As markets crash, VC tech investments in Israel stay strong

Report says 300 start-ups in 2015 got first-time funding from the country’s most active venture capital funds

JVP partners Kobi Rozengarten, Gadi Tirosh and Raffi Kesten (Courtesy)
JVP partners Kobi Rozengarten, Gadi Tirosh and Raffi Kesten (Courtesy)

Stock markets around the world are getting battered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for the tech business. In fact, venture capital investments in Israeli tech companies, including in early-stage start-ups, were strong in 2015.

According to a new report by Israel Venture Capital (IVC) and law firm APM and Co., over 300 start-ups in 2015 got first-time funding from the country’s most active venture capital funds – with Singulariteam, founded by Moshe Hogeg and Kenges Rakishev, leading the pack.

Hogeg, known for his affinity for investing in early-stage start-ups — including offbeat ones like the Yo! App, which does nothing but send a “Yo!” message to contacts – invested in 12 start-ups with his partner in 2015. Among them: E-gift card redemption and sales platform Kukupal, BidFlyer, which provides an online space for airlines to sell off their hard-to-sell seats on flights via a bidding process, and web design portal Webydo.

Placing second, with nine first investments each, were Israeli fund Carmel Ventures and American fund Innovation Endeavors, co-founded by Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Dror Berman.

Among Carmel’s investments: CrediFi, the first big data firm to analyze hard data about the commercial real estate market, and CellWize, which develops self-organizing networks for mobile operators. Innovation Endeavors, meanwhile, invested in CropX, which uses smart sensors and smartphone apps to save water in standard irrigation systems for farmers, and Illusive Networks, a cyber-security firm that provides phony data for hackers to “play around” with, keeping the “real” data on a server safe.

Third place is also shared by two funds, Israeli Magma and First Time, with eight investments each. Magma, with $450 million under management, invested from its fourth fund, raised in 2014. First Time is a vintage 2014 fund, managing $60 million and managed by TheTime technological incubator’s founders, focused mainly on supporting the incubator’s graduates with supplemental funding.

The biggest VC, however, invested in Israeli start-ups is Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), which, according to IVC, has invested some $1.2 billion in Israeli tech firms over the past decade. JVP made seven first-time investments last year – among them ScadaFence, which develops cyber-security solutions for the critical infrastructure and manufacturing industries,, a big data management and storage firm, and Secret Double Octopus, which encrypts and unencrypts data sent over networks without requiring encryption keys.

Among the investment trends last year, said IVC, was a decrease in the total number of first investments, as well as the total number of active VC funds in 2015, compared to 2014’s record numbers. The downtrend is a direct result of foreign funds’ relative lowered activity in 2015, following a similar global trend, while Israeli funds actually increased their activity in 2015, both in the number of funds and number of deals made.

With that, foreign funds led the way for venture capital investment. Foreign funds made 178 first investments (52% of total invested in those firms) last year, compared to 221 investments (58%) in 2014, the report showed. Israeli VC funds made 166 investments, compared to 157 in 2014, with the Israeli funds’ investment share climbing from 42 percent to 48 percent in 2015.

Venture capital, along with private equity investments, have become the vehicle of choice for investors seeking to make money in the tech business, according to Jon Medved, CEO of crowdfunding investors OurCrowd, which made 10 first-time investments in Israeli tech firms last year – making it the most active micro-capital venture fund (a million dollars or less per investment) for the year.

Almost all the returns for big tech companies that went public after 2000 – including Google (2004), Facebook (2012) and Twitter (2013) – have accrued to VC or private equity investors.

“IPOs are messy, because you have to comply with a lot of regulations and issue public reports and the like,” said Medved. “If you can raise $60 billion without going public – that’s the current valuation of Uber – then why would you want to go public?”

Koby Simana, CEO of IVC Research Center, observed another difference between Israeli and foreign VCs: “Our analysis of the data shows a significant difference in first investment patterns between foreign and Israeli funds. Traditionally, more than 80 percent of first investments by Israeli funds are made in the early stages of a company’s life — start-up seed and R&D — while foreign funds activity is a little more evenly balanced between various stages, from seed and growth to late stages,” he added.

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