Lucey Fund Visits Israel

For the past few days I’ve been honoured to spend time getting up close and personal with the Israeli tech community: following a write-up in Geektime a few weeks back, I was invited to Jerusalem to speak at a conference, and decided to take some time to learn more about one of the most vaunted startup ecosystems in the world.

The first part of the tour centred around the mHealth Israel conference, which took place in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (founded by Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, no less). A mix of 200 mobile/digital health startups, and a strong showing of both corporate and venture investors, gathered to discuss trends in the industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities particular to the sector. I participated in a panel on early-stage funding, where I shared the story of Medxnote, one of our portfolio clients, who offer HIPAA Secure and Compliant Mobile Message for the Healthcare Enterprise. The panel, comprised of early stage investors mainly from Western Europe and Asia, offered local startups an interesting perspective on differences in the approach to funding between the different regions.

That evening after the conference, we relocated temporarily to Tel Aviv, where we were guest of Microsoft Ventures for their local Demo Day —the deal on offer for startups participating in their accelerator programme is frankly outstanding: thousands of dollars worth of design time from Microsoft, up to $0.5M of credit on Azure, and access to world-class mentors… and all for zero equity in return. I was delighted to see an old friend pitching his product on stage: Ohad Shperling, co-founder of Personalics, a content personalisation cloud service offering SMEs in the eCommerce space the same client personalisation abilities as the Amazons of this world. Ohad has taken the rarely trodden path of moving from the role of funder, to the role of founder, having previously been Principal at Carmel Ventures — his insight into the Israeli tech scene was invaluable, having seen “both sides of the table” to steal a quote from Mark Suster. Ohad also pulled off a stunt I’ve never seen before at a Demo Day, bringing the CEO of one of his paying clients on stage to deliver a live recommendation: risky, but certainly attention-grabbing!

Another highlight from the trip was my visit to the “offices” of sFBI in Rishpon, north of Herzliya — set amongst mango trees and pecan plantations, sFBI (Small Factory, Big Ideas), act like a startup lab, similar to Sean Blanchfield’s ScaleFront here in Dublin. The team brainstorm ideas internally and rapidly test the viability of projects before deciding to create a venture around the most promising. At this moment they have two projects in the system: one called Pulse Play in the wearables space; and another project soon to launch in the online security space. The founder, Enon Landenberg, is both a gracious host and a font of information on the local startup community — I think this could be the start of a beautiful relationship…

Overall, during the short space of time I spent there, the reputation of Israel as the “Startup Nation” wasn’t in any way weakened. Building a successful startup appears to be on everyone’s mind, and the skills, discipline, and ambition developed during their compulsory military service gives Israeli teams a strong headstart. There are challenges however, with the pressure of sourcing technical skills increasing steadily, and a decided reluctance by local startups to target the European market — something a strong partner such as the Lucey Fund could certainly assist with. Watch this space — Mazel Tov!

P.S. As ever, my thanks to the inimitable Clyde Hutchinson of the Ireland Israel Business Network for his support and words of wisdom in preparation of the trip… anything you can do to get that direct flight would be fantastic though…

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