As readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of Startup Landscapes and I enjoy collecting them. It’s been over a year since my last post on Israeli startup landscapes, so here’s a fresh batch of 2019 market maps. In this edition, you’ll find landscapes for Proptech, Future of Work, CleanTech, InsureTech, Supply Chain, Sports Tech, Retail Tech, FoodTech, AgTech, Robotics, Payments Tech and Fintech.
This week brought together a few different parts of my personal and professional life. On Monday, Kevin Baxpehler and I hosted the UK Israel Business investor delegation to Tel Aviv, and today I spent the morning with the 8200 EISP startup delegation to London where I was joined by Kirsten Connell (Cylon Lab, Managing Director) Simon Menashy (MMC Ventures, General Partner). Having these two events in one week made me realise – there are huge opportunities to build stronger bridges between the two tech communities.
The two events were packed with great questions and takeaways. Here they are in no particular order.
- Should Israeli startups even look at the UK at an early stage given the US market is much bigger/strategic? There’s no doubt the US is THE key market, but it’s not the only one. Reasons to consider London as a launchpad:
- It’s close and cheaper to get to than the US
- Most companies /funds are concentrated in 11 square miles in London. You can get a lot done in a short trip ;-)
- Sometimes trying to take on the vast US market too early can result in “bringing a knife to a gun fight”
- You’ll find less competition and easier to stand out than in the valley.
- For certain industries (fintech, retail, health) it makes sense for Israeli startups to tap into the UK market early.
- To take on the US market, will likely mean the CEO needs to relocate to the US and build a team there.
- Is there too much money? Israel is on track to reach $10 billion in venture capital invested in startups in 2019. While there’s a huge growth in the capital volume, it is concentrated in mega rounds for growth companies. The number of seed deals is actually flat or a bit down from last year. Takeaway – while Israel is the highest in the world for VC per capita, there’s still a gap in funding at the early stage.
- Who to raise from? Given the competition between funds, some have started investing early than they normally do, so series A funds dip into seed and several claim they need no investment committee to write checks under a certain amount. That’s great, but founders should understand what’s the follow on ratio for those seed investments. Having a top tier investor not follow on can create serious singling risk for the startup. Nothing new here, but good reminder!
- Soft skills – Israeli Entrepreneurs are brilliant innovators and have strong technical expertise. Where they can use some help is in the soft skills and storytelling. Don’t lose the Chutzpah, but learn the please/thank you/small talk/follow up email to get things done in the UK.
- The value of boards – Don’t underestimate the value a good board of directors can bring. In UK registered companies, every member of the board can be found in the Companies House website, and having the “right” people on the board can open doors and accelerate relationships, especially for a startup coming from abroad. In the UK, the Chairman (or Chairwoman) for example, work closely with the companies and can be mentors, introducers and companions to the founder. The board should support the startup and leveraged to make key decisions. Israeli startup can learn from the UK in this regard.
- Diversity is key. No more “Pale, Male and Stale”. London is probably the most international city in the world and has a lot to offer in terms of diverse talent. In terms of female founders, there’s still plenty of work to be done, but we all agreed there’s never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur!
- Tax incentives – The UK gives tax incentives for investors (EIS and SEIS) as well as tax incentives for employee options (EMI). Especially at the early stage, investors will care about accessing those benefits. To qualify, the startup must have at least one full time person based in the UK.
- Two ears, one mouth – Israeli founders are wonderfully opinionated, but investors want to know they are being heard. This point is slightly due to cultural differences, but Israeli founders should keep in mind that UK investors see this as a potential concern. Be ready to take feedback on board.
- The UK is very easy and relatively frictionless to do business with. There are companies like London and Partners, that help startups from abroad establish a UK presence and get connected.
- Finally, there’s a growing social network for Israelis in the UK:
- The Israeli tech parliament, is a regular meetup for Israelis in tech offering “Firgun time” and the ability tap into the community with what you’re looking for. Monthly events (via meetup group) and active FB community.
- The UK Israel Tech Hub (affiliated to the UK government) connects UK corporates to Israeli startups, now about to open a physical space for Israeli startups looking to expand in the UK
- Sosa is setting up shop in London
- Labs/WeWork/Mindspace operate in both countries
- There’s a growing community of Israeli VCs and founders in the UK.
If you’re an Israeli startup looking at London as a potential market, there are plenty of doors open for you. Please get in touch if I can be helpful!
While large entertainment companies scramble to catch up to streaming content platforms, more fundamental upheaval is headed their way as a result of technological advances in artificial intelligence and 5G.
Former ProSiebenSat.1 executive Kevin Baxpehler (based in Tel Aviv) and former Google Ventures partner Eze Vidra (based in London) launched Remagine Ventures earlier this year with a $35 million fund that bridges the gap between technologists at the forefront of change and the largest owners of content.
Backed by a roster of multi-billion-dollar media companies in Europe, Asia and the U.S. as its limited partners, their firm operates independently (and focuses on financial return) but aims to provide strategic value to portfolio companies and insight into the future for its LPs. Vidra referred to it as “a multi-corporate Google Ventures type of model.”
The firm’s focus on entertainment technologies has a B2B bent, with a geographic focus on Israel as its primary hub and with most of its initial portfolio selling to enterprise media companies. That makes Remagine’s ability to guide entrepreneurs through the halls of traditional media giants highly relevant; it also means it can gauge whether traditional media companies are likely to buy a startup’s product before they invest.
I spoke with Baxpehler and Vidra to learn more about their playbook and why they believe a wave of entertainment tech companies is about to come out of Israel. Here’s the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
Eric Peckham: Are there specific investment theses within entertainment that you are hunting for startups in?
Kevin Baxpehler: Our investment thesis is based on two main drivers: new advancements in so-called AI technologies — specifically deep-learning, computer-vision and NLP — coupled with new consumer trends such as esports, visual search, and engaging with computer-generated imagery (CGI) like Lil Miquela.
We believe that recent technological developments such as GANs (generative adversarial networks), coupled with new powerful computing power like new microprocessing chips and 5G, will change how brands, consumers, and stars/influencers will all interact. It creates tremendous opportunities to invest.
Eze Vidra: Remagine Ventures invests independently in seed and pre-seed startups at the intersection of entertainment, tech, data and commerce. Seed investing is particularly hard for corporates to do directly (because of a combination of reasons including speed, signaling risk and the challenges of deal flow for corporates) so we specialise at that stage by sourcing real time feedback from the market.
We are seeing industries and disciplines converge and find the intersections to be the most ripe areas of opportunity. For example, content + commerce, AI + entertainment, gaming + live stream tech giving us esports as a cultural phenomenon changing consumer behaviour.
Give me some examples of what startups at these intersection points will look like.
Vidra: The two core tenants of our thesis are 1) changing consumer behavior — for example, how esports is moving young viewers to engage with gaming — and 2) new technologies that make new forms of entertainment possible, primarily driven by AI.
Our portfolio company Syte is an image-recognition and computer-vision company that recognizes the products inside images and videos with a very high degree of accuracy. They are working with top retailers globally and Samsung selected them to power the Bixby assistant and is rolling them out globally. It’s been tried before, but the difference with Syte’s product is the level of accuracy.
We invested in HourOne, which is a synthetic video company using generative adversarial networks to generate video without the camera. It has multiple use cases, from reducing the cost of video production to programmatic video, to text-to-speech to gaming.
Another example is Vault, which uses deep learning to predict the success of scripted projects, whether it’s movies or TV shows down to the box office opening Rotten Tomatoes scores, the probability of there being a season two, the demographics that are most impacted, etc. So bringing a more data-driven approach to marketing films and shows.
Being vertically-focused means that we can attract relevant dealflow from both entrepreneurs and co-investors. As we evaluate startups, we look for interesting teams that are leveraging new technology (or taking an interesting consumer angle) that can scale and we focus on helping them open doors internationally.
To what extent is your interest focused on startups selling their technology to enterprise media companies versus startups building tools for the broader landscape of small content creators?
London and Tel Aviv based VC firm 83North has closed out its fifth fund at $300 million, as we reported earlier. It last raised a $250 million fund in 2017 and expects to continue the same investment mix, while tracking developments in emerging areas like healthcare AI and autonomous vehicles.
In a conversation with general partner Laurel Bowden, the veteran investor shared a few further thoughts with Extra Crunch — talking about the tech scene in Europe vs Israel, what the firm looks for in a team and tips on scaling globally.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
TechCrunch: Is Europe starting to catch up to Israel when it comes to deep tech startups?
Laurel Bowden: We clearly think we have in our portfolio some deep tech. And in other VC portfolios too — there’s clearly some deep tech [coming out of Europe]. And then on the reverse side you’ve seen more consumer-related stuff coming out of Israel. But still if you take a blanket look, we see more data infrastructure, security, storage coming out of Israel than we see in Europe — that’s for sure.
83North has closed its fifth fund, completing an oversubscribed $300 million raise and bringing its total capital under management to $1.1BN+.
The VC firm, which spun out from Silicon Valley giant Greylock Partners in 2015 — and invests in startups in Europe and Israel, out of offices in London and Tel Aviv — last closed a $250M fourth fund back in 2017.
It invests in early and growth stage startups in consumer and enterprise sectors across a broad range of tech areas including fintech, data centre & cloud, enterprise software and marketplaces.
General partner Laurel Bowden, who leads the fund, says the latest close represents investment business as usual, with also no notable changes to the mix of LPs investing for this fifth close.
“As a fund we’re really focused on keeping our fund size down. We think that for just the investment opportunity in Europe and Israel… these are good sized funds to raise and then return and make good multiples on,” she tells TechCrunch. “If you go back in the history of our fundraising we’re always somewhere between $200M-$300M. And that’s the size we like to keep.”
“Of course we do think there’s great opportunities in Europe and Israel but not significantly different than we’ve thought over the last 15 years or so,” she adds.
83North has made around 70 investments to date — which means its five partners are usually making just one investment apiece per year.
The fund typically invests around $1M at the seed level; between $4M-$8M at the Series A level and up to $20M for Series B, with Bowden saying around a quarter of its investments go into seed (primarily into startups out of Israel); ~40% into Series A; and ~30% Series B.
“It’s somewhat evenly mixed between seed, Series A, Series B — but Series A is probably bigger than everything,” she adds.
It invests roughly half and half in its two regions of focus.
The firm has had 15 exits of portfolio companies (three of which it claims as unicorns). Recent multi-billion dollar exits for Bowden are: Just Eat, Hybris (acquired by SAP), iZettle (acquired by PayPal) and Qlik.
While 83North has a pretty broad investment canvas, it’s open to new areas — moving into IoT (with recent investments in Wiliot and VDOO), and also taking what it couches as a “growing interest” in healthtech and vertical SaaS.
“Some of my colleagues… are looking at areas like lidar, in-vehicle automation, looking at some of the drone technologies, looking at some even healthtech AI,” says Bowden. “We’ve looked at a couple of those in Europe as well. I’ve looked, actually, at some healthtech AI. I haven’t done anything but looked.
“And also all things related to data. Of course the market evolves and the technology evolves but we’ve done things related to BI to process automation through to just management of data ops, management of data. We always look at that area. And think we’ll carry on for a number of years. ”
“In venture you have to expand,” she adds. “You can’t just stay investing in exactly the same things but it’s more small additional add-ons as the market evolves, as opposed to fundamental shifts of investment thesis.”
Discussing startup valuations, Bowden says European startups are not insulated from wider investment dynamics that have been pushing startup valuations higher — and even, arguably, warping the market — as a consequence of more capital being raised generally (not only at the end of the pipe).
“Definitely valuations are getting pushed up,” she says. “Definitely things are getting more competitive but that comes back to exactly why we’re focused on raising smaller funds. Because we just think then we have less pressure to invest if we feel that valuations have got too high or there’s just a level… where startups just feel the inclination to raise way more money than they probably need — and that’s a big reason why we like to keep our fund size relatively small.”
PICO Venture Partners, an early-stage investment firm headquartered in Jerusalem, has raised $80 million for its second flagship fund following a $35 million debut effort.
The four-year-old firm is not industry specific; rather, the outfit seeks “values-based, execution-driven Israeli entrepreneurs who leverage technology to modernize processes and unlock greater efficiency in the marketplace.” In other words, PICO is an opportunistic firm, looking for local founders with potential to bring big returns.
PICO has previously invested in Vroom, an online used-car marketplace that’s raised nearly $500 million in funding. Other portfolio companies include cloud automation business Spotinst, AI-enabled career development tool Gloat and business management tool Arbox.
Led by co-founding partners Elie Wurtman — a former general partner at Benchmark Capital Israel — Todd Kesselman and Gina LaVersa — former investment bankers — PICO operates offices in Tel Aviv and New York, in addition to Jerusalem.
“At PICO, we put an emphasis on impact,” Wurtman said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “With this fund, we’re looking to partner with Israeli founders who want to use new technologies to make an impact on industries that need to be looked at from a refreshed perspective. While we’re looking for early-stage companies with significant growth potential, we also want to ensure we’re investing in entrepreneurs who have a clear vision about how they can make a real impact on markets, people and society.”
Remagine Ventures is a relatively new European VC fund which focuses on investments in entertainment tech, including AI, gaming, sports & eSports, AR/VR, consumer and commerce. It’s now completed $35 million in funding from a number of entertainment and media corporations, including Axel Springer and ProsiebenSat1, Japanese Adways and American Liontree LLC. Last year global media group Sky put $4 million into the fund as part of the launch of its new innovation office in Berlin.
To date, the fund has invested in six entertainment start-ups, including: Minute Media, a user-generated content platform for sports, Syte.ai a visual search startup, Novos, a gamer training platform, HourOne, which operates in the world of synthetic media, Vault-ai.com, predictive analytics for film and television and Madskil, an eSports company in stealth.
Started by investor/entrepreneurs Kevin Baxpehler and Eze Vidra, Remagine focuses on early-stage (seed and pre-seed) investments in Israel and UK, with synergies between the two territories.
Traditionally, Israel has been better know for it’s ‘deep tech’capabilities but there’s a growing ecosystem of entertainment tech and consumer startups looking to disrupt traditional traditional industries.
Vidra established Campus London, Google’s first physical hubs for startups and later expanded the Campus model internationally. He was also a general partner Google Ventures (GV), the company’s investment arm in Europe.
Baxpehler, is a former entrepreneur and investment banker from in Germany. He most recently led the investment activity of German entertainment giant ProSiebenSat.1 in Israel, investing in Dynamic Yield (which recently sold for $300 million to McDonalds) and Magisto, which was acquired by Vimeo for $200 million.
Vidra said: “We operate in a relatively new market in the Israeli ecosystem. The Entertainment-tech sector has tremendous momentum, and Israeli founders are expanding at a rapid pace in this world and we recognize huge potential in it.” Baxpehler added: “Eze and I have experience in the investment world, the entrepreneurial world and the corporate world. We want to meet startups very early, to accompany and guide them even before investing.”
Apple has fixed a security flaw for a second time after it accidentally reintroduced an old bug in a recent software update.
Released Monday, iOS 12.4.1 contains a security fix that was first patched months earlier in iOS 12.3. Apple rolled out a fix in May, but accidentally undid the security patch in its latest update, iOS 12.4, in July.
In a brief security advisory published after the software’s release, Apple said it fixed a kernel vulnerability that could have allowed an attacker to execute code on an iPhone or iPad with the highest level of privileges.
Those privileges, also known as system or root privileges, can open up a device to running apps that are not normally allowed by Apple’s strict rules. Known as jailbreaking, apps can access parts of a device that are normally off-limits. On one hand that allows users to extensively customize their devices, but it can also expose the device to malicious software, like malware or spyware apps.
Spyware apps often rely on undisclosed jailbreak exploits to get access to a user’s messages, track their location and listen to their calls without their knowledge. Nation states are known to hire mobile spyware makers to remotely install malware on the devices of activists, dissidents and journalists. Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by agents of the Saudi regime, is believed to have been targeted by mobile spyware, according to reports. The company accused of supplying the spyware, Israel-based NSO Group, has denied any involvement.
Apple confirmed it pushed out a fix in its security notes, which included a short acknowledgement to Pwn20wnd, the team that confirmed last week that its jailbreak was working again.
The same kernel vulnerability was fixed in a supplemental update for macOS 10.14.6.
Getting even the most well-organized team to agree on anything can be hard. Tel Aviv’s Ment.io, formerly known as Epistema, wants to make this process easier by applying smart design and a dose of machine learning to streamline the decision-making process.
Like with so many Israeli startups, Ment.io’s co-founders Joab Rosenberg and Tzvika Katzenelson got their start in Israel’s intelligence service. Indeed, Rosenberg spent 25 years in the intelligence service, where his final role was that of the deputy head analyst. “Our story starts from there, because we had the responsibility of gathering the knowledge of a thousand analysts, surrounded by tens of thousands of collection unit soldiers,” Katzenelson, who is Ment.io’s CRO, told me. He noted that the army had turned decision making into a form of art. But when the founders started looking at the tech industry, they found a very different approach to decision making — and one that they thought needed to change.
If there’s one thing the software industry has, it’s data and analytics. These days, the obvious thing to do with all of that information is to build machine learning models, but Katzenelson (rightly) argues that these models are essentially black boxes. “Data does not speak for itself. Correlations that you may find in the data are certainly not causations,” he said. “Every time you send analysts into the data, they will come up with some patterns that may mislead you.”
So Ment.io is trying to take a very different approach. It uses data and machine learning, but it starts with questions and people. The service actually measures the level of expertise and credibility every team member has around a given topic. “One of the crazy things we’re doing is that for every person, we’re creating their cognitive matrix. We’re able to tell you within the context of your organization how believable you are, how balanced you are, how clearly you are being perceived by your counterparts, because we are gathering all of your clarification requests and every time a person challenges you with something.”
At its core, Ment.io is basically an internal Q&A service. Anybody can pose questions and anybody can answer them with any data source or supporting argument they may have.
“We’re doing structuring,” Katzenelson explained. “And that’s basically our philosophy: knowledge is just arguments and counterarguments. And the more structure you can put in place, the more logic you can apply.”
In a sense, the company is doing this because natural language processing (NLP) technology isn’t yet able to understand the nuances of a discussion.If you’re anything like me, though, the last thing you want is to have to use yet another SaaS product at work. The Ment.io team is quite aware of that and has built a deep integration with Slack already and is about to launch support for Microsoft Teams in the next few days, which doesn’t come as a surprise, given that the team has participated in the Microsoft ScaleUp accelerator program.
The overall idea here, Katzenelson explained, is to provide a kind of intelligence layer on top of tools like Slack and Teams that can capture a lot of the institutional knowledge that is now often shared in relatively ephemeral chats.
Ment.io is the first Israeli company to raise funding from Peter Thiel’s late-stage fund, as well as from the Slack Fund, which surely creates some interesting friction, given the company’s involvement with both Slack and Microsoft, but Katzenelson argues that this is not actually a problem.
Microsoft is also a current Ment.io customer, together with the likes of Intel, Citibank and Fiverr.
Imagine a growing Israeli startup whose product is deepfake videos that are based on artificial intelligence and appear to be utterly authentic. The company’s marketing efforts, according to its website, are conducted by two departments — “consulting for corporations” and “consulting for governments and politicians.” In addition, “the company helps its customers uncover their opponents’ weak spots and make them go viral.”
Finally, imagine that the company describes its employees as “highly experienced men and women, graduates of elite units of the IDF intelligence branch and Israeli government intelligence agencies,” and that its technology is based on developments by these same security agencies. On top of all of this, of course its board of directors includes former heads of Mossad and the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet), as well as retired senior army officers.
When you are done imagining this, it’s time to think about the private intelligence firm Black Cube. Various investigative reports published recently in the media in Israel and abroad paint a troubling picture — not because the company is violating the law, but because of its lack of ethics and internal moral code.
According to these reports, Black Cube does not work only for giant corporations that want to dig up incriminating information about their competitors, it also has contracts with foreign governments that seek to repress political opponents. It not only helps governments find those who are evading their financial obligations, but also to harass women who complain about crimes of sexual violence. Not only does it identify those who defame rival businesses, but it also frightens off regulators and watchdogs, human rights activists and journalists.
Black Cube, of course, is not alone in this. Have you ever heard of NSO, whose flagship product, Pegasus, can turn any cellphone into a mobile spying device? Or Glassbox and its product line? The list of such companies is long, and most of them are all but unknown. All of them are based on exploiting the skills, technology and professional culture created in the Israeli security establishment.
There is nothing new about former members of the Israeli defense and security agencies selling weapons and military know-how. But what has been added in recent years is the technology twist. Former high-ranking security officials and intelligence operatives, including from the renowned 8200 unit, strike out on their own. Some of them find employment in firms that break new ground, improve the world and better society; but others, in their greed, are willing to sell spyware and offensive cyber-weapons to dictators in Africa who need them to stamp out criticism and revolts.
This is also not a situation unique to Israel. Veterans of western security agencies worldwide face similar dilemmas once they retire from their careers in public service and seek their next professional challenges. The startup nation however, is based, to a large extent, on veterans of Israel’s high-tech units in the defense establishment. While this association certainly does bring honor, prestige, revenue and jobs to the Israeli economy, two issues resulting from this relationship need to be considered.
Technology can make the world a better place — or much worse.
The first relates to ethics. If anything is clear today in the world of technology, it is the need to include ethical concerns when developing, distributing, implementing and using technology. This is all the more important because in many domains there is no regulation or legislation to provide a clear definition of what may and may not be done. There is nothing intrinsic to technology that requires that it pursue only good ends. The mission of our generation is to ensure that technology works for our benefit and that it can help realize social ideals. The goal of these new technologies should not be to replicate power structures or other evils of the past.
Startup nation should focus on fighting crime and improving autonomous vehicles and healthcare advancements. It shouldn’t be running extremist groups on Facebook, setting up “bot farms” and fakes, selling attackware and spyware, infringing on privacy and producing deepfake videos.
The second issue is the lack of transparency. The combination of individuals and companies that have worked for, and sometimes still work with, the security establishment frequently takes place behind a thick screen of concealment. These entities often evade answering challenging questions that result from the Israeli Freedom of Information law and even recourse to the military censor — a unique Israeli institution — to avoid such inquires.
How can we know when the government permits to be sold, and to whom, technologies that were developed by the private sector but that have security implications? How can we know who intervenes when a foreign country in Europe arrests spies sent by a commercial firm, or when a Gulf state is targeted by an Israeli high-tech company? How can we know when the companies are serving the national interest, and their own bottom line — and who gets to decide this, anyway? And what is the impact on the defense establishment itself with the migration of its stars directly from national service to high tech? What effect does this have on the state’s decision-making process about which technologies to invest in, whom it trains and what it purchases?
Israel, and its tech business community, must carefully consider the negative ramifications of excelling in technology while disregarding moral and ethical questions. The “startup nation” must conduct extensive discussions on the crossroads between ethics and technology so as to endow the next generation with the strong moral compass necessary to navigate in this new world. The unanswered question at hand is how Israel, and similar western democracies, can grapple with the growing phenomenon of technological entities whose sole purpose is profit without any qualms about the moral implications of their products and services.