Israeli start-ups now have a friend in Asia — a really big friend, one whose business stretches over 26 countries, and is the largest multi-country mobile carrier in the world. That friend is Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), and thanks to a new start-up program with Amdocs, Israeli companies will have a chance to get a foothold in the largest and fastest-growing markets in the world.
“Some Israeli technology has reached Europe and some has reached the United States, but very little has reached Europe,” said Amdocs president and CEO Eli Gelman at a press event Sunday announcing the establishment of SingTel Lifelabs @ Israel, as the program is called. “We believe that this will bring a big bounce to Israeli technology to get into Asian markets, via this program with SingTel.”
Gelman made the presentation together with Allen Lew, chief executive officer of SingTel’s Digital Life group. Speaking at the event, Lew laid out what brought SingTel to Israel. “Israel is renowned for its innovation, and is fueled by a strong education system. You also have a core that drives an insatiable need to innovate and develop,” Lew said, citing SingTel’s already successful engagement with Israel. “We have been extremely satisfied with the wealth of talent in Israel. We experienced this through our recently acquired global mobile advertising company Amobee which has a technology center in Israel, as well as through our venture capital investments in two Israeli companies in the mobile Internet business. This has propelled us to open this new development center to scout for new growth engines for SingTel.”
In fact, this is only the third development center for SingTel, which has 460 million customers in Asia and Africa. The other two labs are in Singapore and in Boston, the latter working closely with MIT. Lew said SingTel execs are just as enamored of Israeli higher education as they are of Israeli start-up technology. “You have here some great universities, close to or even better than MIT, like the Technion,” said Lew, bringing Gelman to quip that “as a graduate of the Technion I don’t think we are better, but it is an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as MIT.” It’s all part of SingTel’s efforts to move from being a telco, a “pipe,” to a “digital life company,” much like Apple, Microsoft, and other tech giants, said Lew.
The program is intended to be a “meeting point” between start-ups, SingTel, and Amdocs, said Gelman, for the mutual benefit of all involved. “It’s a win-win-win situation, very rare for the business world.”
Start-ups benefit by being able to work with, partner or even be acquired by SingTel. Lew said the company was open to doing any of the above. “In some cases we will work with Amdocs to find companies that can help us with our strategic needs, or find them on our own. If it makes sense we will acquire them, and we also plant to work with incubators — in some cases it makes sense to leave companies alone, to grow on their own.” In any event, SingTel is ready to spend money in Israel. “We have a corporate venture fund of about US $150 million. Part of this fund will also reach Israel,” said Lew.
SingTel is interested in seeing four specific areas of technology at LiveLabs, said Lew. “Mobile advertising is a major area. Next generation advertising will go directly to the device.” SingTel works in many emerging markets, said Lew, “and for many poor people, the cellphone is the only electronic device they have. So bringing ads directly to phones, targeted directly at consumers, is important.” In order to better direct those ads and ensure that ads are relevant, SingTel needs to do more analytics, examining the data on customers and harnessing it to extract the relevant information. Israel is a major player in both data analytics and mobile advertising (Amobee, which SingTel acquired last year, is a world leader in targeted mobile ads).
In addition, SingTel is interested in digital TV technology — especially ways to compress signals on limited bandwidth, another area Israel excels in. And the company wants to acquire technology for e-commerce. “The major e-commerce companies, like Amazon and Alibaba in China, grew up on the PC, and we see an opportunity for disruptive technologies for mobile.” Israel can help here, too, said Lew.
And what’s in it for Amdocs? The company isn’t looking for a specific technology, or even to make money from investments or buyouts of start-ups, said Gelman; for Amdocs, it’s more about a “gestalt” of the start-up technology scene. “First of all, we appreciate start-ups, having started out ourselves here in Israel with 30 employees, and now [we are] a company of 20,000 with offices around the world,” said Gelman.
But beyond that, Amdocs is one of the major telecom players in the world. “Amdocs is the largest application supplier for the telecom industry, working in over 60 countries,” said Gelman. “We, too, have to innovate constantly for our customers,” said Gelman. By “hanging out” with start-ups at LiveLabs, the ideas developed will hopefully seep into the Amdocs development process, improving the products and services for Amdocs’ customers. “This project is not a footnote in Amdocs’ history,” said Gelman, “but a major development for us.”
Amdocs already has a similar start-up program with US telecom AT&T, and that program has benefited Amdocs as well as AT&T, Gelman said. He expects the same from LiveLabs. “SingTel is relying on our experience here in Israel to vet companies and find the most relevant ones that can help them,” Gelman added. “Think of LiveLabs as the SingTel embassy in Israel, hosted by Amdocs.”