Nonprofit connects Israel tech firms with investors

Billionaire Paul Singer’s Start-Up Nation Central seeks to promote local innovation to solve global problems

Entrepreneurs gather at the Google campus in Tel Aviv. (Anna Morein)
Entrepreneurs gather at the Google campus in Tel Aviv. (Anna Morein)

Looking to spread the gospel of Israel’s tech saviness, New York-based billionaire CEO and Elliott Management hedge fund founder Paul Singer set up Start-Up Nation Central to connect business and government leaders with the people and technologies that can solve their most pressing challenges.

“There is so much demand by companies and governments trying to solve very complex business and global problems, and at the same time there is potential for problem-solving through Israeli innovation at a scale even greater than what we have seen in recent years,” said Dan Senor, co-author — along with Saul Singer (no relation to Paul) — of the best-selling book Start-Up Nation.

In a sense, Start-Up Nation Central is a project to actualize a central theme of the book – using Israeli technology to solve problems. Paul Singer’s idea, added Senor, was to bring these global challenges to the world’s top problem-solvers — Israeli innovators.

In many cases, companies and governments want to come to Israel and find the partners with which to innovate, but don’t know how to navigate the Israeli ecosystem.

Dan Senor (Courtesy)
Dan Senor (Courtesy)

“Paul wanted Start-Up Nation Central to be the GPS that helped stakeholders from around the world access and navigate the Israeli innovation economy,” said Senor.

“Start-Up Nation Central began facilitating engagements that in some cases have led to investments or partnerships between Israeli start-ups and those entities from around the world that needed help addressing their own challenges,” he continued.

While Start-Up Nation Central has been operating for the past several years as a non-profit (funded solely by Singer), the organization is now ramping up its activities, with the announcement Tuesday that it had appointed Eugene Kandel as chief executive officer.

From July 2009 through August 2015, Kandel served as Head of the National Economic Council and Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel. He is also a professor of economics and finance at the Hebrew University. Kandel will commence his new role at Start-Up Nation Central later this year. Founded in 2012, the organization’s board members include Singer and Senor, as well as Terry Kassel, and Raphael Ouzan.

“While word has gotten out about Israel’s tech prowess, there are still plenty of people who haven’t heard about it, as well as many who haven’t figured out how to connect to Israel,” said Kandel. “Those are the groups we’re trying to serve.”

For now, Start-Up Nation Central is concentrating on three main tech areas — cybersecurity, digital health and agricultural technology – but plans to take on other areas as well.

“We have built out a large network that concentrates on these three areas, that knows the industries well and can ‘prescribe’ an Israeli tech partner for a specific problem,” said Senor.

“Our database, called The Finder, maintains up-to-date data on over 4,000 Israeli start-ups, and it’s available to any stakeholder around the world looking for solutions. It’s great for the clients who need solutions from technology and innovation and Israeli entrepreneurial thinking, as well as for Israel’s economy.”

Eugene Kandel (Courtesy)
Eugene Kandel (Courtesy)

While there are Israeli government organizations that maintain databases of start-ups, Start-Up Nation Central is not in competition with them said Kandel.

“We can complement each other, so that our organization fills in the gaps that government, because of bureaucratic limitations or legislative issues, cannot cover, while government, with its substantial resources, is able to do things we can’t.”

Not a fund nor a foundation, Start-Up Nation Central is a public service non-profit – and the service it provides in bringing together foreign entities and Israeli start-ups is free for both sides.

Among Start-Up Nation Central’s recent events, the organization hosted executives from Japan’s largest technology company, a multinational apparel firm, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, the Foreign Minister of Canada, senior officials from the Government of Singapore and governments of European countries, business leaders, CEOs of hospitals and presidents of universities from Africa, as well as US Congressional leaders and US governors.

“We have a long list of US and European banks, Fortune 100 insurance companies and consumer companies, Fortune 500 global retailers, global health care providers and technology companies, as well as large private and public investors, companies and governments from countries all over the world, including the US, UK, Canada, China, Korea, Japan, Singapore and India,” said Kandel.

“All of them are clamoring for us to make connections for them and help them find solutions.”

Senor added that Israel has the ability to help solve so many of the world’s problems, and start-ups are eager to play an even bigger role globally, to address the challenges faced by businesses and governments, from cyber-insecurity to droughts to medical needs.

“Start-Up Nation Central believes that Israeli innovation can add real value to clients around the world. That’s why it was founded,” he said.

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