Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was in Israel on Thursday to mark 25 years of cooperation between the tech giant and the Jewish state.
During the trip, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, visited the Ahavat Zion School in Tel Aviv and headlined Microsoft’s Think Next event.
“There is no doubt that a country like Israel, with the human capital that is here, is going to change the world,” Nadella said at the event.
In his meeting with Netanyahu, Nadella reiterated the company’s commitment to Israel, both as a market and a source of hi-tech innovation. He said the company would continue to run programs to boost local startups and invest in local education and vocational training.
Netanyahu said Israel would work to minimize export barriers on Israeli cybersecurity technology.
“We are marking 25 years of cooperation between Microsoft and the State of Israel,” he said. “We should now chart the next 25 years. Israel is a center of great technological innovation; Microsoft is a great technological company.
It’s a marriage made in heaven but recognized here on earth.”
In a recorded message to Think Next, an annual conference that showcases startups and new technologies, Microsoft founder Bill Gates reminisced about the company opening its Israel R&D center in 1991 – its first outside the US – when Israeli engineers in the US said they wanted to move back to Israel but keep working for the company.
“I’m very impressed with what you’re doing,” Gates said, telling the team they were not only advancing the company but the field of computer science itself.
Several exciting tidbits came out of the event, which was held at the Tel Aviv Port.
Nadella discussed the future of computing and mobility and praised several of the Israeli startups he saw. He said the company’s much-hyped Augmented Reality Headset, called HoloLens, would be shipped to developers in the coming months.
Microsoft Ventures general manager Zack Weisfeld announced that their accelerator, which debuted in Israel four years ago and spread, had become the world’s top corporate accelerator program. He also reiterated little-noticed comments made at he Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week that Microsoft Ventures was starting its first “Scalearator,” an accelerator for later- stage startups that focuses on helping them grow.
SkyTran CEO Gerald Jay Sanders announced that his company, which has been developing a relatively inexpensive, green public transportation system with Israel Aerospace Industries, was well into the process of building its prototype in Israel. In 2013, news broke that Tel Aviv was interested in acquiring the system, which involves futuristic pods flying overhead on rails.
Sanders said the company had also received interest from Netanya, Herzliya, Baltimore and Abu Dhabi.
Another company, SkyFi, which announced that it raised $3 million ahead of the event, demonstrated a technology it said could provide Internet to the whole world. Its system releases into space a network of small satellites called “nanosats” that it says can transmit up to a full gigabyte of data per second.
Thursday’s visit was Nadella’s first as CEO, though he had come here in his previous role as executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group in 2001. His predecessor as CEO, Steve Ballmer, spoke at Think Next in 2012.
Microsoft acquired five Israeli startups last year, three of which were cybersecurity companies. Among them were Adallom, bought for a reported $320m., and Secure Islands, for a reported $100m. to $150m.
Almost exactly a year ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a surprise visit to Israel to inaugurate his company’s Herzliya offices, the largest outside the US.