Epstein was my great grandfather and a clever inventor and holder of several US patents. We unabashedly try to keep this award in the family. David Guedalia, inventor of iSkoot is my cousin and a great great grandson of the illustrious Harris Epstein.
Hooking up to Skype via your cell phone
By David Shamah
In these tight financial times, investors and venture capital companies won't part with even small funding commitments unless they really - but really - believe in a product. Much less $19 million. But iSkoot, an Israeli developed application that lets mobile phone users take full advantage of the Skype online phone system, inspires confidence, because of what the application does, and because of the people behind it.
At iSkoot, says company co-founder and CTO David Guedalia, it's all about making life easier for phone service suppliers, and their customers. "While there are many applications that let users make online phone calls, iSkoot is different, because our system doesn't overwhelm the service provider. Plus, it takes less of a toll on handsets," he tells ISRAEL21c.
Dialing into Skype
iSkoot allows callers to use a regular phone call to dial into an iSkoot gateway server. From there the call is completed via the Internet, as if you were using Skype from your computer.
The result: Users can hook into the Skype network from their cell phones, making long distance calls to other Skype users around the world for the price of a local call. And, they can make long distance calls to landlines using their Skypeout minutes. Users save money on their cell phone bills, and because the connections are made on iSkoot's hardware, service providers have less processing to do on their networks. Plus, the system also eliminates long distance termination fees due to other operators.
It's such a great idea, says Guedalia, that the Hutchinson's 3 network bundled iSkoot on its 3 Skypephone handset, a fully-featured 3G Internet phone that allows users to access Skype service from their cell phone. For Hutchinson and Skype, it's a natural: users dial in to their local number in order to access Skype services, and Skype gets contact with mobile users.
In its latest third round of financing led by the Vision Opportunity Master Fund, iSkoot, a 30-employee company, netted an additional $19 million in development money - amid rumors that the company is set to close a deal with another major cell phone operator, to build a mobile platform for them.
Guedalia, who founded iSkoot with brother Jacob (a third brother, Josh, who works with the team, makes iSkoot a family affair), has been tinkering with Internet/phone/voice services for years. His previous startup, which began life with the name Shoutmail (later called Mobilee), was eventually purchased by NMS Communications in the US.
From apples to emails
"At Mobilee, we tried to realize the vision of bringing the Internet to phone voice services," Guedalia says. "We started out with an application that let you hear your e-mail read to you over the phone, and eventually developed a platform that let users call in and get weather, news, and other information just by asking for it, bypassing phone menu buttons."
Before that, he was involved in a number of other startups, including Live Picture, where he was the chief architect for the team that developed Live Picture's Image Server products. His first programming venture? Apples. "I worked for a company called Fruittonics and helped develop a system to sort apples according to quality, using a new neural network approach," he says.
Both iSkoot and Mobilee are located in the hilly town of Bet Shemesh, where Guedalia and many of the company's employees live. Bet Shemesh, a growing city about a half hour from Jerusalem, has been a magnet for western olim over the past several years, with new housing built in the city's Givat Sharrett and Ramat Bet Shemesh neighborhoods. The area boasts some of Israel's largest forests, quaint small towns, wineries, and interesting archaeological sites.
Unlike many entrepreneurs who seek out fancy digs in "hot" high-tech areas, like Jerusalem's Har Hotzvim or Herzliya Pituach, Guedalia believes in building up local communities. So, iSkoot is located in an industrial zone about 10 minutes out of Bet Shemesh.
In a bid to encourage high-tech business to relocate to the area, Guedalia, and colleague Zvi Wolicki, established the Shimshon High-Tech Forum several years ago to enable local companies to network, show off their products and services, and help people find jobs in the area.
The eventual goal: Construction of a high-tech center in the area, similar to those found in places like Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahiyall or Petah Tikva's Kiryat Aryeh, where buildings housing high-tech companies revitalized aging manufacturing districts, attracting restaurants, shops, and leisure facilities.
Guedalia's interests don't end there. He has been active in local politics, establishing a political party called Chen that had a seat on the city council until the most recent municipal elections. Plus, he runs an internship program that allows disadvantaged youth to get involved in high-tech, giving them the opportunity to check out a career alternative they might not have believed would be open to them.