Like 1930s bank robbers, anyone seeking to get rich these days needs to go to where the money is. But unlike the sage advice doled out back then by Willie Sutton, who suggested that would-be millionaires go to the bank, cash isn't that easy to find in the vaults of those venerated institutions these days. Today, you've got to go where financial institutions go when they find themselves short: the government.
And with private financing harder to come by than ever for hi-tech entrepreneurs, many are turning to government - specifically, the federal and state governments in the United States - seeking to bid for jobs that will supply them with contracts for services or products. Among the areas the federal government is investing in, for example, is clean-tech.
Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced a $2.4 billion initiative to produce electric cars and batteries in the US (http://tinyurl.com/lapjyy). The money, "the largest investment in this kind of technology in American history," according to Obama, is being offered in the form of grants to US-based companies to build facilities in the US to produce car components and batteries.
That's the kind of money many Israeli hi-tech makers of green technology could benefit from - considering that many tech developers have US-based marketing offices, which are often incorporated in the US as separate companies. But navigating the path to those funds can be a daunting task for Israeli companies unfamiliar with the rules, regulations and cultural mores of doing business in the US.
Fortunately, though, Beth Cohen of Philadelphia's Blank Rome (a large law firm) is there to help. Cohen (http://tinyurl.com/nqnxwb) is the director of emerging-growth services at Blank Rome. She is a business-development, marketing and legal executive with broad experience in both domestic and international markets. And as a former chief outside counsel to Tadiran's largest US subsidiary, she has a special insight into working with Israeli hi-tech companies.
Among the ways Cohen helps Israeli entrepreneurs is to assist them in developing presentations and getting the attention of venture capitalists in the US who are interested in investing in Israeli hi-tech. She has for the past several years helped organize and run the annual Israel Venture Conference, one of the east coast's largest such investment conferences, and she has worked with dozens of Israeli companies to help them find funding or network with potential investors.
Cohen sees clean-tech as an excellent opportunity for Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs, who in many cases have developed advanced products and services that are much in demand. With the US government's newfound interest in pushing clean technology, many venture-capital funds have begun seeking out companies with promising ideas. And many VCs are looking at Israeli companies, because of their reputations in innovation and development.
"Clean-tech is a new and growing area, and many funds which formerly invested only in software are expanding into clean-tech, because that's where the action is today," Cohen says.
But while some VCs have returned to the market, others are still apprehensive, preferring to sit on their cash until things "get better," she says
While recent reports have indicated that the first inklings of a recovery are on the horizon, most experts agree we have a way to go: meaning that companies looking to market their ideas and products right now are even more dependent on governments that are handing out grants and contracts.
This is where Israeli companies could really use an American friend, says Cohen, adding: "Many US companies are looking to partner with developers that have already come up with marketable solutions, and Israeli companies more often than not have what to offer. One of the things we do is to help Israeli developers network, matching up entrepreneurs with American partners."
The matches prove to be of benefit to both organizations, she says, since the Israeli developer, along with its American partner, is now eligible to apply for clean-tech grants and contracts, which are often restricted to US based entities.
"Often, having US management is the key to getting investments and contracts," says Cohen, proudly citing a number of deals she has put together, enabling Israeli developers and American partners to achieve success.
Besides polishing Israeli developers for their American investment adventure, Cohen helps spread the word among US companies of the phenomenal innovations coming out of Israel. In one recent deal, she helped engineer a partnership between an Israeli clean-tech developer and a Fortune 500 defense manufacturer in the US.
"Neither would probably have been able to get involved in such a deal without help," Cohen says. "The Israeli company probably wouldn't have gotten access to such a company, and the US company probably would never had heard of the Israeli developer."
But with the right kind of guided networking that Cohen and her associates offer, such deals are not only possible - they are inevitable.
"The right connection can be worth millions, and we work hard to connect clients to potential investors and partners," says Cohen. With so many good ideas coming out of Israel, she says, and so many American companies looking to partner with innovative developers, it's only a matter of time before Israeli developers find a deal they can benefit from, once they start looking around - and Cohen will be there to help.