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Our Journey of Discovering Israel, the Startup Nation, Begins

By Steve Zylstra and Leib Boel

We won’t even try to sugar coat our 13.5-hour plane trip from SFO to Tel Aviv. Suffice to say it’s not for wimps. And as for airplane food? As our delegate Rodney Jenkins said, “I think hospitals have them beat.”

After a night’s rest, the grogginess cleared and the magic kicked in for our group of business leaders travelling from Arizona. It started with a guided walk down Rothschild Blvd, the main avenue of Tel Aviv. Who could forget seeing the site where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed on May 14, 1948 and hearing how then stateswoman Golda Meir said, “After I signed, I cried.”

Seeing early photos of the desert landscape where skyscrapers now stand helped everyone appreciate how far Israel has come. Overlooking the Tel Aviv skyline at our first stop drove the point home. The eye-popping view from the top of TLV Labs made it clear that billions of dollars from the high-tech riches are pouring in the city.

After an adequate dose of gawking, Neta-Li Meiri, the managing director of the 8200 Social Program gave us our first taste of Israel’s pioneers of innovation. Tomer Shor, the co-founder TuneFork demonstrated mobile technology that personalizes audio for your specific hearing capability to give you an optimal experience while using your mobile devices. Miri Berger, the CEO of 6degrees, showed us a hands-free motion controller that’s changing the quality of life of individuals suffering from upper limb deficiency resulting from stroke, paralysis and amputation.

Arizona’s delegation to Israel visits the offices of the 8200 Social Program in Tel Aviv.

Both companies are graduates of the 8200 accelerator which was founded to help early stage ventures solve social problems through technology. Remind you of SEED SPOT? Exactly! Only these innovators are all looking to enter the large U.S. market from Israel, providing states like Arizona opportunities for partnership.

After a quick bite in Jaffa, an ancient port city out of which Tel Aviv grew, the group raised its glasses to the Hebrew toast to life “L’Chaim”, while visiting the tasting room of the boutique Montefiore Winery. CEO Arnon Geva poured refreshing light whites and rich reds while explaining how Israel’s modern wine industry has only grown better with age.

While the sipping continued, our invited guest Yaron Carni, founder of Maverick Ventures and investment analyst Danielle Shapira, provided impressive statistics of Israel’s Startup Nation. During the first three quarters of 2018, Israeli high-tech companies raised 20% more capital than in the same period of 2017 and in Q3 2018, there were 110 funding rounds, totaling $1.5B.

Maverick Ventures is dedicated to the success of Israeli companies and its portfolio includes companies such as privately held Orasis Pharmaceutical that’s eliminating the need for eyeglasses with a revolutionary eye drop. Imagine not having to struggle with the on again off again ritual associated with the gradual loss of vision. Yaron and Danielle provided example after example of innovative companies looking to establish a presence in the U.S. And why not Arizona? The opportunities are ours to cultivate.

Our next stop was at AIROBOTICS which has already chosen Scottsdale, Arizona as its U.S. headquarters, and will eventually shift its global headquarters there after it scales up production of its industrial drones. At AIROBOTICS’ location in Tel Aviv, VP of Marketing Efrat Fenigson served as our guide, showing us where the drones were manufactured, and led us outside to watch them whiz up and safely back down again into their robotic-powered docking stations. If you haven’t seen these impressive unmanned aerial vehicles in action yet, keep your eyes open for future networking opportunities hosted at their Scottsdale location.

We capped off the day in style with a welcoming reception at Greenburg Taurig’s Tel Aviv office where we met CEO Brian Duffy, fresh in from Denver where he leads the global law firm. Our delegate Quinn Williams of Greenburg Taurig in Phoenix said, “Having an office in Tel Aviv gives me the opportunity to provide connections to our Israeli clients wishing to do business in Arizona, as well as our Arizona clients wishing to do business in Israel.”

Greenberg Taurig welcomes Arizona’s delegation. Leib Boel, Steve Zylstra and Quinn Williams

We hope day one of our journey has given you a sense of why we’re here. Israel’s vibrant startup scene provides endless business opportunities for Arizona. New partnerships are being discussed every day and the best is yet to come. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog and continue to follow our journey!

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