At a panel discussion last Thursday, AlmaLinks, an Israeli organization that aims to promote Birthright-like ties between the Jewish business community in the United States and Israel, brought together what audience members said was an extraordinary group: CEOs and heads of companies who lead or have led their firms to valuations of a billion dollars or more.
The conversation by Israel’s leading unicorns took place in the Tel Aviv offices of ironSource (in partnership with law firm GKH) and focused on how companies can get to the billion dollar mark from where they are now.
The panel included leading lights of Israeli business, including Tomer Bar Zeev (co-founder and CEO, ironSource), Yoav Chelouche, (managing partner, Aviv VC; former CEO and president, Scitex Corp), Gavriel Meron (founder, former CEO and president, Given Imaging; founder, chairman and CEO, HygieaCare) and Guy Sella (co-founder, CEO and chairman, SolarEdge). In an intimate and in-depth conversation, the panel members discussed the challenges and opportunities in store for growing Israeli companies in the coming years.
Over the past decade, Israel has seen a flourishing of M&A, IPO and venture activity, with several unicorn companies emerging. Still, for a “startup nation,” many in the tech industry believe, Israel should have more than the dozen or so companies that are valuated at a billion dollars. One reason cited by observers for the country not having more such firms may be that Israeli entrepreneurs tend to sell their companies to multinational corporations rather than remain independent and grow on their own.
The panel was moderated by Amit Karp, vice president at Bessemer Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that has helped companies grow from early stages through successful IPOs. Among the questions he posed for the panel were when the appropriate time to bring in CEO was, and what they considered the most important factor in finding managers. Panelists also discussed global market penetration by Israeli firms, with each sharing their personal stories and reminiscing on what has and hasn’t worked for them across various stages of their careers. According to Tomer Bar Ze’ev, CEO of ironSource, “Israel’s incredible ability to quickly adapt to new surroundings is the key element to the success of Israeli businesses worldwide.”
The night was typical of an AlmaLinks event, said Israeli financier Tomer Sapir, whose aim in starting AlmaLinks six years ago was to build fraternal/experiential groups that foster a connection between Diaspora Jews and supporters of Israel, and the business community in Israel – like Birthright for business.
“Even with Birthright, the large majority of American Jews have never visited Israel, and even with the reputation of the startup nation, there are many in the tech and business community who are not familiar with what we do here,” said Sapir. “Through our many activities, including parlor meetings, lectures, social events, organized tours, and others, we try to instill and promote a positive relationship between the two sides.”
That theme prevailed at the organization’s latest event, where business executives from Israel, as well as visitors from abroad – part of a crowd of some 200 – took in some of the nuggets of business wisdom tossed out by the panelists. One of the most important nuggets, the panelists said, was for entrepreneurs to “stay creative and take more vacations.”
According to Avi Bitton, a board member of the Tel Aviv chapter of AlmaLinks, those on vacation in Israel who had come to the event were an essential link between the Jewish people in the Diaspora and Israel, “for the exchange of knowledge, resources, and connections.” Those factors, he added, are helping push the Israeli economy toward greater growth.