Israeli venture firm OurCrowd on Sunday hosted Uruguay’s Industry, Energy and Mining Minister Omar Paganini and a delegation of government officials and entrepreneurs at its Jerusalem headquarters to ink an initial agreement that would establish a tech incubator backed by the Uruguayan government.
According to the memorandum of understanding signed by OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved and Paganini, an Uruguay-based incubator for early-stage startups will be established to cement the country’s position as a technological hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in Latin America and to boost tech ties between the two countries.
Paganini is leading a 40-person business delegation including government and trade officials on a seven-day visit to Israel, with tours of campuses of a number of large tech companies and meetings with venture capital funds around the country. Paganini also held a meeting with Israel’s Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat.
The delegation’s visit comes at a time of heightened social and economic upheaval as masses of Israelis take to the streets against the government’s efforts to make changes to the country’s judicial system.
Top tech investors have warned in recent weeks that the proposed changes would cause irreparable damage to the tech industry and the economy as a whole. The main concern among local and international investors is that the judicial overhaul would create uncertainty over Israel’s stable system of checks and balances and the protection of property rights and lead to an outflow of funds as well as curtail inflowing investments.
“Democracies have times of discussion. We’ve got to think in the long run, and continue in the development of our plans and I am sure Israelis are doing the same,” Paganini told The Times of Israel. “People who are in government normally have to deal with the short term, and it’s accidents and problems, but also think in the long term and continue with the development of their country.”
“There’s always something to be concerned in the world, whether it is the pandemic, the Ukraine war, and now we have had some kind of financial stress but we also have to continue thinking and debating how to embetter our lives with technology and create value,” he added.
With the initial agreement with OurCrowd, an operator of Israeli and global incubators, Uruguay seeks to build on Israel’s incubator program started in the early 1990s and hailed as one of the main vehicles that turned the country into a startup nation. The tech incubator would be established as part of the Uruguay innovation hub program, a semi-private and cross-institutional program, operated under the umbrella of the National Agency for Research and Innovation (ANII).
“Uruguay has a good chance to become the innovation hub of South America and the model of the high tech industry in Israel has been a reference for us,” said Paganini. “Now, we want to take the Israeli model of improving the possibilities of startups to get global, to receive investment, and to turn technology into products and services, add value, and in the end, create prosperity and jobs for our people.”
“We want to make Uruguay’s ecosystem visible to other successful ecosystems in the world,” he remarked.
OurCrowd co-owns five government backed technological incubators in Israel and one government-backed incubator in New Zealand, incubating more than 60 early-stage startups.
Medved told The Times of Israel that the Israeli model provides more runway for early-stage startups, as between 75% to 80% is backed by government funding often supporting deep tech solutions such as cloud software, food, agriculture and banking.
“I believe that Latin America is going to be booming and now that the Uruguayan government has this push, Israeli startups could address potential markets in the region,” Medved said.
During the visit, the delegation visited the campuses of Microsoft and Checkpoint Software to discuss cybersecurity solutions, toured Intel Corp.’s chip testing plant, and met with representatives of Mobileye and SolarEdge to explore business synergy and investment opportunities and bring the Israeli digital ecosystem closer to Uruguay.
“Uruguay is a good country to pilot some of their projects and see if we can expand them to the Latin American environment,” said Paganini. “It’s a good opportunity, we think for Israeli companies, tech companies and local Uruguayan partners to expand for example, in the food-tech or agro-tech technologies they have, as well as for green-tech companies.”
The delegation was also hosted by the Citi innovation lab and R&D center in Tel Aviv, exploring opportunities for collaborations with the Uruguay innovation hub program.
“There’s a lot of talent in Uruguay in building startups and we think maybe some Israeli venture funds can look at Uruguay and help us invest on the development of this,” Paganini said.