams are formed. At the Tel Aviv event, the selected ideas included "Play Outside," a location-based game for the blind; "Shoebox," a paperless receipt system; and "Movieoke," which is meant to monetize the idea of acting out film scenes with the subtitles on the screen.

The organization had to make special arrangements to accept the Palestinian participants, who arrived at the event in military buses. Asked whether politics might stymie Palestinian/Israeli teams who plan to continue to work together after the weekend, Nager is idealistic: "We live in a day and age when independence is a reality with ... startups," he says. "The actual borders won't play a role."

Such a single-minded attitude is what defines the spirit of entrepreneurship, say officials at The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based organization with an asset base of $2 billion to support entrepreneurs.

"Entrepreneurship is one of those unifying things that's just cool," says Thom Ruhe, director of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. "It transcends politics, religion and other crap that's convoluting our world."
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