Israeli high-tech startup companies are turning to London’s venture capital community to seek funding for growth.
Tel Aviv is a hotspot for startups, competing with Silicon Valley, Berlin and Singapore for small, innovative technology companies.
In the past, Israeli companies have turned to the US for funding, but more Israeli entrepreneurs are now looking to London, according to Andrew Gerrard, who organises networking events for startups and investors.
“Many startups founded by the younger generation of Israelis see London as an exciting place to do business,” he said. “They read about it in the news, and they hear about Tech City.”
Boris Johnson’s visit to Israel in November 2015 may have been controversial for some, but it has helped to raise interest in London as a source of finance for Israeli startups, said Gerrard.
Add to that the availability of people with technical skills and London’s reputation as a centre of finance, and the city is becoming more attractive for Israeli firms, he said.
Gerrard works with MIW, a marketing company for Israeli technology companies, which has been organising meet-ups between Israeli companies and angel investors in the capital for the past year.
“There are signs that Israeli companies are attracting interest not only from seed venture capital and angle investors, but also institutional investors,” he said. “The large corporate venture capital firms are much more interested in startups looking for entry-level investment.”
Many of Israel’s high-tech startups have their origins in the Israeli military. Youngsters must join the Israeli Defence Forces at the age of 18, where they learn about the latest technologies. After two or three years they emerge with highly sought-after skills.
“They learn how to build things, they learn the latest technology and they learn the how to work in teams. They take those skills out into the real world,” said Gerrard.
In one such meeting at the offices of the London law firm Simmons & Simmons recently, executives from nine high-tech startups gave three-minute pitches to a room full of potential investors.
They included companies offering innovative IT security products, a share trading platform that makes it easy for ordinary people to invest, and technology that can increase the capabilities of computer-aided design.
The event was a little like Dragons’ Den, but less confrontational and more chaotic. The real business took place not in the presentations, but in private one-to-one meetings.
Among these startups was Hermetic. Based in Yokneam Illit – the home of some 100 startup companies – in Galilee, Northern Israel, Hermetic has developed technology that can secure mobile banking and other mobile phone apps that deal with sensitive data.
The company uses encryption to protect apps from being accessed if a phone is lost or stolen. The technology electronically binds the password and the phone so it is not possible for hackers to circumvent the security software by cloning a copy of the phone.
“The pattern or pin-word can only be used on your device. Even if someone cloned your phone, they still cannot use it,” said Hermetic CEO and co-founder Yaniv Oz.
Hermetic’s own servers, which authenticate the passwords, contain no identifying information about the device or the user, offering a further level of protection against hackers.
The company has raised $800,000 in funding so far, and attracted interest from two further potential investors at the event, said Oz.
Another startup, Carambola Media, founded four years ago, has won contracts with big publications, including the New York Times and Cosmopolitan.
The company has created a library of interactive quizzes, polls and other content that publishers can add to their websites. Publishers pay nothing for the service, but are able to share the revenue from advertisements built into Carambola’s content.
Carambola Media CEO Yuval Brener told Computer Weekly he was hoping to use the event to break into the UK market, rather than to secure extra funds.
“I have been approached by 10 companies already. They want to learn more about us. We are at a point where we just want to feel the market. We are not in the middle of a funding round,” he said.
GetStocks is an Israeli startup which combines social media with share trading to make it easier for people with little experience of the stock market to buy and sell shares. It’s possible to start investing with an initial outlay of £100.
The company, which is registered in Cyprus, has attracted more than 1,000 users in the UK. Investors can “piggy back” on successful traders on the site and learn from and their trades.
“We are looking for additional investment, looking to raise more funds, and looking to start strategic partnerships with financial institutions,” said Ophir Sprinzak, head of legal and business development.
Another is TinyTap, which offers a free app that enables teachers and parents to create interactive stories and animations, with voice-overs, sounds and quizzes, on tablet computers.
The company secured a $1m investment from Verizon, and has attracted several other rounds of funding, since it was launched in Tel Aviv threee-and-a-half years ago.
Now the TinyTap aims to offer an added-value premium service, that will offer parents content tailored to their children, from a huge library. “We have met three or four interested investors,” said Sasha Serafimovski, who represented the company at the meet-up.
Nucleon, a security company based near Tel Aviv, has developed technology that helps to protect companies against unknown software vulnerabilities – known as zero day attacks.
The company uses networks of sensors and honeypots to lure hackers and analyse their activities. And it has developed a botnet monitoring system, known as Botty, to monitor attacks on the internet and alert subscribers.
“We try to find out ahead of time where attacks are going to come from,” said Dina Shomer, Nucleon co-founder and development manager. “We can find out about botnets and zero day attacks.”
The company is looking for investors to help it grow, and for partners, distributors and resellers to sell the technology.
Cloud Invent is a six-person Israeli startup that specialises in computer-aided design (CAD) software. The company uses a different form of mathematics to traditional CAD software, which allows designers to create models that are far more complicated than traditional software can cope with, yet can be rendered extremely quickly.
Cloud Invent, however, does not intend to compete with established CAD companies, such as Autodesk and Dassault. Instead, it is developing plug-in software modules that will bring new capabilities to existing software.
“We can work with much more complex modules that have 100 times more constraints,” said founder and CEO Nick Sidorenko.