Beyond beaches: Florida seeks to lure Israeli startups

Tampa Jewish Community Centers’ accelerator helps new firms navigate US business culture

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Florida Governor Rick Scott (left) gives an award to Jack Ross, VP North America for StemRad, for the Israeli startup's contribution to the Florida tech scene (Yosi Zliger)
Florida Governor Rick Scott (left) gives an award to Jack Ross, VP North America for StemRad, for the Israeli startup's contribution to the Florida tech scene (Yosi Zliger)

Move over, Silicon Valley and New York. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is looking to put his state “on the map for innovation.”

Scott is visiting Israel this week at the head of an almost 70-strong delegation including businessmen and university heads hoping to whip up the appetite of Israeli startups to set up their businesses in the third-most populous US state.

“Over half a million people have moved to Florida recently because of its economic development,” Scott told a gathering of businessmen in Tel Aviv on Monday, in a bid to raise the state’s profile. “There are today opportunities for technology companies to access the US markets by setting up their headquarters in Florida, because of the comfortable terms offered by our good business environment. We have an extensive space industry — and there is lots of place for Israeli startups to integrate into the field.”

Scott is a supporter of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), a technology accelerator that aims to make use of the local Jewish community to foster the growth of high-tech local and Israeli ventures in the Tampa Bay area and help Israeli startups make inroads in the US. The program was set up last year by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation.

“It is the first time, to the best of our knowledge, that any Jewish community has set up a business development platform together with a community engagement platform” to deal with Israel, said Jack Ross, a former executive director of the Tampa JCC and an investor in Israeli startup StemRad, for whom he is also a VP in charge of the North America market. “We wanted more people to intersect with Israeli culture and innovation and give Israel a community partner.”

The program received $1 million in 2016 in US government funding and an additional $400,000 this year.

Rakefet Bachur, the executive director of marketing for The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) with Florida Governor Rick Scott (Yosi Zliger)

“The idea is to put Florida on the map for innovation,” said Rakefet Bachur, the executive director of marketing for FIBA, and also “fill the gap” for Israeli startups who have “great technologies” but find it hard to navigate the process of starting sales in the US.

“Israelis don’t understand the local culture or the business culture. Our aim is to give them a solid understanding and the tools to navigate the process once they meet a big enterprise,” she said.

The FIBA Launch program helps startups find the niche for their technology, consults with them on how to localize their product, explores broader applications and expansion into other industries, provides guidance on product, pricing and distribution strategies, and helps with marketing activities, contract negotiations and networking events. All of this is done by leveraging the local Jewish community. For startups that succeed and want to set up a local office, FIBA will assist with the logistical and administration tasks involved in the process.

FIBA Launch program is a 6-12-month program divided between Tampa and Israel, when the companies work with the FIBA team remotely. Selected startups use office space at the new Bryan Glazer Family JCC while they are in Tampa.

FIBA estimates the value of the services provided via FIBA Launch during this period at some $100,000. In exchange for its services, FIBA, a nonprofit, asks for a share of the revenue generated from deals facilitated by FIBA and the FIBA network. Those revenues will contribute to future development of the accelerator, the website says.

For mature startups with an existing office in the US that are struggling to grow and to raise capital, FIBA has set up the PowerConnect program, which helps these businesses with strategy and technology input and networking.

“We wanted to find a way to engage our community – both Jewish and not Jewish – with Israel,” and also hope to lower anti-Semitism, Bachur, the FIBA executive director, said.

Eight Israeli startups in the fields of security, transportation, agriculture and food services, have already graduated from the program. One of these is radiation protection startup StemRad, which just raised $6 million in funding to expand its US business. StemRad got a governor award on Monday at the event for setting up its business and bringing tech jobs to Florida.

Now FIBA is on the scout for eight more startups.

“My support for the Israeli companies stems from the fact that I believe that these companies can create many qualitative jobs and develop the state’s high tech,” Scott said.

The FIBA project and the Jewish community will contribute both to the local and the Israeli economy, he added.

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