The Mossad meets Sequoia Capital, one of the world’s top venture capital firms, in a new technological innovation fund called Libertad.
That’s rights, after excelling in various forms of spy craft, the Israeli intelligence agency is dipping into the field of seed money for start-ups. Only it’s not trying to turn a profit, but rather to stay a step ahead of the next big thing in technology.
Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said in a conference call with journalists that the overall aim of the project, which has been in the works for 18 months and officially launched on Tuesday, is to enable the Mossad to take advantage of Israel’s unique start-up ecosystem to ensure its technological superiority.
A Mossad employee, identified on the call only as “Aleph,” said the Mossad has come to the conclusion that in today’s technological world, there is a need to find a way to work with start-ups.
“We are looking for companies that are dealing in areas we are interested in, that are at the beginning stages, with a good idea and a good staff. We want a relationship with them and invest in their idea, so that they can fulfill their dreams and we can get the technology that we can use,” he said.
Both Groner and Aleph said the idea was not to buy technology that already exists, but rather to be involved in the early stages so that the Mossad gets the technology it feels it needs. Groner said nobody will know what the Mossad will ultimately do with the technology.
The US has something similar, called In-Q-Tel, which is defined as the “strategic investor for the US intelligence and defense communities that identifies and adapts cutting- edge technologies.”
According to the slick website for Libertad (www.libertad.gov.il), it “seeks to strengthen both start-up companies and the Mossad’s knowledge base, operating at the forefront of technological innovation.”
The fund is offering up to NIS 2 million in equity free capital for R&D of relevant, viable and groundbreaking projects. A larger investment may be approved in special cases. Groner said that the expectation is that in the beginning stages the Mossad will invest in five projects a year.
On Tuesday it issued calls for proposal in the fields of robotics, energy, encryption, web intelligence and big data and text analysis.
Aleph said the Mossad was not revealing anything by publicizing an interest in these fields, since it is logical these are the areas the intelligence community is interested in.
According to the website, in the field of robotics the Mossad is looking for “innovative robotic technologies in the fields of flexible robotics, biomimetics, miniaturized systems, all-terrain capabilities – land, sea, and air – and silencing solutions.”
In the field of energy, it is looking for ways to increase energy performance; in encryption, ways to encrypt information at a high speed “using unconventional, groundbreaking methods.”
As far as web intelligence is concerned, it wants “innovative technologies for automatic identification of personality characteristics – personality profiling – based on online behavior and activity, using methods based on statistics, machine learning, and other areas.”
The Mossad funding is not a capital investment, and is equity free – meaning the Mossad just wants to be able to use the technology. At the end of development, the Mossad will receive a non-exclusive license to use the intellectual property developed during the project.
The agreement with the Mossad does not confer any restrictions on the intellectual property, there is no need to pay royalties, and there are no other restrictions on the company.
The fund is open for all to submit proposals.
As to the name, Libertad, the Mossad gave this explanation: “Libertad translates from Latin as ‘freedom’ – this is one of the principles on which the fund we created was based: the freedom of companies and entrepreneurs in the Start-Up Nation to create innovative and groundbreaking technology with our help, and the Mossad’s freedom to realize this bridge with technological innovations. Libertad is also the name of a ship that carried Jewish immigrants, which departed Bulgaria in June 1940 and reached Mandatory Palestine about a month later.”
In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the website, one of the questions is whether “companies need to be frightened of collaborating with the Mossad?” “The Mossad wants to encourage innovation and creation of groundbreaking technology, to realize its R&D challenges,” goes the reply.
“Our model can ensure initial financing that will boost entrepreneurs at a stage when many ideas are not realized because investors do not rush to pour in funds so early, while we embrace such challenges.
We are striving for a WINWIN situation, and feel we have built a model that will serve both us and the entrepreneurs.”
The names of the start-ups the Mossad works with will not be published.
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