A Sesame Miracle: Supporting Small Businesses in Israel

A superfood lies in the heart of the Valley of Elah.
This start-up is bringing an Israeli food staple to the masses.

Building a business from the glimmer of an idea is kind of like growing a plant. It needs support. It needs nurturing. Just ask Michal Melamed, an Israeli entrepreneur with a passion for tehina (tahini). For her, this silky, sesame-based condiment has become, not only her livelihood—but her calling. Getting this superfood to market wasn’t easy though.

The help was both financial and emotional. [The Fund representatives] always want to know what’s going on with my business, so that they can provide encouragement and boost my morale.

Loan Funds provide support for Israeli Entrepreneurs are The Jewish Agency's grassroots economic development engines for entrepreneurs and small business owners in Jerusalem, the Negev, and Galilee.

Just ask Michal Melamed, an Israeli entrepreneur with a passion for tehina (tahini). For her, this silky, sesame-based condiment has become, not only her livelihood—but her calling. Getting this superfood to market wasn’t easy though. Like all businesses, Michal needed help to start off on the right foot. “The Jewish Agency believed in me,” she says. She needed help with more than the basics of buying machinery and setting up a factory. She also required guidance for training staff and meeting the requirements of the Israel Ministry of Health. The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Loan Funds program, which supports small businesses in Israel, made her vision a reality. Without The Agency’s aid, Michal says, “I would not have existed.”

The Jewish Agency’s Loan Funds program helps new and existing small-business owners open or expand their businesses. The Agency manages seven loan funds throughout Israel, and is backed by donating parties from all over the world. They secure financial assistance with highly attractive payback conditions. The Jewish Agency also acts as a partial guarantor, to support businesses that otherwise would have a difficult time qualifying for loans. Sometimes, they even present the necessary collateral a venture would need.

More than 1,790 businesses like Michal’s have received assistance since the program’s founding in 2002. But, the support isn’t solely financial. For Michal, The Agency stayed by her side through growing pains—a natural part of starting a business from scratch. “It was much more than purchasing the machines to create my product,” Michal says. “The help was both financial and emotional. They always want to know what’s going on with my business, so that they can provide encouragement and boost my morale.”

Grown in the Valley of Elah, aka the Tuscany of Israel, Michal’s tehina plants are the foundation for her creative flavor profiles. Grapefruit with spinach and honey, as well as purple onion and thyme are a couple of her signature options. But, her artisanal mixes are just one small part of the equation. “What we’re doing is not a trend, but something deeper,” she says of her business. We’re preserving the qualities and uniqueness of an iconic food.”

It’s a mission that relies on innovation to maximize tehina’s nutritional value. To do so, Michal developed her own method of grinding whole sesame seeds, and commits to the process of drying the seeds at lower temperatures. She also works with a food technologist to help with materials conservation. It all adds up to a consciously created, high-quality (and delicious) superfood. “Today, it is clear that the potential of our product is very high, because we have a health food with a special taste,” she explains.

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