Special Report: London’s the new capital for Israeli start-ups

Special Report: London’s the new capital for Israeli start-ups

With 500 Israeli and British businesses represented, Innovate Israel, held last week in the capital, was a demonstration of the links between the technology sectors in Tel Aviv and London. Start- ups met potential investors, partners and customers in a celebration of all things tech and all things Israeli, writes Benjamin Cohen. [divider]

Israel, and in particular Tel Aviv, has over recent years established itself as one of the undisputed technology capitals of the world. It was the birthplace of many of the gadgets and web tools we use every day and is destined to be the home of the concepts and products that will define our future lives. During my six years as business and technology correspondent for Channel 4 News, I visited Tel Aviv to report on the city’s burgeoning technology sector, one that now rivals Silicon Valley, both in terms of innovation and venture capital investment and to many outflanks London in pulling power.

Two companies I visited – while still small start-ups –have this year been purchased by US tech giants. PrimeSense, the company behind the technology that powers the Xbox Kinect, built on the skills the founders learnt while serving in an elite technology corp in the Israeli army, was sold to Apple last month for $360million (£219m). Its movement sensory technology is expected to become the basis of Apple’s future TV sets.

Another, Waze, has changed the way Israelis and millions around the world drive. Its innovative social satnav technology was sold to Google to be incorporated into Google Maps in the summer for $1.1bn. These Israeli tech darlings went from Israel to the United States to secure global domination, but Innovate Israel was established last year to show Israeli entrepreneurs that London is as good a place in which to expand as Silicon Valley.

A large number of the Israeli companies at Innovate Israel were in the FinTech, or financial technology space, an area in which London is excelling, owing to the size of our financial sector, where many companies have Israeli origins. Yoni Assia, the chief executive of Israeli company eToro, a social investment network that allows retail investors to follow and copy the transactions of more experienced traders, combined his trip to Innovate Israel with a meeting with David Cameron, as the company was named one of a select group of tech companies the UK government will champion and provide specialist support services to.

Assia told the Jewish News: “The support we receive here in the UK is unparalleled compared with any other country we are looking to expand into from Israel.”

eToro, one of the fastest growing Israeli tech companies has its UK base inside Level 39, a FinTech hub in Canary Wharf led by Eric Van der Kleij, formerly the chief executive of Tech City UK, the government’s development corporation for the tech sector. He said: “Companies from Israel have demonstrated they have a real advantage when it comes to technology but not always in the commercialisation of these brilliant pieces of technology. eToro has, and we are hoping that being part of Level 39 will help more Israeli companies exceed in the commercialisation of their ideas.”

He added: “Innovate Israel sends a clear signal that the UK is very open for Israeli business and that to succeed, you don’t need to fly over the UK to get to the US for commercialisation.”

The British Foreign Office has a Tech Hub in Tel Aviv helping Israeli companies that have included eToro and fellow Innovate Israel exhibitors open up in the UK. Recent additions to London include MyCheck, an innovative new mobile app that allows users to order and pay for food in restaurants.

There are no kosher restaurants on the system in the UK yet, although the company hopes to change this. Lucy Blechner, who made aliyah four years ago and works for the Foreign Office Tech Hub in Tel Aviv, said: “If you have a solution that is working in Israel in the FinTech, advertising or retail tech space, then moving to London is a logical step as there is a much larger market in the UK. There is a huge amount of interest from UK corporates who want to license Israeli start-ups as they know that often, they will have among the most innovative technological solutions to offer.”

The flow of investment, trade and ideas between the Israeli and UK tech scene is having the knock on benefits of increasing the relationship between the two countries. As Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub said: “In the Middle East, we are in an environment where there are many constraints, finite resources, finite territory and finite vision. Here in [technology] we are in a world where the possibilities are genuinely infinite. We are starting to see this repeated in the relationship between the UK and Israel.”

• Benjamin Cohen is a director of Clarity PR and the publisher of PinkNews

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