Innovation Week Opens Doors to Silicon Valley for Israelis

(L-R) Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, Yasmin Lukatz, CEO & Founder of ICON, and Oren Zeev, Founding Partner of Zeev Ventures

Last Friday rounded up the sixth annual Innovation Week hosted in Silicon Valley by ICON, a non-profit organization that bridges the Israeli and San Francisco tech startup communities. The event, which was ten days long, was attended by some 450 delegates from around the globe, including high-tech corporations, venture investors, and up-and-coming Israeli entrepreneurs.

The flagship event of the week was ICONs annual one-day conference, featuring some of the most well-known names in the tech industry. Headlining as keynote speakers were Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom and named as one of the 52 influential high-tech influencers of Business Insider in 2017, and Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter. The latter also eventually became a consultant for the hit series Silicon Valley.

However, the keynotes weren’t the only sessions that had delegates buzzing. Investment is always a hot topic on the tech startup scene, particularly in hubs like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. The meteoric growth of tech unicorns has led to speculation that the sector is overvalued, which would negatively impact the ability of founders to gain investor trust.

However, Oren Zeev, founder of Zeev Ventures, doesn’t appear to share this view. At the event, where he co-led an Investors Panel, Zeev stated: “There are a host of amazing companies creating immense value, but we’re not at the peak, it’s not a bubble.”

His co-panelist Effie Epstein, Managing Partner at Sound Ventures, which was co-founded by Hollywood’s Ashton Kutcher, nevertheless urged caution to entrepreneurs. In her words: “As founders, you need to be deliberate with the money you’re raising, in preparation for the bust that may or may not happen. Watch your spending.”

As you’d expect from a tech-focused event, there was also much discussion about cutting-edge developments and forecasts about how technology will transform the future. Guy Kaplinski, Co-founder of autonomous vehicle firm Aska by NFT, has an exciting vision for the future of transport, predicting: “Autonomous flying cars will be used sooner than autonomous driving cars.”

Meanwhile, in the fintech sector, Dovi Francis, Founding Partner at VC firm Group 11, gave the big banks – and rising fintech firms – food for thought with his forecast that: “Challenger banks will take over the majority of new bank accounts.”

The success of the Innovation Week event is a testament to the achievements of ICON in opening channels between Israeli founders and the vibrant tech startup scene in Silicon Valley. Over the last six years, the non-profit has succeeded in attracting participants such as Ben Horowitz of Andreessen-Horowitz VC, Peter Thiel, Safra Catz CEO of Oracle, and many other leading industry experts from tech giants such as Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Yasmin Lukatz, Founder and CEO of ICON, sums up the challenge and her mission: “The most difficult problems Israeli entrepreneurs face are overcoming cultural gaps and reaching customers. I want to put Israeli entrepreneurs in the same room as their American counterparts in order to give them a competitive edge.”

Her efforts are clearly paying off, given the response from some of the industry leaders at the Innovation Week event. Sarah Tavel, General Partner at VC firm Benchmark, spoke of her company’s commitment to working with Israeli tech firms, stating: “The distance from Israel sets the bar very high for investments in Israel, but we believe in Israeli companies. I just traveled three days for a board meeting in Israel, instead of just three minutes down the road.”

Dan Senor, author of Startup Nation, firmly believes that the Israeli flair for innovation is what attracts investors, declaring: “The only reason that multinationals set up shop is to hire Israeli talent to solve major problems for them.”

No doubt referring to the success of Israeli tech startups like Water Gen, Senor elaborated that  “Israel is becoming the “Silicon Valley” solving major problems for large, developing countries.”

About the Author
Joe Liebkind is a Berlin-based writer, originally from New York City. He has worked with startups in sales and marketing roles in Berlin and New York. He loves to write and is passionate about all things Israel.
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