17 Dec The Search for new Global Technologies
Last week, I shared with you my observations on the French technology market. From Paris, I traveled on to Tel Aviv and spent two and a half days talking to technology companies in Israel. Though I rarely ventured from my hotel, it was a fascinating experience, as always.
Much of the visit was a challenge to the assumptions I (like many Americans) make about Israel. Let me start by saying that even Israelis complimented my “courage” for traveling to their country. Certainly, the CNN lens through which we view the Middle East would suggest that one needs to do more than screw up her courage in order to travel in Israel. Armored vehicles, bodyguards, and Kevlar were among the packing suggestions I received prior to my departure for the Holy Lands.
The reality is something a bit different, at least in Tel Aviv. This is an old city, and clearly suffering from so many years of unrest. Skyscrapers and modern hotels stand between ancient neighborhoods, sitting just to the east of a beautiful Mediterranean coastline. I could not have been in any more safe a location. The prime minister was speaking at my hotel and for two days the facility was a fortress that made coming and going a considerable challenge.
But come they did, some 15 companies, to show me a range of excellent technology products. Many in the U.S. tech community have the impression that Israel’s technology prowess is honed through mandatory military service that gathers top engineers to work on the hard technology problems of security, imaging, mapping, and the like. Indeed, I met several entrepreneurs who worked together “in the little room” that serves as headquarters of Israeli military computer science. Yet the products they have created go far beyond esoteric military applications. In fact, they couldn’t be more focused on real business problems had these same engineers grown up together in a little room at one of New York’s biggest financial firms.
Israel has a tiny domestic market and U.S. buyers are an overnight flight away, yet these products are absolutely mainstream. But then, you will be able to see for yourself at DEMO 2004. Israel entrepreneurs should be well represented there. This, of course, is not a new discovery. In fact, I twice ventured to Israel prior to this journey and both times found outstanding products to bring back to DEMO conferences. Some of you may remember DealTime, which is now Shopping.com, perhaps the most successful of Israeli companies to launch at DEMO. There is also Atomica, and eMikola (now Seaside Software), Televend, among others that are lesser known, but continue to grow.
But between the Internet Bust and the Israeli/Palestinian struggle to find peace, the U.S. and European technology markets have effectively turned their backs on Israeli innovation. Let that innovation come to us, we say at best. At worst, customers and even nations have refused to purchase technology from Israeli firms, citing political and economic instability (and perhaps masking deeper prejudice) as a reason not to buy from them. It is an occasion, greeted by newspaper reports, when a U.S. technology analyst comes to Israel. And for me it was an occasion to celebrate outstanding technology products, determined entrepreneurs, and committed technology investors. Indeed, the venture partners who support these firms take on a commitment that goes well beyond financial capital, as they guide and shape firms as global players from the outset.
Israel technology has a PR problem, and not one that is easily solved. Any non-U.S. company faces challenges entering the U.S. market, challenges of culture, local know-how, and penetrating entrenched networks. Those challenges are compounded for Israeli companies, who also face a stigma of domestic unrest and perceived – if not actual – instability. It had been four years since I was last in Israel, and it took months of debate and
planning to ultimately make the two-day trip. The perspective I gained and the new associations I’ve made were worth every bit of angst and energy that went into making the journey.
Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.
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