When Dan Senor and Saul Singer wrote the book “Start-up Nation” more than a decade ago (!), they opened with the story of a massively ambitious, high-flying start-up with a radical model to accelerate the adoption of electric cars. A few years later, Better Place (in which I played a role), crashed and burned, demonstrating that not every such Israeli start-up was destined for glory.
But even as the Better Place dream sputtered to a halt, just an hour up the road in Jerusalem, another automotive-focused Israeli start-up was quietly hard at work. Today, Mobileye went public for the second time, at a share price that makes it Israel’s most highly-valued public company. Having revolutionized car safety, Mobileye is arguably already Israel’s most impactful company. Given the company’s leadership position in the development of autonomous cars, though, its greatest impact may yet be still to come.
Founded in 1999 by Amnon Shashua, a professor at Hebrew University who remains its chief executive, Mobileye took an unconventional course, eschewing traditional venture capital financing and patching together capital from a range of sources over a decade-and-a-half. Some regard Professor Shashua as Israel’s closest answer to Steve Jobs. His principal insight was that cameras coupled with sophisticated software could detect vehicles, alert drivers and prevent accidents. When you are driving down the New Jersey Turnpike in your BMW and hear the lane-keeping detection alert, that beep was born in a lab a stone’s throw from the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. For years, Mobileye humbly and frugally honed its product and developed deep relationships with a range of automakers around the globe. By the time of its first IPO in 2014, its sensors were already ubiquitous in millions of cars the world over. As of last year, the company had shipped more than 100 million chips.
A few years after entering the public markets, Mobileye was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion, the largest acquisition in Israeli history. At the time, Maniv Mobility, the venture capital fund that I founded, had interests in over a dozen Israeli start-ups focused on the automotive space, and there was a hope and expectation that hundreds of talented and experienced engineers would be anxious to depart big-corporate life for small, young, innovative start-ups. But that did not happen. The mission-driven culture that Mobileye created kept the attrition rate remarkably low for a company of its size and stage.
With its second IPO today, Mobileye is on a path to continue its groundbreaking work in automotive safety and the development of autonomous vehicles. While AVs have been slower in coming than the hype of several years ago suggested, Mobileye is one of a handful of well-funded companies still hard at work on making them a reality, and many observers believe their approach to be among the best.
Israelis outside the world of cars and high tech may not be aware of all of Mobileye’s accomplishments, but this IPO serves as a great excuse to tune in. With this new milestone, Mobileye is poised to accelerate its impact as its chips make the cars we drive safer – and might ultimately let them do the driving for us!