By Andrew Friedman/TPS
Daniel Gradus’ business education was a trial-by-fire.
At the age of 30 and newly married, Gradus found himself relocated from Tel Aviv to New York while his wife pursued a graduate degree. Both to occupy himself and to stay financially afloat, he purchased a home renovations franchise and tried hard to meet with building managers and contractors in order to build the business, only to repeatedly get stuck in the lobby.
Eventually, Dan and David Singer, the owners of Robison Oil, a major New York provider, agreed to meet Gradus and take a look at his operation. Eventually, they were impressed enough to buy into the business, sparking a jump in its growth revenue from US$500,000 in 2011 to $9.5 million in 2014.
But Gradus says his partners never really took an active role in the company, 911 Restoration.
“All they really did was introduce me to the right people and put their name behind me,” Gradus recalls. “Their connections opened doors for me – the rest was up to me.”
Fast forward five years: Gradus returned with his family to Israel, bent both on paying the lessons he had learned from the Singers forward and on building a new model to connect American businesspeople with Israeli businesses.
The result is Homrun, a for-profit organization dedicated to building a network of American businesspeople committed to helping Israeli companies enter the US market. The model is simple: 60 US businesspeople pay $15,000 each to join the organization and commit to review Israeli companies online once a week. Gradus, co-founder Eli Elfasi and their five-member team vet the companies according to the current state of the company, the entrepreneurs involved, and most importantly what connections the company is looking for. Then, when the company is ready, members with connections in the relevant field are expected to make introductions for the Israeli side.
“Look, it’s Zionism and it’s business,” Gradus told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “The first part of that statement means we’re committed to building and supporting Israel in any way we can. The second part of it means that the best contribution we can make is to Israel’s economy, by helping businesses break into the American market.
“Lastly, as an Israeli who has spent time in America, I know there are so many people who want to be connected to Israel, involved with Israel, who want to help. But the traditional ways of being involved – things like planting trees or donating ambulances – that’s not really where Israel is at anymore.
“That was a great model years ago, but Israel needs different things today. So by connecting our members with Israeli companies, we add a third dimension of supporting Israel – namely, nourishing Israeli-American relationships,” he added.
Gradus, 38, said his experience in building a business and his connections in the New York business arena places him in a position to offer a unique service to Israeli companies.
“Top-level connections in the American market are a game changer for Israeli businesses, but it’s not always clear that a company is ready to shoot for the top. For instance, if a company asks us for help getting them a meeting with Home Depot, our team has to make sure the Israeli company is ready for that. Perhaps they should go to a small, local hardware store first, make their mistakes there and then move on to the big time?
“You just have to understand the product and the individuals involved, and develop an understanding of how to best help them out. Arranging the wrong meetings for them could actually be very bad for them, both in the short- and long-term,” Gradus says.
For members, in addition to fostering connections with Israel, there is a financial incentive – once the company becomes profitable, Homrun will keep 40 percent of the profit, and the members will split 60 percent of the profit equally. But for most members, the fiscal considerations are secondary.
“Homrun is a great way to involve people, both in Israel and here,” said Mark Berger, the founder of Securitech, a New York lock manufacturer. “For me, it’s a great opportunity to connect and really support Israel – if I can open my phone book and help out a business as it is starting out, I’m happy to help.”
Since launching in September, 2015, more than half of the member seats have been sold. Gradus says he is not in a rush to fill the spots, and that he is committed to building a diverse, committed group. He and Elfasi have met with more than 150 companies, and six have come on board. At least one company, Wigo Analytics, a video analytics solution, has signed a pilot deal with a Texas-based distributor.
Looking forward, Homrun says the company aims to create $150-200 million a year for Israeli businesses in the next two-to-four years – a lofty goal, Gradus admits, but not impossible. “If we have 200 people playing ‘Jewish geography,’ I believe we can open every door in North America. So we’ve got members deepening their ties with Israel, and Israeli companies are getting feedback and connections from seasoned business professionals.
“There’s a phrase for that model. It’s called win-win,” he said.