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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Israelwise was launched just over a year ago, it knew it was going against the mainstream.
As interest in Israeli hi-tech was on the rise again and scores of start-ups ventured abroad to seek international partners, the Rosh Ha'ayin-based company was headed in the opposite direction - looking to assist overseas companies doing the same here.
A year later, Israelwise pegs itself as being the "local guy" representing the interests of foreign companies that do business in Israel.
"Israel is known for its brain power and everybody wants a peace of the action," says Maoz Tanenbaum, Managing Director and founder of Israelwise.
The basic premise of the business is that despite all their technological prowess and eagerness to do business in Israel, it remains difficult for foreign companies to spread their international wings there without a clear avenue to identify the right opportunities or effectively monitor their Israeli partners' activities.
"The country is also known for being a little rough around the edges," says Tanenbaum. "People find that having a presence here, a man in Israel who can represent them, speak the language and understand the culture, and at the same time speak the Anglo language, is very helpful."
This marks a complete reversal from that of the company's predecessor Milestone Technologies, which focused on representing Israeli business interests mainly in Far East markets.
Tanenbaum carries out this task with a staff of three while working with approximately 10 sub-contractors including analysts, accountants and lawyers.
He finds his new clients much easier to please because, he says, it's very difficult to offer professional services to Israeli companies.
"They are just not willing to pay ... because they feel that they know how to do everything themselves. The overseas companies understand the concept - that you have to make money and that professional services bring a return."
In establishing its business model, Israelwise immediately turned to the Internet to seek a significant customer base, and invested heavily in making the Web its main marketing tool.
"I would say about 80 percent of our activities are coming from the Web site and the rest from our networking at exhibitions and seminars, etc.," says Tanenbaum.
A campaign which, he believes, has paid off. Tanenbaum reports that the Web site, www.israelwise.com, is getting an average of 5,000 visitors per month.
It is also the reason that Israelwise has focused its attention on making innovative tools available, free of charge, to potential investors.
In September, the company launched its new search engine, or "matching engine" as Tanenbaum puts it, to provide a list of suitable prospects to match one's investment criteria.
The engine has two databases - one listing Israeli companies and the other overseas investors, which allows each group to do a search on the other based on its required sector, sub-sector, country, or expertise.
While companies join the database and have access to the search engine at no cost, Israelwise hopes the exposure from the tool will help build its internal data and knowledge base, which would allow the company to offer a more in-depth service and effect a more serious connection between companies in the services for which it charges.
"Because we have our business intelligence services, we know how to identify opportunities, we know where to invest and we can very accurately aim and direct our clients to the companies that match their very specific requirements," Tanenbaum says. "We know how to do the match."
The company just completed a $10,000 revamp of its Website, which is due to go live in the coming week, with a new design and enhanced services bringing more content, news and statistics about the economy and technological trends in Israel.
Israelwise's intelligence activities range from investment identification to market research, strategy development, business representation, networking, administrative support, and knowledge sharing.
While hesitant to name clients, Tanenbaum says Israelwise has picked up some "important and fascinating" customers in its first year of operation.
"Our flagship project is a major US-based hedgefund for whom we are providing financial reviews and information on Israeli companies traded on the NASDAQ," he explains.
"Due to the nature of the work, it's difficult to say that there are six hedge funds or 12 hi-tech companies that we work with. Things change on a daily basis, but our main focus is on technology - be it providing financial reviews, opportunity matching of investors and start-ups, or negotiating joint ventures."
The company is also evaluating the biotechnology market as a potential future growth point for future investment, Tanenbaum says.
However, it hasn't just been hi-tech centric work that's come the company's way.
Tanenbaum says the company has also been approached regarding out of the ordinary projects such as a request by a Canadian television producer to find five suitable companies for a prospective documentary about doing business in Israel for Canadian and US television. Israelwise connected the producers with a company, Hatzofim, which the crew filmed and is planning to follow up on others in 2006.
Other interesting cases have involved detective type work to find out if a company actually exists or has a physical location and enquiries for overseas projects that specifically wanted Israeli contractors as an expression of their support for the country.
Charting new territory
Israelwise is the first for-profit business to be involved in work that has traditionally been carried out by government agencies such as the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, the Israel Export Institute or the Israel Chamber of Commerce and may be the inevitable result of a growing market.
While the company is focused on getting things off the ground, Tanenbaum says he foresees "as a conservative estimate" that 10 years down the line Israelwise can be handling projects valued at more than $10 million.
Much of its success however, depends on the country it represents.
"We are in a wonderful position to promote Israel and present it in a positive light, and that's how we are able to promote our business," he says.
"We are selling the advantages of doing business in Israel - that Israel is the best in technology, has the highest number of start ups, the highest number of listed companies on the Nasdaq," Tanenbaum concludes.
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