Mark Gilreath is as strong a supporter of Israel as any American I know. His support, however, is not built around faith (although as a Christian, visiting Jerusalem holds special meaning for him), history, or politics. Rather, his ties to the Holy Land are related to his passion for the people of Israel developed originally through his business activities there.
In late July, during the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, I was copied on an email from him. The message was actually sent to the employees of EndoChoice, the Atlanta-based company Mark founded in his basement in 2008 that has grown to over 400 employees worldwide including 65 at the EndoChoice Innovation center in Caesaria. This is what he said:
“During my recent visit to Israel, Hamas had begun firing missiles from Gaza and I had the unusual experience of hearing the sirens and rushing into a bomb shelter. Honestly, it was frightening. It’s very difficult for me to imagine this as a routine experience for my family and children. I continue to be amazed by the strength of our colleagues in Israel. During this month of July, they’ve been working tirelessly to deliver an improved version of Full Spectrum Endoscopy which will save lives through improved detection of colon cancer. At the same time, they are under constant assault from thousands of missiles that have been fired at their families and communities in Israel.
While the news channels and media are busy reporting, it appears that the critical facts are often missed. Of course there are many opinions on this topic. But at a high level, if the missiles from Gaza stop, the war is over. A brief article in the Washington Post brings more clarity to the issue. This situation is very sad for Israelis and Palestinians. Our thoughts and prayers remain with our friends in Israel, and also for the Palestinian people suffering from the decisions of Hamas leadership. We pray for peace. We Stand with Israel.”
Mark first visited Israel in 1999 as a 33 year-old consultant for Given Imaging and as that company’s first non-Israeli employee. He went there to meet with Gabi Meron, the company’s founding CEO with whom he had previous dealings when Mark was an executive at Pentax and Gabi was at Applitec. Mark had incorporated one of that Israeli company’s image solutions into one of Pentax’s products. He found that the Israelis were totally different from the Japanese decision makers at Pentax. The reason he joined Given Imaging was because of his belief in Gabi; the technology was secondary. “I was attracted by the Israeli character and Israeli characters,” Mark says.
Gilreath went on to become president of Given Imaging’s North America operation in Atlanta, and ultimately he became the Yokneam-based company’s Global Chief Marketing Officer. During his 8 years there, Given Imaging, developer of the famed PillCam™, became one of Israel’s most admired, exciting, and successful publicly traded companies.
Mark took his business passion for Israel and Israelis with him when he founded EndoChoice that has the mission to “Serve the GI caregiver”. This young company has created their own suite of products with high margins, contributing to its fast growth (2014 is the 5th straight year they were recognized as one of the fasting growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine). In 2012, EndoChoice received a huge investment by Sequoia Capital (both the Palo Alto and Israeli funds), and “merged” with Caesaria-based Peer Medical as well as acquired a German manufacturer of endoscopes.
The result is Fuse™ (Full Spectrum Endoscopy), a revolutionary endoscope now FDA approved and in use in the U.S., Europe, and around the world. The Fuse System is comprised of colonoscopes and gastroscopes with multiple imagers so doctors can see more of the GI tract for diagnosis and treatment. The Fuse colonoscope provides a field of view of 330 degrees versus 170 degrees from traditional endoscopes. In a recent clinical study, Fuse found 69% more pre-cancerous polyps than traditional colonoscopes. Patients are beginning to “insist on Fuse” for their colonoscopies.
Having a global footprint in the U.S., Germany, and Israel, the company does not seem to have a problem with cross cultures. With Fuse, EndoChoice has the ability to be the ‘outlier’. The product has gone through adaptations for the past 1 1/2 years, and is now making a tremendous difference in patients’ lives. Mark told me that essentially, they bought a “science project”, not a fully formed product or company in Israel. Also with Fuse, their revenue projections have increased exponentially for the coming years.
Many of Mark’s closest friends are Israelis. He says they are “like New Yorkers with an exponent”. He feels Israelis are passionate and direct and that he shares a common drive with them to achieve the goal. “You want them by your side. They didn’t sign on for a job—it’s a cause to them. They are brilliant and emotionally stronger than most—wonderful partners in building a world-class organization,” he adds.
Israelis are lucky to have Mark Gilreath standing with them during good times and bad. He should be an inspiration to American business leaders as well as to the Jewish community that U.S. – Israel business ties are worth the effort.