For many years, Silicon Valley has been one of the prime US destinations for Israeli companies seeking capital, partnerships, customers, and acquisitions. These relationships have been promoted and nurtured by Palo Alto-based California-Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC), a leader among the Israel-oriented chambers in North America. Believing in the power of industry focus and under the leadership of executive director Talia Cohen, CICC has set its target on Cyber Security. The results are impressive, inspirational, and of course critical to the protection of vital commercial, personal, and public assets.

An industry strength highlighted this month during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to California when he and Governor Brown signed an MOU in cybersecurity, one of their major collaboration targets. But more than a year before the public announcement, the CICC recognized the potential of this sector by forming a Cyber Security Committee led by recognized executives from large security companies and investment firms in Israel and California. Since then, the committee has developed programs, events, and participation in Israeli conferences that educate, connect, promote and generate new business and investment opportunities for the benefit of their members.

In June 2013, the committee led a California delegation to Israel for the annual International Cyber Security Conference organized by Tel Aviv University. This past January, a member group of significant business leaders went to Israel for the CyberTech 2014 conference, met with Israeli start-ups to explore investments and collaborations, and a CICC panel of experts offered insights into “What Chief Information Security Officers Really Need and Hope that Innovative Start-Ups Will Provide”

One of the delegation’s California participants along with NEA, SwissCom and others was Jacques Benkoski, a CICC board and Cyber Security Committee member who is a partner with Silicon Valley-based US Venture Partners. He and his firm have a long history of investing in Israeli companies in this space including CheckPoint, Imperva, and Trusteer that was acquired last year by IBM for a reported $1 billion. The firm has $3.8 billion under management, and currently has $625 million to invest. Jacques reported that the conference provided good exposure for the delegation with the Israeli companies and vice versa. “I value CICC as a very efficient and effective bridge between Israel and California,” he said.

Just a month later, more than 26 Israeli companies attended the Israeli Cyber Security Showcase on February 26 that ran in parallel to the RSA Conference in San Francisco. Organized by CICC and the Israel Economic Mission to the West Coast, more than 150 pre-scheduled meetings and many additional introductions were arranged for the Israeli start-ups with potential US customers, VCs, and strategic partners. The Israeli delegation included Dome9, FireLayers, ThetaRay, Lacoon Mobile Security, Hybrid Security, and many more. They met with potential customers such as Silicon Valley Bank, Wells Fargo, Technicolor, Bank of America, Intel, and Apigee; and developed business opportunities with technology companies such as Akami, CheckPointCisco, RSA, FireEye, and F5 as well as with leading security experts.

Two of the CICC Cyber Security Committee’s most active members are Tim Mather, chief information security officer at San Jose-based Cadence Design Systems, and Paul Farr, vice president business development for SkyBox Security that has its R&D operation in Herzliya. They both strongly believe that Israel is the center of unique technologies in this space and that Silicon Valley is the other major center where there are both synergies and access to capital and customers as well as partnerships for go-to-market. Therefore, CICC is the natural partner for Israel in Cyber Security.

With 10 active members, the committee has helped over 35 Israeli cyber security start-ups since it was formed last year. Tim attended Cybertech Israel 2014 where he met with 10 Israeli companies. Paul also attended the Israeli Cyber Security Showcase at the time of the RSA conference, and looks for Israeli companies as potential partners for SkyBox. They point out that the committee leverages their networks and expertise to help individual Israeli companies in addition to organizing events and networking programs to give them exposure to US decision makers. The Chamber also collaborates with the Israel’s top universities including TechnionTel Aviv University, and Ben-Gurion University.

Next week, CICC is planning another event in Santa Clara where a panel of top experts will share their insights into “What Security Customers Really Need – and Hope that Innovative Start-Ups will Provide”. Among the speakers are key executives from SVB, Visa, Intel Capital, and PWC. During this event, 3-4 Israeli start-ups will present their innovative security technologies to the California audience. For information and to register, click here.

“I see CICC as the hub for the leading institutions, corporates, investors, universities and start-ups to strengthen their networking and leverage connections for their own benefit and for the benefit of other members. The success story of the business community in Israel attracts more companies and investors here to look for ways to conduct business in Israel and with Israeli companies,” said Talia Cohen, CICC Executive Director.

I say Kol HaKavod to Talia and her team for this successful initiative.  While Cyber Security isn’t the California-Israel Chamber’s only industry focus (others are MedTech, Mobile & Internet and Big Data, and SaaS & Cloud), it is one that is really making a difference. Other North American communities should be inspired, from CICC’s example, to develop their own cluster focus around industry sectors in which both they and the Israelis have strength and can benefit by collaboration.

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