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Start-Up Nation Central picks Avi Hasson as next CEO

Nonprofit says Hasson, a former innovation policy chief, will use experience to steer Israel in maturing ecosystem; in H1, Israeli startups’ funding surged 152% vs 112% globally

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

Avi Hasson, a former chief of the Israel Innovation Authority, has been appointed as the CEO of Start-Up Nation Central; he will take his post on Sept. 1, 2021 (Vered Farkash)
Avi Hasson, a former chief of the Israel Innovation Authority, has been appointed as the CEO of Start-Up Nation Central; he will take his post on Sept. 1, 2021 (Vered Farkash)

Start-Up Nation Central, an organization that connects international businesses and government leaders with Israeli technology, has appointed Avi Hasson, a former innovation policy chief, as its next chief executive officer.

Hasson will start the job on September 1, the nonprofit said in a statement. Start-Up Nation Central was founded by New York-based billionaire, hedge fund manager and philanthropist Paul Singer in 2013.

Hasson’s career includes executive roles in the business, technology, and not-for-profit sectors. He served as chief scientist at the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and as founding chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, the government entity tasked with planning and executing innovation policy in Israel. Prior to his government service, Hasson was a general partner at Gemini Israel Funds, an Israeli venture capital firm. Upon leaving his position at the IIA in 2017, he joined early-stage venture firm Emerge as a general partner, and serves on the board of Tower Semiconductor, the chips manufacturer.

“Hasson will build on his vast experience at the nexus of private, public, and NGO investment in Israeli innovation to advance Start-Up Nation Central’s mission of amplifying Israel’s position as a leader in global innovation,” the nonprofit said in a statement published on Wednesday.

Hasson’s appointment comes as the nation’s tech ecosystem is maturing, with startups raising record amounts of money from investors, reaching higher valuations and growing in size.

According to data compiled by Start-Up Nation Finder, the nonprofit’s database, Israel is among the leading countries in tech investment growth this year, with a 152% year-over-year increase in the first six months of the year, compared to global investment growth of 112% over the same period.

Paul Singer at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013 (CC BY-SA 2.0 World Economic Forum/Remy Steinegger)

Israeli startups have raised 38 mega-rounds this year, to date, defined as fundraising rounds of over $100 million, overtaking the 21 mega-rounds raised in all of 2020. Furthermore, there have been 39 IPOs and 4 mergers with special acquisition companies (SPACs) so far compared to 21 IPOs in all of 2020 and 12 in 2019.

However, a shortage of tech talent poses a major risk for the growth of the ecosystem, the statement said, and this is one of the challenges the new CEO will need to help address.

The recently signed Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have ushered in a new era of opportunity for the region, and the nonprofit hopes to position itself as a central connecter of participating nations around tech-based innovation.

“In the wake of a global pandemic and major diplomatic breakthroughs, governments and corporate leaders are looking to Israel more than ever for solutions to their most urgent challenges,” said Terry Kassel, chair of the Start-Up Nation Central board of directors.

“There could be no better time to join Start-Up Nation Central than now – with the Israeli tech ecosystem bursting with unprecedented potential,” said Hasson, the incoming CEO, in the statement.

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