Israeli firms seek partners at Silicon Valley summit

Silicon Valley venture capitalists looking for the next big thing — and money-seeking Israeli startups hoping to be that thing — came together recently for the first California Israel International Business Summit.

Held on the Mountain View campus of Microsoft, the Oct. 22 event drew approximately 400 people and 25 companies, and lasted nearly 12 hours.

Uriel Cohen of WireX Systems, a tech company in Israel, looks for local capital. photo/california israel chamber of commerce

“You are the kings and queens, the entrepreneurs,” said Jon Medved of OurCrowd, a Jerusalem-based enterprise that finds funding for Israeli startups. “We, the venture capitalists, are here as infrastructure and support, and we should not lose sight of the entrepreneurs. And Israel is a great way to make money and invest.”

The broad-ranging agenda included fireside chats with cybersecurity experts and tech industry leaders. There were also sessions and panels on a number of topics, such as mobile technology development and the Internet of Things (IoT, or interconnectivity).

Although Israel and Silicon Valley have enjoyed a close relationship for years, this was the first daylong summit. It was organized by the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Israeli Economic Mission to the West Coast and the S.F.-based Consulate of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

Several Israeli entrepreneurs emphasized that while there certainly is investment money in Israel, Silicon Valley has deeper pockets to fund new ideas — and because of Israel’s reputation as a tech leader, it’s considerably easier to attract capital here.

Israeli-based businessmen Gil Margulis (left) and Jon Medved

“In Israel it’s easy to get meetings. I always get meetings,” said serial entrepreneur Gil Margulis, who moved to Tel Aviv to take advantage of Israel’s growing online media industry. “But always, the investments are small. In Silicon Valley it’s hard to get that meeting, but once you do, because you’re Israeli and running an Israeli tech firm, it’s much easier to get the investment.”

Cybersecurity was one of the conference’s dominant themes, since Israel has been recognized a world leader in that sector. Israelis pick up advanced skills in the Israel Defense Forces in areas such as cryptography and cyber defenses, and after they’ve completed their service, they take those skills to the private sector.

Thus, investors in Israeli cybersecurity companies can stay ahead of the world market, said Daniel Frankenstein, co-founder of Janvest Technologies, a U.S.-based group that invests exclusively in Israeli startups. The Bay Area native and U.C. Berkeley graduate said one thing Israeli cybersecurity companies do exceptionally well is create powerful systems that are easy to use.

Another aspect of cybersecurity — and another area in which Israeli firms are out in front, attendees said — is helping businesses and governments deal with internal threats, such as Edward Snowden leaking CIA secrets in 2013.

Sunnyvale-based Whitebox Security, which has a research and development center in Israel, is one company working on data governance solutions. “Basically, we’re stopping the next Edward Snowden,” said Maor Goldberg, Whitebox’s co-founder and CEO.

Goldberg called internal threats the No. 1 threat to companies, greater even than external hackers. They “cause massive damage to employers,” he said, “and the biggest technical reason is because employees are allowed to access too much information.”

Medved said he attended the conference not necessarily to find big-money venture capitalists, but to get people to invest as little as $10,000 in early stage Israeli startups through his crowd-funding firm.

“With all the talk of boycotts against Israel, with all the negativity, we’re building an army of people who want to primarily invest in Israel,” he said.

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a former J. staff writer.