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Who is Israel’s entrepreneur of the year?

in a country where every other person seems to have their own start-up, someone has to be the best
Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

With the year’s end upon us, I’m getting a jump on things with my pick for the best entrepreneur in the Startup Nation.

It’s been quite a year. Wix made its Nasdaq debut in November, nearly doubled in price by the end of February, and ended last week about 30 cents below the initial public offering. Mobileye, the newest Israeli darling of Wall Street, is still in the full flush of a post-IPO run-up, seeing the newly minted shares up nearly 100%.

Algorithms, technology and big data are said to be the trifecta of ingredients for startup nation success. However, my pick deals in none of those.

In the past 12 months, the shares of my top entrepreneur’s company gained about six percent while the shares of his largest competitor lost 22 percent. Measure the company against the average performance of its peer group — similar businesses in other countries — and he’s ahead of them, too.

And in the respect category? Since last September, U.S. fund behemoth Fidelity has doubled-down on its investment in the shares, second only to the investment fund of another well-known startup guy, Michael Dell. His MSD European Opportunity Fund also increased its stake. Some of the biggest asset managers Europe and the U.S. round out the list of top 10 holders.

Finally, ask most Israeli entrepreneurs, particularly those in the pre-exit stages, what they fear in the financial workings that they hope will lead to ultimate riches. Often their biggest concern is dilution. Loss of control. Giving up too much to investors.

In this, my pick has taken matters to the edge, holding onto his startup with 50.02% of the shares in his indirect control, according to company filings.

A veteran of the elite 8200 unit? No. A graduate of one of the Chief Scientist’s incubators? Far from it. It’s Rami Levy, the guy who started his now-2.5 billion-shekel company from a Machane Yehuda stall (he changed the spelling of his last name on the stores as a marketing move).

It’s not likely that there are many parents who are encouraging their children to become grocers. But there is a lesson for them in Levy’s success.

It’s that not all entrepreneurial feats must emanate from Herzylia Pituach or in the Tel Aviv bubble. Not all of our genius resides in an algorithm or on a cloud server. Sometimes all it takes is seeing an opportunity on an otherwise-crowded playing field and believing that you can do it better.

About the Author
Robert is a financial writer and editor covering the Israel business scene at TLV Strategist and Analytika Research. He's a former editor at Bloomberg News in Tel Aviv, McKinsey & Co. and McDonald & Company Investments.
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