As Israelis awoke groggy eyed on Wednesday to a cloud of uncertainty about who would be ruling the country going forward, with a distinct possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was coming to the end of his record-long tenure, it was business as usual at an annual startup event in Tel Aviv.
Investors, entrepreneurs and visitors chatted, soaked up the sun and took selfies at the Hatachana venue in southern Tel Aviv, the host of the “DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival.” unperturbed by the political drama unfolding around them. Visitors trooped in, including a group of newly recruited soldiers, lining up to get their entry tags and then roaming around the booths and attending the speeches, all seeking a sense of the Startup Nation in action. Entrepreneurs, both Israeli and foreign, were busy pitching their wares and trying to set up collaborations to further grow their technologies.
Israel held general elections on Tuesday for the second time this year leading to unclear results for the parties vying to lead the country. With about 90 percent of votes having been counted by the Central Elections Committee, Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party on Wednesday was projected to secure 32 seats in the Knesset, edging ahead of Likud’s 31.
“There are many people from abroad here,” said Raphael Moszynski, the CEO and founder of Blitz Motors, a company that develops fast electric motorbikes for the corporate market. That fact kept the buzz focused on the event itself and not the elections, he said.
Selinay Flitz Perlak, the Turkish co-founder and chief operating officer of US-based Bluedot Technologies Inc., is in Israel to garner investor interest for her company, she said. The firm has developed a mobile app that allows users to share their electric charging stations — at this stage for cars and in the future for scooters and other electric vehicles — with others.
“We are like an Airbnb for chargers,” she said. She is in Israel with her Turkish colleague Ferhat Babacan, the co-founder and CEO of the firm., as part of a delegation of a Turkish entrepreneurship foundation whose aim is to raise funds and learn the Israeli market, where “scooters are booming” she said.
She had heard about the elections, she said, and was confident that Israel was facing a “new future, with a dynamic technology,” she said.
DLD Tel Aviv kicked off on Monday and will continue until Thursday, with more than 100 delegations from around the world, along with some 4,000 guests including entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and officials from global tech behemoths like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. It is also host to an annual digital conference that is a key point of the event.
DLD organizers said they expected over 8,000 participants at the conference and more than 20,000 attendees at the week’s events. The event includes the conference as well as dozens of meetups, workshops, and tech-related events throughout the city.
Mariangel Hernandez was visiting from Ecuador to pitch her firm to investors in a bid to further develop her technology. Called 2sellmore, the startup has developed software that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help firms analyze data and come up with ideas of new services and products for customers — “which customers don’t even know they need,” she said. She is now looking for investors “to take the product global. Israel is the place.” she added.
Regarding the political quandary Startup Nation finds itself at the moment, she shrugged. “In Ecuador we say politics is alpargatas,” she said. “Which means the left shoe is the same as the right shoe.”
But Kaari Kink from Finland said that her Israeli friends “are passionate to change the landscape.” They really want to oust Netanyahu, “who is like a dictator,” she said.
Kink is in Israel to present her startup Triumf Health to investors. The firm develops educational software for children with chronic illnesses, like cancer or asthma or diabetes, to help them learn about their illness and overcome and identify psychological issues they may be developing because of their condition. These issues often get overlooked as families and physicians deal with the illness but not its psychological repercussions, she said.
A delegation of startups and incubator heads from Italy jokingly said that Israel’s political scene, with its small parties and their coalition demands, is becoming similar to the Italian political arena.
“You are like Italy, where there is never a clear winner,” said Pietro Miconi, the CEO of Hibye, a local network that connects people with shared interests through “in person activities.”
Unlike other social media, Miconi explained, which tends to isolate and “alienate users,” Hibye creates personal connections for those who want to share a coffee, a taxi, or even talk about the elections.
Claudio Pasqualucci from the government-backed Italian Trade Agency led a delegation of 10 startups to Israel because it is “Startup Nation by definition,” he said. Israel and Italy can create fruitful collaborations with technology, he said, and the Italians are also here to learn from Israel about creating a thriving technology ecosystem. “I am interested in what is happening here politically,” he said. “But I prefer not to get involved. We have our own troubles,” he said
Another Italian, Cosimo Calciano, is in Israel to find investors and foster cooperation with Israeli firms. His startup, Revotree srl, has developed a precision agriculture technology for automating irrigation and helping small and medium-size farms to find the right irrigation doses for their fields at a relatively low cost. The three devices the firm offers are a sensor to measure soil moisture, a weather station to measure rainfall, humidity, wind and temperatures, and an autonomous irrigation system that can be controlled from a cellphone. The price of the suite of devices is some $350, with one suite needed per hectare of land, he said.
He said he wasn’t up to speed about the political situation in Israel and would refrain from commenting.