Latest update: November 25th, 2013
It was a much anticipated evening as the winners of the U.S. Israel Business Council (USI) competition for “most promising Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs with the next big idea,” were to be announced. The enthusiasm was overwhelming as there were more than 160 applicants to the “Israel to NY” competition, and despite some very impressive ideas, only 15 Israeli tech-startups were chosen as finalists.
Finalists were invited to New York for three days of intensive workshops, networking opportunities with investors, and necessary guidance in how to launch their business operations in New York City. Then, at the closing reception, the finalists were given 90 seconds to showcase their startups to an invitation-only audience of over 300 investors. The winner receiving the most positive feedback from the panel of judges and the audience would be granted a $10,000 award worth of professional services, complimentary office space for six months, and ongoing support from US Israel Business Council.
USI is a not-for-profit organization founded by Gil Galanos, the former deputy minister of the Israeli Economic Mission to North America. USI regularly facilitates collaboration between Israeli and U.S. entrepreneurs and investors in an attempt to drive the next generation of science and technology. The “Israel to NY” program was co-organized by NYC government’s New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), which seeks to establish New York’s “Silicon Alley” as an accelerator for high-tech ventures, by tapping into Israeli innovation emerging from Tel Aviv’s famed “Silicon Wadi.”
Amid the buzz that Tel Aviv is the second best high-tech center in the world, Adam Singolda, Israeli CEO and founder of Taboola, an internet content provider who has raised $40 million and recently moved his company headquarters to NYC, said there are some unique aspects to being an Israeli that allow for a competitive advantage. Singolda explained, “Israelis may not have money or clients, or anything other than a good idea and talent, but they have chutzpah.”
He described it as, “The ‘yes we can!’ approach, where Israelis try everything again and again until it can’t be done anymore.” Singolda also credited compulsory military service, “The army is a great manufacturer of people who are great in technology. For example, someone tells you to install a database for $10 million…and you better make it work and have it ready by tomorrow night.”
Indeed, Singolda is an alum of the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Mamram computer science training program and served in the secretive military Center for Encryption and Information Security. “You get a lot of responsibility at a young age, whether that is to protect people, or in software, or whatever you may do in the army.”
Speaking to why Israeli start-ups should expand to NY, Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder of Arava Power Company, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, and three times Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said, “Being able to leverage the best in our mutual communities, the best ideas and the best network, is what’s so exciting about this endeavor. We’re able to take the best of Israel and mitigate some of the culture barriers we all know and laugh about, and come up with a hybrid model.” He told how the multinational firm Siemens tried for a decade to do a deal in Israel, but said they couldn’t find Israelis they could get along with, “But then here we were, American-Israelis, and they did business with us.”
Abramowitz said, “Israelis come to NY and want to do their business and do boom, boom, boom.” But he advised Israeli start-up founders, “For some angel investors, there’s a larger context in which you are doing your startup, so talk about yourself, your journey, hopes, and dreams in the larger context.” He said people want to make money and also do good at the same time, “It’s not just about business but Israel’s good name and helping Israel succeed.”
Focusing on the many opportunities for fundraising in NY, specifically on Wall Street, Craig Gotsman, founding director of Technion-Cornell Innovation, said there is plenty of money available in New York where there’s excitement about new ideas. “New York is a place where ideas collide, where close mindedness goes to die, and where you are only judged on the quality of your ideas and how hard you work.” Nevertheless, he conceded the fastest growing economies are not in the U.S. and he therefore believes, “New Yorkers need to look at Israel as a bridge – if you are an inspiring startup in the USA and want to go global – you need Israel.”
Finally, the time came for the founders to pitch their startups in 90 second intervals, after which they were asked specific questions by a panel of respected judges, including, Dan Ciporin, general partner, Canaan Ventures; Danny Schultz, managing partner, Gotham Ventures; and Jing Wang Herman, CEO, GetTaxi USA.
However, as Jonathan Stefansky, a co-founder of Viewbix and Beit Shemesh resident, got up to make his pitch, he looked out the window at the World Trade Center site and decided the pitch wasn’t as important as remembering his friend and former boss, Danny Lewin.
Lewin was an American Israeli who was killed as he defended an airline stewardess on the first plane that crashed into the WTC towers. Stefansky began his pitch by saying, “Danny Lewin was one of the first people killed on Sept. 11, he started Akamai Technologies which affects every single Internet user today, and he brought thousands of jobs to Massachusetts. He’s an American Israeli, and really, it’s incumbent on all of us to fulfill his dreams by creating start-ups in Israel and bringing them to the U.S. as well.”
The evening culminated with the People’s Choice Award going to Augury Systems, dubbed the “Shazam for engines,” as it automatically diagnoses machines, gives treatment recommendations, and even predicts future failures, based on the sounds emitted. Other contenders included AdCore, Brayola, Cellepathy, Choozer, Connesta, Curiyo, Fashioholic, Roomixer, Seebo, Senexx, TotalBoox, Viewbix, and Zazma who presented innovative tech solutions in fashion, hospitality, book publishing, hiring employees, safe driving with cell phones, SEM campaign automation, online video with interactive apps, short-term financing for small businesses, toy development and gaming.
David Bratslavsky, executive director of USI said, “I’m very satisfied with the accomplishments of the ‘Israel to NYC’ program. We introduced Israel’s top tech start-ups to investors, potential business partners and government resources, everything Israeli entrepreneurs need to enable global expansion through New York City.”
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