Startup Nation


Winter in Israel: Day 8

Our final day in Tel Aviv was bittersweet, as we knew our incredible journey was coming to an end. We started the day meeting at YL Ventures, a venture capital (VC) firm like many in Israel that focused on early-stage investing. I was astounded that while the US was trending towards less early/seed-stage capital and much more later-stage investments, Israel seemed to embrace their unique VC ecosystem. YL’s Head of Intelligence, Yuval Mond, said it best as I spoke with him walking out of their office. “Because startup companies in Israel focus mostly on the foreign market,” he told me, there must be a system set up that caters to helping these startups get through the countless foreign market hurdles. This allows for a collaborative environment in Israel where companies have to begin bringing their company to the foreign market very early on, where US-based startups have the luxury of often first focusing on their domestic market.

Following our meeting with the intelligent people at YL, our group walked to briefly visit Independence Hall, which was the location of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. As excited as we were to see this important place, our worn-out group was nearly as excited when we saw the Aroma Coffee shop at the corner of the street. Instead of refueling on caffeine at Aroma, we saw our trusty driver pull up across the street, and had to quickly head to our next location.

The group in Independence Hall
Outside of Independence Hall

Our group next visited the Old Jaffa market and port. While some split off and went shopping, many of the students walked around and enjoyed the beautiful views of Tel Aviv, dodging numerous “gifts” from the welcoming pigeons on our way to one of the oldest known ports in the world.

 

Old Jaffa Port

Following the walk, we visited Phoenix Insurance Company, the 3rd largest insurance company in Israel, to check out their investment department and recent InsurTech initiatives. While meeting with many of their c-level executives, our group hopes to establish partnerships and apply what we learned to rebuild the city of Hartford.

The view of Tel Aviv from the conference room at Phoenix Insurance Company

Our final meeting in Israel brought us to The Junction, which is an accelerator program that had launched over 125 companies. We experienced the entrepreneurial spirit first-hand when we celebrated with a team who just finished raising $3M in seed money for their startup. You could feel the excitement and promise in the air from those working at the startup, and I realized that this feeling is often what helps drive some of the world’s most innovative people.

At our final dinner in Israel, we all reflected on everything we learned and saw while in Israel. Many of us had realized that Israel is not the country you hear about in the news. It is a country full of innovation and of people extremely prideful of their nation, of chutzpah and falafel. It is astounding that one of the most important areas in biblical times now serves an equally important role in the global innovation economy today.

I can say for myself that I was very moved by what I learned on the trip. It is an experience that I will remember for a long time. I was sad to leave such a beautiful country, but knew it wouldn’t be the last time I’d be in Israel. “Israel is your second home,” our tour guide had said, and boy did I feel at home there.

Post written by: Nicholas Wehrle

Nicholas Wehrle: I am a 5th semester student double-majoring in economics and psychological sciences, with a minor in business. I am passionate about the “business behind innovation”—the space where entrepreneurs and investors collaborate to grow an idea into a successful company. This past summer I interned in Life Science & Healthcare Venture Banking at Silicon Valley Bank. I am an avid reader of The Economist, and enjoy playing rugby at UConn.


Winter in Israel: Day 7

Today was our second to last day of this trip. Heading out the hotel door at 8:30, we went to our first destination for the day, Caesarea. This is an ancient Roman and Byzantine city that was designed and created by Harrod. In it’s heyday, Caesarea was a majestic city by the sea with massive ports to allow for exchange of goods. While walking around the ruins, it was crazy to imagine what the city looked like at its peak. Our tour guide Yoram told us to take a seat at this one section of the ruins and most of us obliged just to find out that we were sitting in the ruins of the old bathrooms of the amphitheaters built in the city. We also had the opportunity to watch a short historical clip on the past, present, and future of Caesarea. We visited the ruins of an aqueduct that was used to bring water from the Mediterranean into the city. The city was an excellent example of how innovative and cutting edge technology of the time helped society flourish. On our way back to the bus, we encountered an entrepreneur who tried to sell us pieces from his extensive scarf and fur coat collection.

The Roman theatre that Harrod designed for large performances.

 

The group sitting on unexpected toilets.

After our visit to Caesarea, we hopped back on the bus for a relaxing ride along the shoreline to Haifa, the third largest city by population in Israel. Haifa is known as a technology hub, with companies such as Phillips and Microsoft having offices there. We drove up the steep roads until we reached the Ba’hai Garden, an area preserved by the people who practice the religion Ba’hai. We looked down onto the gardens from above and learned about the importance of symmetry and of the numbers 9 and 19. They built these garden up on top of a hill and it is rumored that the hill underneath is actually a bomb shelter that the Ba’hai intend to use if the city of Haifa comes under attack. The city of Haifa as a whole is a very innovate city. It is known as a port city to the state of Israel, as it brings in imports that will later be distributed to the rest of the country. Unfortunately, Haifa is also experiencing increased pollution due to many chemical companies creating plants there.

The group at the beach near the aqueduct. We picked up special shells and skipped stones.

 

The view from the top of the Ba-hai Gardens.

Heading out of the city, we stopped at a rest area to check out the acclaimed Aroma, an Israeli coffee shop renowned for their iced coffee. There also ended being a McDonald’s at the same stop, and a few students decided to grab lunch there to compare and contrast an Israeli McDonald’s to that of an American one (also they just wanted a burger with cheese on it, which usually isn’t allowed because of the typical kosher diet).

Full from lunch, we headed to RAFAEL, the primary missile defense company for Israel. This was a particularly special meeting because we all needed background checks and security clearance, completed in advance, to enter the facility. We learned about the dangers that Israel faced as a nation due to its precarious position in the Middle East. As Yoram likes to say, “Israel’s best neighbor is the Mediterranean Sea”. We also learned more about the Iron Dome, a system that RAFAEL helped put into place to help detect missiles that are targeted toward the country. Learning about the company shed some light on the technology and innovation that Israel brings to the global marketplace. For one, the company has been very innovative in designing its missiles. In building one of their rockets, they ended up using the connectors from the Buzz Lightyear and Woody toys from Toy Story to help bring the cost down $4,000, without sacrificing the effectiveness of the missile. RAFAEL is also very collaborative with related companies in the United States such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing by partnering with them to bring technology to the US military. This global partnership and collaboration helps them become a leader in the field. The success of this company and the innovation of their technology is very much driven by their desire to make Israel the best it can be, a foundation that has also helped it become a “start-up” nation.

Our busy day concluded with a visit to a local winery called Jezreel, which specializes in producing Israeli wine. The winery is very young, founded in 2012. It arose due to the founder’s need for wine that fits the Israeli people’s cuisine, climate, and personality. Like many other Israeli companies, this one found a niche in society and capitalized on it. We had the opportunity to learn about the wine making process and ended our tour there with a wine tasting.

We had an extremely busy and productive day. From visiting traditional tourist locations such as Caesarea and the Ba’hai gardens to visiting RAFAEL, a place that most Israelis will never visit in their lifetimes, and a start-up Israeli vineyard, we learned more about Israeli culture and the entrepreneurial spirit that has helped them become such a successful nation in less than 75 years.

Post written by: Amisha Dave

Amisha Dave: I am a senior biomedical engineering major in the Honors Program and plan on attending medical school next year. I am pursing minors in computer science, information technology, and bioinfomatics and through taking classes for minors, I have found myself getting more and more interested in both healthcare technology and startups. In addition, I have been looking study abroad for the last three years and found this to be the perfect opportunity to visit a unique country that integrates many of my interests. I can’t wait to exploring both the historical and entrepreneurial culture of Israel and start off 2018 there!


Winter in Israel: Day 5

And on the fifth day there was light! Up until this point in our trip, our understanding of what makes Israel’s startup culture unique was almost entirely secondhand. That all changed today with our visits to a couple of successful Israeli “startups,” and to an organization that is committed to building stronger business ties between Israeli and the US.

The day kicked off with our tour guide’s daily download on what President Trump said while we were sleeping. One theme that has emerged during our trip is the strength of the relationship between the US and Israel – both politically and economically. Our guide’s interest in President Trump’s tweets and US policy is not a recent phenomenon, but rather reflects a bond that started in 1948, when, under President Truman, the US became the first country to recognize the Jewish State. President Trump’s decision to see the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 through has undoubtedly made US-Israel policy a hot topic of conversation, but it has also been a decision that has strengthened US-Israeli ties. Based on an admittedly limited sample of daily conversations with local Israelis, President Trump’s decision is not as controversial as it seemed in the US. Interestingly, many of the Israelis that describe President Trump as mashugana (crazy), also tend to respect his chutzpah (boldness) – a trait that Israelis embrace in themselves and one which is often cited as a distinguishing characteristic of Israeli startup culture.

Billboards showing support of President Trump in Jerusalem

Our first meeting of the day was with the US-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD). Approximately 40 years ago, the US and Israeli governments established an endowment for the Foundation with the stated mission to encourage cooperation between Israeli and American companies by providing funding and assistance in facilitating strategic partnerships for developing joint products or technologies. The idea was to focus on technology that benefits humanity, not on profitability. Because of this, BIRD typically attracts startups in the life sciences or environmental sectors, or projects with longer lifecycles that tend to be less popular with VCs. Similar to the risk-free grants offered to Israeli startups by the Israeli government, if the venture fails, BIRD does not require repayment. It also does not receive equity or IP rights. Since 1977, BIRD has invested in over 1,000 projects, which have yielded direct and indirect revenues of over $10 billion. Over the years, two more endowments have been established – BIRD Energy and Home Land Security/First Responders – reaffirming and promoting the strength of the ties between the US and Israel through entrepreneurial collaboration.

Vendor selling candy in Carmel Market in Tel Aviv

After a quick stop for lunch in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, we travelled to the modern planned city of Modi’in to visit BriefCam, where we met with the company’s CTO and Regional Sales Manager. We first heard about BriefCam during our visit to Yissum, Hebrew University’s tech transfer office, on the first day of our trip. In the mid-2000s, Professor Peleg had the idea to develop an AI-driven technology that would make sifting through video as easy as running a search on Google. After having the U.S Department of Defense observe early prototypes – once again highlighting the strong bond between the US and Israel, this time in the university tech transfer context – the engine behind concept, Video Synopsis® began to be more seriously developed, and the company opened a US branch in 2010. The ability to analyze hours of CCTV footage in minutes, or the ability to allow users to search surveillance cameras for, say, every person wearing a red T-shirt or every person walking a particular path, can prove to be an invaluable tool in police investigations. For example, in 2013, the technology was successfully used in the Boston Marathon Bombing investigation to help identify the Tsarnaev brothers. Hartford is another city that utilizes the technology. Tom Edlund, BriefCam’s CTO, credited Hartford with using the technology in innovative ways that has helped drive the development of the technology. Hartford takes a holistic view of safe city security and uses the technology in ways that promote the local economy by decreasing local crime. For instance, Hartford uses the technology to identify drug dealers to make the streets safer for pedestrians, and it uses it during Yard Goats games to make sure that the areas around the stadium remain safe. BriefCam offers a very impressive solution that cities like Hartford is helping to refine and improve. BriefCam is currently working to grow its sales force and target a variety of other industries from retail to urban planning.

A member of Kibbutz Magal describing a drip irrigation solution Netafim developed for UNESCO.

The final stop of the day was at Netafim, located on Kibbutz Magal. Netafim started as a drip irrigation system that was intended to address the local challenges of growing agriculture in a desert with a limited water supply, into a full agriculture solution that touches all aspects of the growing cycle. Netafim is beyond the startup phase and is now a global business that enjoyed over $1 billion in revenue last year. Our tour of the company included a tour of the facilities and the history of the kibbutz’s communist roots and shared communal ideology, which underwent some changes when the community democratically voted to change the ownership model in 2004 in response to the company’s success.

Post written by: Jonathan Hague

Jonathan Hague: I am currently a second-year law student at UConn Law School. I am interested in International Business Law. I enjoy traveling and experiencing new cultures.