Israel’s tech sector is strong but ‘vulnerability areas’ pose challenges


Israel’s tech ecosystem is strong and vibrant, but areas of vulnerability could pose challenges for the industry and perhaps the wider Israeli economy, the outgoing executive director of the technology-focused organization warned. technology Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), Wendy Singer.

The famed tech industry suffers from a chronic talent shortage and more resources are needed to help develop the skills that could help meet that need, Singer said, adding that it’s a “blue ocean.” to explore”.

SNC’s annual reports on Israel’s tech ecosystem have repeatedly called for more programs that would tap into underrepresented populations, such as ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, as well as women, to fill the gap. “Without the large-scale integration of women, Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox population into high technology, the main engine of growth for the Israeli economy will be without fuel, and the negative impact will far exceed the relative size of the tech industry in the economy,” former SNC CEO Eugene Kandel warned in the 2021 report.

Israelis have “courage, nerve and resilience, and a problem-solving gene”, but “there are areas of vulnerability which, if we are not careful, this thing is not guaranteed”, Singer said in an extensive interview with The Times. from Israel in late January on his last day with SNC.

Singer is completing nine years as a senior executive at the organization, established in late 2012 as a gateway to Israel’s tech sector and the “connective tissue” between industry and global markets in search of innovative solutions.

A former longtime director of AIPAC’s Jerusalem offices, Singer left the lobbying organization after a 23-year career to join SNC, founded in 2012 as a nonprofit, non-governmental philanthropic venture funded by Paul Singer (no relation), an American billionaire. fund manager and founder of investment firm Elliott Management (which has invested in Twitter and Softbank, among others) and Terry Kassel, also of Elliott Management.

Paul Singer, founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation hedge fund, speaking at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s Alexander Hamilton Prize dinner in New York City, May 12, 2014. (AP/John Minchillo)

Over the past decade, Singer has been deeply immersed in transforming Israel from a “start-up nation” into a tech powerhouse, a country with exceptional local talent that attracts the interest of major multinational corporations. , and is also now home to industry leaders, leading international venture capital funds, a growing number of billion-dollar companies and a growing number of companies entering the capital markets and acquire smaller operations than ever before.

Singer also had a front row seat to the best-selling Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, published in 2009 by her husband, Saul Singer, and Dan Senor. She described a then-nascent but burgeoning Israeli tech sector, an environment in which “the book became like a playbook of how countries can build innovation ecosystems.”

SNC was founded a few years later. “As Israel’s tech sector flourished, so did the organization in parallel,” she recalled. Today, SNC employs around 100 professionals and is led by an “extraordinary CEO”, Avi Hasson, former chief scientist at the Ministry of Economy and Industry and founding chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority. .

Avi Hasson, former head of Israel’s Innovation Authority, named CEO of Start-Up Nation Central; he will take office on September 1, 2021 (Vered Farkash)

Singer credited Kandel with “putting his finger on issues that really need attention,” like the talent shortage, and “digging deeper to better understand underrepresentation.”

As a result of this work, SNC has developed programs such as Excelleteam to recruit Arab and female ultra-Orthodox IT graduates into the innovation ecosystem through specialized technology boot camps, and Adva, a two-year program for ultra-Orthodox women to enter the tech workforce. The Adva program is run by Scale-Up Velocity, an SNC-affiliated nonprofit organization that partners with technology companies and academic and training institutions to establish initiatives to help Israel’s tech industry. tap into talented human capital.

“We’ve developed these programs that bring industry, philanthropy, government, the nonprofit world together,” Singer said. With the Excelleteam program, she said, SNC was able to place 90% of graduates at double or triple their previous salaries.

Eugène Kandel, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

In the meantime, Kandel has taken the helm of a sister organization to the SNC, the Start-Up Nation Policy Institute, to research and develop long-term policy recommendations to foster the continued growth of Israel’s tech sector. Kandel was CEO of SNC for six years and remains a senior adviser to the organization. Singer, of Elliot Management, is co-chair of the new research institute.

“There’s a need for a much brighter spotlight on certain issues, and more depth,” Singer said of the idea behind the institute.

Main activities

In the early days of SNC, Singer said, one of the most important decisions the organization made was to become a “global source of knowledge and information” with the Finder database, which “represents all of the technology ecosystem, including startups, investors, multinationals and technologies developed in academia.

The database includes key information on over 7,000 startups and companies, including funding rounds, investors, sectors, products and the latest news.

SNC has also successfully positioned itself as a technology matchmaker. “We take a problem or pain point [of a given entity]and match it with a set of potential Israeli solutions,” Singer said, adding that the organization has worked with brands such as L’Oreal, Volvo and Novartis among many others for such connections.

The terrace overlooking Tel Aviv at Start-Up Nation Central’s new headquarters (Amir Geron for Start-Up Nation Central)

The organization’s work has also enabled “the ability to showcase Israel’s history on the world stage through various partnerships, conferences, etc.” “said Singer.

She recalled a pre-COVID agricultural technology conference in Kigali, Rwanda, where hundreds of dignitaries, government ministers and heads of multinational corporations from across the continent were in attendance, “and there was a huge line of waiting at the SNC booth so we can help connect with Israeli agtech solutions.

Over the past few months, SNC has also hosted Colombian President Ivan Duque, who opened the country’s first trade and innovation office in Jerusalem in November, as well as a first-of-its-kind business conference on Israeli technology. with UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja. . Around 200 people attended the summit, including members of a UAE state-sponsored business delegation led by UAE Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) Ahmed Belhoul Al Falasi and the Minister of State for Foreign Trade. Thani Al Zeyoudi.

Singer said she thinks there will also likely be more activity in the near future with Morocco and Bahrain, also signatories to the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, which normalized ties between Israel and Muslim-majority countries, starting with the United Arab Emirates.

UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah, right, and Start-Up Nation Central CEO Eugene Kandel; April 11, 2021 (Eyal Marilu)

SNC’s activities have also contributed to existing ties with friendly nations such as India, Singer explained. “We have 30 years of diplomatic relations and innovation is an essential pillar of this bilateral relationship. Start-Up Nation Central added depth to this.

Inside Israel, SNC paid particular attention to Jerusalem and the Israeli capital’s thriving tech ecosystem, home to two leading companies – Mobileye and Lightricks. “We’ve been active in Jerusalem – this city is so complicated – and if it can stand out globally, with a classified ecosystem, it serves as an inspirational role model,” Singer said.

“Jerusalem’s tech sector has not only grown dramatically…but can serve as a model for an emerging global tech hub,” Singer said in 2020. “Producing some of Israel’s most notable unicorns has been the calling card of Jerusalem. This proves that there are developed ecosystems outside of central Israel that can thrive and function – and be part of the economic growth in Israel’s periphery.

Wendy Singer, Executive Director of Start-Up Nation Central (Miri Davidovitz)

Looking ahead, she said SNC with Hasson at the helm would focus more on highlighting the exponential impact of Israel’s tech ecosystem on the world and the country against a backdrop of global innovation.

As for Singer, she hopes to “jump in the ring” and work directly with startups and corporations to “take it to the next level.”

“If we look to Israel as a role model, can we take the history of technology and help others grow?” she asked, pointing to regions like the Middle East and Africa which she says have the youngest and most dynamic workforces in the world.

As someone who has spent much of his career in the Middle East, Singer said now is the “time to use innovation as a tool to take peace agreements to new levels of depth.”


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