Israel National Entrepreneurship Conference w/BizTEC

biztec2.jpgI had the pleasure of attending the Israel National Entrepreneurship Conference this Sunday which was held inside the Technion’s impressive computer science faculty building in Haifa. I took an early train from Tel Aviv and arrived just in time for the opening remarks by distinguised Technion President Yitzhak Apeloig. The event, which is connected through its sponsers and administrators to the BizTEC Israel National Entrepreneuriship Competition, which I wrote about in an earlier post, is the first annual conference of its kind held in Israel.

After a few more opening remarks by notable members of Israel’s academic and business world, such as former Philips CEO Prof. Uzi Dehaan, which lavished praise upon Israel’s phenomenal achievements in the start-up world (most start-ups on Nasdaq after the U.S, largest number of start-ups in absolute terms after the U.S., etc.), the man of the hour rose to the podium.

Yossi Vardi’s talk on hi-tech’s role in Israel’s economy was only half an hour, but he could of just stood behind the podium and let his astonishing record speak for itself. The Israeli icon has just sold his Foxytunes to Microsoft for $40 million, and is probably right now investing the proceeds in the next Google. Among other things, Vardi was the founding investor of the company that invented ICQ in 1996 which was bought by AOL 19 months later for $400 million. He also headed Israel’s Ministry of Development when he was 27, has four degrees from the Technion, negotiated Suez Canal oil politics with Egypt when he was 28, and has been an advisor to the CEOs of Siemens, AOL, and Amazon.com.

He spent his half hour lamenting the fact that the profits of Israel’s hi-tech achievements weren’t spilling over into peripheral, lower-income populations, and that if something wasn’t done soon to boost tech and science education in Israel’s (currently poorly-ranked) high schools, the innovation “caboose” pulling Israel’s economy would run out of steam, soon. He showed a nifty graphic comparing Israel’s per capita income to Ireland, which showed that somewhere around 1996, despite all the new millionaires and billionaires, Israel’s per capita income wasn’t growing fast enough.

On a more positive note, Yoram Yaacove, the CTO of Microsoft in Israel, rose next to talk about “Succeeding in a Global World”. His talk was interesting, but the noise spillover from his cellphone (which was a problem with all the presentations all day long) coupled with audio/video hickups and amateurish control of the auditorium lighting had me wondering why some of the hundreds of millions donated to the Technion recently hadn’t been used to hire a decent sound guy.

Yaacovi, who was formerly an executive at Amdocs, talked about trends in the global economy and different ways Israel needed to adapt its business (and cultural) practices to succeed in a fast-paced global world. He highlighted the fact that lack of talented tech-savvy employees would be a major hindrance to future global business innovation and growth. He said the U.S. and Israel should start proactively looking to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) for business partnerships and should start learning to adapt their business practices to fit in with local cultural norms.

After these opening presentations and a short cocktail break, there were panels the whole day long. Panelists included senior exectives at major Israeli start-ups that had “succeeded” (i.e. M-Systems and San Disk), the head of Google’s new Tel Aviv headquarters, and major VC partners. A lot of useful information was divulged and then digested by the audience, but the gist of it all could by synthesized into the following few ideas:

  • Believe in your idea; don’t stop at anything; it won’t be easy; don’t let the obstacles slow you down.
  • Pick the right people for your team.
  • Don’t have an ego; be modest.
  • Choose investors wisely: those with similar experiences that can help you out.
  • Don’t take too much money at first, this can be a liability later.
  • Don’t raise money until you’ve fully developed your product or you may burn your opportunities.
  • Don’t be discouraged by failure, its a crucial learning experience. Try, try, try again.
  • Even Vardi had a few start-ups that never made it.

There was an especially interesting lecture by Zohar Zisapel, the founder of the RAD Group, which drew business lessons from famous works of art. Fern Riess, a marketing Guru, spoke bluntly about how to get more publicity for your business. The audience was overwhelmingly male, but there was one panel presentation called “Wonder Women” which focused on women in the Israeli start-up world.

All in all it was a fascinating day. Check out the official website here.

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Technion’s 2008 BizTEC Competition

biztec-image.jpgThe Technion’s 2008 BizTEC competition is well under way. The annual event, which is held in partnership with The Marker, draws teams from all of Israel’s major universities and rewards big prizes based on best business plan submissions for the hottest and most lucrative startup ideas.

Ten $1000 “teaser” awards were doled out last month for the coolest ideas and teams are now putting finishing touches on their executive summaries for submission to the semi-finals. Up to 25 out of 150 teams will be selected on March 16 to compete in the finals by a panel of judges that includes some prominent figures from the Israeli business community.

Each of these teams will then receive a mentor and additional support services to help them put together an entire business plan in time for the finals. They will also each give a short presentation to the judges in hopes of winning one of the three top prizes and up to 50,000NIS. The winners will be announced on June 12.

Ideas range from novel baby monitoring devices to new arthritis treatments. Since the Grand Kickoff on December 16 a number of networking events and workshops have been held for students which included, among other things, Guy Rolnik, founder of The Marker talking about entrepreneurship in the media, and Orna Berry, Gemini Partner and former Israeli Chief Scientist discussing recent trends in the VC community.

Winners will represent Israel in Europe’s larger entrepreneurship competition. Last year’s third place winner, NRG Fuels from Ben Gurion University, won the top prize in that competition and continued on to the international competition at UC Berkeley where they took second place.

For more info check out the BizTEC Website

 

 

 

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