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Start-ups commute to fame and fortune on MoneyTrain

A unique pitch event for entrepreneurs traveling from Israel’s north to south shows investors a less-seen side of tech life

Entrepreneurs pitch to investors aboard the MoneyTrain Tuesday (Courtesy)
Entrepreneurs pitch to investors aboard the MoneyTrain Tuesday (Courtesy)

To find good start-up talent in Israel, you can look in the usual places or you can look off the beaten track, in Israel’s geographical and demographic periphery.

On the MoneyTrain aka an Israel Railways ride, top investors from Israel and abroad on Tuesday had the opportunity to find top start-up talent outside the country’s center, said Oren Kochavi, Innovations Director at Terra Venture Partners, which organized the first of its kind start-up pitch event.

“We started out in the north, in Haifa, and rode the train all the way south to Beersheba – uniting both ends of the country in an unusual tech event,” Kochavi told The Times of Israel. “It’s important for us, and for Israeli tech in general, to realize that there is great talent all over the country, not just in the center of the country. That’s our message to investors, as well as to entrepreneurs.”

For a day, an Israel Railways train turned into the MoneyTrain, with one car dedicated to holding the kind of tech pitch event usually reserved for hotel ballrooms or corporate boardrooms. Executives from top multinationals, investment firms, and tech accelerators came, including eBay, Tyco, Motorola, Poalim Fintech, Deloitte, Bosch, Vertex Venture Capital, and many others.

Start-ups ran the gamut from cyber-security to Internet of Things to fintech firms. Each company got ten minutes to pitch investors, shuffling between four-seat sections that are a feature of Israeli trains.

The event ended with a gala reception at WeWork, a US-based office workspace that recently opened up in Beersheba – another sign, said Kochavi, that the Israeli periphery is slowly but surely joining the center of the country.

“The tech ecosystem is growing and expanding, perhaps not as fast as we all want, but it’s making great strides. I was in charge of the MoneyTrain event at the Haifa station, where we started from, and we had dozens of people stop to ask what was going on – and praising us for doing a start-up event that included the north.”

The ride on the Haifa-Beersheba route is symbolic of the closure of that gap. The ride itself is about three hours and at both ends passes through two important projects that are designed to bring the periphery closer to the center – the Matam high-tech park in Haifa and the Advanced Technologies Park (ATP) in Beersheba.

The former, established in 2010, is home to R&D facilities of companies like Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Philips, Google and Qualcomm, while the ATP, established in 2013, places an emphasis on cyber-security, with several large multinationals, including Deutsche Telekom and Lockheed-Martin, setting up R&D centers there.

Terra believes that Israel’s demographic periphery, as well as its geographical one, is a source of entrepreneurial talent.

At Terra’s Create Tel Aviv accelerator, entrepreneurs, many of them “of a certain age,” in their 30s and 40s, get an opportunity to develop their ideas into successful products and services. Knowing that many entrepreneurs end up failing in their first several tries at building a business – many in the Israeli start-up community say that you can’t be considered a real entrepreneur unless you’ve failed at least twice before succeeding – Terra developed a program that aims to develop the human talent that makes up the Israeli start-up ecosystem, said Terra Venture Partners’ Barak Goldstein.

“Today, a large proportion of Israeli start-ups focus on developing social, gaming and advertising applications. The aim of this program is to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs in order to tackle the most pressing market challenges of the 21st century.”

MoneyTrain fits Terra’s philosophy very well, said Goldstein. “It’s a great opportunity for start-ups from around the country to meet top business leaders face to face. With the MoneyTrain we are raising the consciousness of investors that there is a lot of great tech outside the center of the county. This is a novel way to bring that message across.”

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