David Lawee, Google’s mergers and acquisitions chief, recently attended a GarageGeeks event at a rusty garage in a Tel Aviv Jaffa port to meet with Israeli startup owners seeking cash for ventures.
GarargeGeeks is an “Israeli based not-profit physical and virtual space for innovative and creative people to introduce, network, expose, create, brainstorm, innovate and build,” according to its website. “People that take part in the activities come from different disciplines such as electronics, software, mechanical, art, design, music, hacking and gaming.”
The organization essentially holds monthly events to promote building non-commercial projects and introduce local businesses to multinationals while located in Israel’s Holon Industrial Zone. The event’s garage is a 100-square meter space with machinery tools, electronic components, software developments and raw project materials.
“I’ve met about 100 Israeli companies in two days and that’s, like, super-efficient,” said Lawee to Bloomberg between corporate conversations at the speed-dating-style event. “When you make a connection with an entrepreneur who’s really excited, whether you do a deal with him or not, that’s kind of the juice of the job.”
Two weeks later, Google initiated a funding program for Israeli entrepreneurs as part of a recent acceleration in United States’ technology companies backing startups in late 2011.
Israeli business daily Calcalist (translated) reported Dec. 20 that Apple bought Anobit, a flash/DSP technology company. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a welcome to Apple through Twitter and gave support on the company’s expanded R&D efforts at a new facility near Haifi.
The foreign investments are integral to Israel, where the high-tech industry comprises a whopping 47 percent of manufactured exports. The startup ventures could be a new source of innovation for technology giants like Mountain View, California-based Google.
Most Israeli venture capital funds were hurt by the global recession. They have since been unable to raise money, and 2012 will be necessary for their recovery, according to Head of the Israel Venture Capital Research Center Koby Simana in an interview with Bloomberg.
“For some, it will be a make or break year because they haven’t raised funds since 2007 or 2006 and if they don’t raise any money this year or next, many will cease to operate,” said Simana.
Google’s investment in Israeli companies during recent years includes the $25 million takeover of LabPixies, a developer of game applications, and an undisclosed buyout of Quiksee, a software developer for posting three-dimensional video online. The social network Facebook and online marketplace EBay are among other U.S. investors that have acquired Israeli assets in the last couple of years.
The hour-long Garage Geeks event, arranged by startup investor Yossi Vardi, attracted 300 visitors from outside the country. Vardi is the founding investor in the former Mirabilis Ltd., which developed the ICQ online-chat system, and a co-chairman of the global conference.
Top executives from numerous giants, including Seattle-based Amazon.com, were among nine potential benefactors at GarageGeeks who wore special yellow vests, including Lawee. The hundreds of startup founders clustered into groups of 30 or less and meandered around the garage making appeals that urged “short” presentations from suitors.
“Somehow the word is out that this is where everyone has to be,” said Vardi, regarding the November event.