William Hill Makes A Safe Bet on the Data Economy: By Backing Israeli High-Tech

A couple of weeks ago, leading UK bookmaker William Hill announced that it is funding a new start-up accelerator with branches in London in Tel Aviv. Offering up to eight start-ups places on a 12-week programme with an initial investment of £25,000 each, the accelerator will bring together William Hill’s digital innovation hub at “Silicon Roundabout” in east London with its global marketing services hub at “Silicon Wadi” in Tel Aviv.

The new accelerator is the latest in a growing network of links between London and Tel Aviv in the gaming industry. Like William Hill, Ladbrokes also runs its digital marketing operation from Israel, in collaboration with Israeli gaming software developer Playtech. At the same time, Playtech has recently completed a £460 million takeover of Israel-based online broker Plus500, which is listed in London.

In seizing on the combination of British capital and Israeli expertise, British bookies are backing a proven winner. Not only have British businesses ranging from banks to bus companies, social media sites to sports teams, looked to Israeli expertise to give their products an edge, but growing numbers of British investors are seeking out their next ventures in Tel Aviv. With IPOs of Israeli start-ups totalling $2.1 billion in 2014 — the highest for ten years — British private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds are among the many outside investors finding value in Israeli enterprise.

Yet William Hill’s new project highlights something deeper about UK-Israel tech relations. While ground-breaking innovation makes the headlines, the core utility of many Israeli high-tech firms is in data analysis. In this respect, the gaming industry is a case in point. With bookmakers pricing bets involving multiple variables, the value of an accurate system capable of taking into account a vast sum of information is significant. William Hill’s search for start-ups in Israel will comprise not only companies offering solutions for managing data and transactions, but also marketing solutions enabling online products to better meet customer demand.

William Hill’s announcement received mixed reactions on Twitter

The importance of data management to the global economy goes far beyond the gaming industry. In a world where financial markets are not only increasingly interconnected but increasingly volatile, technology can play a vital role in managing risk and understanding global trends. Moreover, as businesses emerge from recession and prepare for the possibility of another downturn, the benefits of new technology able to analyse corporate expenditure, identify efficiency savings, and cut costs are substantial — particularly for the UK’s dominant services sector.

With bilateral trade reaching record highs again last year — in spite of efforts to delegitimise Israeli companies — the commercial relationship between Israel and the UK is already in rude health. But the story emanating from the gaming industry highlights the potential of still greater links in years to come, with Israeli high-tech not only catalysing progress but also offering the means to hedge against the upheavals that are coming to characterise the 21st-century global economy. As any bookie can tell you, it is low risks rather than high stakes that ultimately provide the richest rewards.

The Wall Street Journal

Companies who wish to be a part of WHLabs, can apply on www.williamhilllabs.com. The application process closes on 26 July 2015.

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