ISRAELI START-UP incubator co-founders Arie Abecassis (left)and Eval Bino pose outside their office in Manhattan. (Courtesy ICONYC).
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For a young Israeli entrepreneur with a great start-up idea, the American market may seem daunting. Israeli founders grapple with a less blunt networking scene, legal and regulatory challenges, and they may struggle to find local investors.
That’s where Eyal Bino and Arie Abecassis enter the picture. Through ICONYC Labs, they help connect Silicon Wadi tech start-ups with local American investors.
Launched in 2015, ICONYC acts as an incubator for Israeli start-ups that already offer a solid market plan and are producing thousands of dollars of revenue monthly but seek to enter the US market.
New York is home to some 200 Israeli-founded start-ups, ranging in fields from biotechnology to e-commerce and leading to multi-million dollar success stories. Many of the start-ups’ venture capital investors are either Israeli or Jewish Silicon Valley-based.
ICONYC fills the niche by helping introduce New York based investors and customers – some 90% of whom are neither Israeli nor Jewish – to Israeli start-ups.
“You know, when you’re in New York, you run into a lot of Israeli entrepreneurs. I was always intrigued by their process of picking up from Israel and coming here and trying to make things work,” said co-founder Abecassis, who was born in Israel but grew up stateside.
It’s harder to get into ICONYC than Harvard, as the New York incubator accepts 10 to 12 start-ups annually out of an applicant pool of some 500 to 600 companies. The Israeli entrepreneurs spend about four months in Manhattan part-time, where they speeddate with dozens of investors and customers.
Many of the selected startups – some 25 total – hail from fields such as software, e-commerce and the “Internet of Things,” or smart devices.
And the entrepreneurs come from diverse backgrounds, with a number of female co-founders, along with a mix of Arab and religious Israelis.
One participating start-up, BOTique, is an artificial intelligence- based chatbot that helps respond to customers’ call center complaints. The company raised half a million dollars within a month of partnering with ICONYC.
“We look for companies that are early, that have some level of business concept, even if it’s in Israel, that have the ability to tell a story, that can represent the profile of an Israeli founder – kinda tech-savvy, very nimble, scrappy, and can do a lot with very little resources,” said ICONYC co-founder Eval Bino.
ICONYC offers the program participants office space and some $20,000 in seed capital – or early investment funds that are meant to support a business until it can generate enough cash flow on its own.
In Bino’s experience, many Israeli entrepreneurs tend to be very product-focused and technical, able to talk for hours about the product features but forgetting to discuss three business requirements.
“Here, in the US, it’s about how you can scale [expand] the business, how you can compete with the competition, how to increase monthly recurring revenue. These are three things that Israelis pay less attention to and what Americans look at – how they can become a market leader?” When it comes to pitching and communicating, Israeli investors differ from Americans in that the sabras tend to be much more straightforward, something that Israeli computer nerds may overlook.
“Israeli investors are very blunt and pretty quickly you know if he’s on board or not. They don’t have time to play poker. Here in the US, it’s about going to a meeting and coming back and I ask how it went and they say, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know how to read the other side.’”
The New York incubator helps train the prickly Israeli entrepreneur in diplomatic American business finesse, to explain smoothly and effectively to venture capitalists how their company differs and will grow its market share.
Bino has been working in hi-tech for some 15 years, while his partner, Abecassis, is a leading angel investor in the New York tech scene. During their time working together, Bino has noticed how many of their most successful Israeli entrepreneurs did not come out of the Israel Defense Forces’ fabled 8200 technology unit but rather, from the navy.
“This is not pure Zionism,” said Bino, who was born and raised in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv. “Because I’m Israeli, I have a deep feeling for wanting Israeli start-ups to be successful and live up to their potential. But at the end of the day, if these companies aren’t successful, then ICONYC won’t be able to continue."