Celebrating Israel’s Food, Culture and Entrepreneurship

April 12, 2017

Israel has earned the name “Start-up Nation” and has more companies on the NASDAQ exchange than Japan, South Korea and India combined – a total 93. Students, faculty and guests learned those facts and more at the School’s “Focus on Israel” event April 4, headlined by Israeli officials and company leaders active in South Florida.

A small country (the size of New Jersey) with 8.5 million people (fewer than New York City), Israel has the second biggest concentration of startups worldwide after California’s Silicon Valley. It’s known for innovation in mobile tech, cyber-security, health care and water. Proof of its prowess: U.S. giant Intel just agreed to purchase Jerusalem-based developer MobileEye for $15.5 billion to use its driver-assistance systems in autonomous vehicles, Inon Elroy, Israel’s economic minister to North America, told the business school audience.

“Every year, there are 1,000 new Israeli companies being launched. Every eight hours, a new company comes to life,” said Elroy.

So many startups are possible because of the unique eco-system Israel has created, led by an active government that invests in and promotes innovation; strong universities; and an Army that encourages draftees born in diverse countries to think “out of the box,” said Meital Stavinsky, a lawyer at Holland & Knight in Miami who helps Israeli startups expand in the U.S. Israeli innovation also is spurred by “necessity,” needing to find methods to create water and food in the desert, she said.

“The way we were brought up is to think for yourself,” added Itay Tayas-Zamir, CEO and founder of Woosh Water, an Israeli startup now expanding in the U.S. “There’s a lot of chutzpah that makes it easy to imagine something that doesn’t exist yet,” and then, to obtain support from the government, funders and others to bring the idea to market, said Tayas-Zamir.

His Tel Aviv-based company has developed “smart-water stations” that let customers clean containers and fill them with filtered, chilled drinking water at costs cheaper than buying bottled water, a move that reduces the use of plastic water bottles that often end up in landfills. Miami Beach will be installing about two dozen of the stations later this year.

Israel’s government encourages startups in myriad ways, even offering high-tech visas for skilled immigrants and soon, innovation visas for immigrants to start companies in Israel too, said Stavinsky.

That openness to immigrants helped draw Uri Benhamron, a Venezuelan who now runs a venture capital group focused on Israeli clean tech. He’s wowed by the way Israel’s government has set up incubators nationwide and funds them, pouring more cash per capita into R&D than any other nation.

Miami doctor and serial entrepreneur Maurice R. Ferre has been using Israeli technology in all his ventures and now leads an Israeli company developing a new generation of surgery: non-invasive. Insightec directs beams of ultrasound to problem areas in the brain and elsewhere to treat essential tremor and other disorders. It has worked with more than 10,000 patients so far. More than $300 million already has been invested in the 18-year-old company, some by Israel’s government and GE. Ferre thinks investing $500 million to $1 billion more over the next decade can help “change the world.” He did just that with the last venture he helped develop, South Florida’s robotic surgery company Mako Surgical, which sold for $1.65 billion.

“You might as well think big,” said Ferre, “because it takes almost the same amount of energy.”

The Focus event also featured a welcome from Israel’s consul in Miami, Lior Haiat; falafel, hummus and Israeli foods; and an Israeli dance performance. Said School Dean Anuj Mehotra in kicking-off the event:  “Programs like this one allow our students to delve deeper into regions and countries, providing them with greater understanding of the important differences and similarities that drive business decisions and business opportunities.”

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