Interviewing serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and angel investor Jon Medved can be quite an emotional experience. He laughs a lot, but he also cries. To Medved, the founder and CEO of OurCrowd – one of Israel’s most active venture capital companies – it’s not all about IPOs and exits and making money. It’s also – perhaps even primarily – about helping humanity.
That actually came out towards the tail end of our interview in reference to the upcoming 2019 OurCrowd Global Investment Summit scheduled for March 7 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Reflecting the summit’s theme of “Start-ups: Making a Global Impact,” the agenda will highlight the incredible power of breakthrough technologies to make a real and lasting difference in the world.
“This year’s summit celebrates how in today’s globalized climate, start-ups are able to amplify their know-how to tackle the critical, complex challenges facing society,” Medved says. “Our event is the premier showcase of Israeli technology, and a golden opportunity for investors looking to meet the very best that Start-up Nation has to offer the world.”
He is expecting 15,000 people from around the world to attend. Last year there were at least 10,000. Many of those for whom it was a first mind-blowing visit to Israel said that it would not be their last, and that they would be back this year.
Medved has video clips in his laptop that illustrate the work of the different start-ups with which he is involved. The laptop is attached to a large screen on the wall above his desk, enabling anyone else who is in the room with him to see the start-up video that he wants to show them.
This is also where he starts to cry as he watches the impossible become possible.
“I’m in love with this one,” he exclaims, his face contorting slightly, and tears welling up in his eyes as he watches the progress of a woman with Parkinson’s disease. Initially, she couldn’t control the shaking of her body. Then she gradually lost the movement of her arms and legs and her speech became slurred. She was one of several trial patients, who, with nothing to lose, submitted to trials by Insightec, an Israeli company, which provides non-invasive ultrasound treatments for a variety of oncological and gynecological ailments. The Parkinson’s trial treatments are being performed in the United States where some 10 million Americans suffer from a tremor disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease.
The woman in the video not only regained movement in her arms and legs, but walked and subsequently ran. Just another example of the life-changing benefits of modern technology.
Medved is genuinely grateful to be able to contribute to this and other medical and scientific miracles. He admits that he cries every time he sees this video.
The fact of the matter is that without investments, many of these miracles would never happen, because the people working on them would not be able to afford the costs of trial and error.
Born in September 1955, in San Diego, California, as one of four brothers, Medved quips that he’s a month older than Bill Gates and will start to give all his money away when he’s as rich as Bill Gates.
Quite by chance, he gives money away in the course of the interview, which is essentially about him, and not so much about OurCrowd.
During his period at the University of California, Berkeley, he founded the Israel Action Committee in an effort to counter the growing antisemitic activity on campus. He had almost forgotten about it, but his memory is jogged as we speak. He becomes curious as to whether the IAC still exists, and instantly does a search on his laptop. Sure enough, it’s still going strong. After all, nothing has changed in four decades. Antisemitism on campus is alive and well, and flourishing. “I should send them a check,” he says, and then proceeds to do so.
AS A student, Medved had no entrepreneurial ambitions. He wanted to get into politics.
“I was a political kid,” he says. “I don’t think I had ambitions to be president, though if I was nominated President of the United States, I think I would have accepted.”
He laughs at the thought.
He was a lead figure in protests against American involvement in the Vietnam War; he tutored black children; and he trekked many districts campaigning for Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern.
During the Vietnam War, he led a protest group into Republican headquarters, and refused to budge.
In those days, his politics were decidedly left of center he grins, but in the interim he’s moved somewhat in the opposite direction.
At the end of his freshman year at Berkeley, Medved wondered what he would do over the summer. His friends were going to exotic places such as Thailand, but that didn’t grab him. He figured that as he could speak Spanish, the best place for him to go was Mexico. But he didn’t have any money, and when he approached his parents to pay for his trip, they told him that Mexico was out of the question. If he wanted to go abroad, the only country to which they were willing to pay for his return flight was
Beggars can’t be choosers. If he had no other option, then it would have to be Israel, aside from which it wasn’t such a bad idea, as he’d never been to the Jewish homeland before.
Fortunately, he had relatives in Israel, and they all made him feel welcome. “I fell in love with Israel,” he recalls. “I became intoxicated.”
The year was 1973, and very soon after his return to Berkeley, the Yom Kippur War broke out.
Antisemitism on campus was rife. There were posters proclaiming “Death to the Jews.”
Before that his relationship with things Jewish had been minimal. He’d even been expelled from Hebrew school. “In America, you have to be pretty wild for that to happen.”
But the message on the posters struck a chord. “That pissed me off.” The upshot was that he became active in combatting antisemitism on campus.
What he was doing came to the attention of the Jewish Agency, and Medved was recruited as an itinerant community advisor, traveling from campus to campus, to counsel Jewish students on how to fight antisemitism, and to make people in Jewish communities throughout the West Coast love Israel. He was given an antiquated jalopy, a projector and some “cheesy Israeli propaganda films” plus a salary of $600 a month, which in those days was quite a lot of money for a 20-year-old young man.
He stayed on the job for about eight months and met some wonderful people but he wanted to get back to school to complete his Bachelor of Arts degree.
He still had outstanding papers to finalize when the Jewish Agency again approached him and asked him to come to New York.
It was too tempting an offer to refuse, and for thirty years afterwards, he thought that he had missed out on his degree, but then discovered when filing an IPO, that it had actually been conferred on him in absentia.
In New York, he had a handsome office, a budget, a staff of eight people and a salary of $1,000 a month.
It was a very formative period for him. He learned all about salesmanship and building teams to work together on projects.
He also made friends for life, many of whom immigrated to Israel as he did, and in several cases went on to do great things. Medved came to Israel in 1980. Initially, he worked for the Jewish Agency as an unofficial tour guide. Blessed with the gift of the gab, he showed dignitaries around and imbued them with the wonders of Israel’s achievements, which in those days could in no way compare to what Israel has accomplished since.
After he had been in Israel for a year or so, his father, turned up to check on him. The late David Medved was a scientist who worked for NASA. At the time that he came to Israel to visit his son, he was involved with fiber optics and was interested in meeting scientists at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which was then known as the Armament Development Authority.
The younger Medved was totally ignorant when it came to fiber optics and during the meeting sat quietly, while his father talked to the top brass at Rafael.
As the meeting came to a close, the CEO turned to him and asked in Hebrew what he was doing professionally. When Medved replied that he was working for the Jewish Agency, the response was, “Waste of time. We need people like you in technology.”
As they were heading back to Jerusalem, Medved asked his father what exactly he was working on, and his father explained it to him in simple terms, but not quite simple enough for him to immediately catch on.
Medved was eager to know more about the subject. He used to play poker regularly with the late Charley Levine, an expert in public relations, journalist Steve Leibowitz and Hillel Bar-Lev. The latter became Medved’s unofficial tutor in physics and logistics so that he could understand what his father was doing.
One day Bar-Lev asked him, “When will you open your factory?”
The question caught him momentarily off guard but then he realized that subconsciously, this had been the purpose of his learning about fiber optics.
He persuaded ECI telecom to invest $600,000 of seed money in his father’s project, but the investment was conditional on his going to Santa Monica to work with his father.
Medved was hesitant. He had met and married his Chicago-born wife Jane in Jerusalem, and as newlyweds, Jerusalem was where they wanted to stay. He was instructed to tell her that it would be for only a year.
She didn’t raise too many objections, so they picked up and moved to Santa Monica. The year stretched out into six and three of their four children were born in the US.
But something else happened to the Medved family during that six-year stint.
Neither of them had been raised Orthodox, but Medved’s older brother Michael, a well-known broadcaster and film critic, had become Orthodox and together with Rabbi Daniel Lapin turned the Pacific Jewish Center into The Shul on the Beach, which became a non-judgmental, fully accepting Orthodox outreach center in which community was the important factor.
As his father and brother went there, Medved also went and very soon found himself running a kosher home and not driving on Shabbat.
Because he likes to eat and travels a lot, he’s very happy that he has to restrict his intake to only kosher food, because it means that he’s eating far less than he would otherwise.
Medved is a workaholic. If he didn’t have Shabbat, he concedes, he probably would have driven himself into the ground by now.
“I don’t believe I’ve given anything up,” he says. “I just got something.”
While talking almost non-stop during the interview, Medved remains busy on his laptop, flashing videos onto the big screen from time to time.
Another company that almost moves him to tears is Alpha TAU Medical, which has done clinical tests on 27 cancer patients at the Rabin Medical Center in Israel and IRST in Italy to reduce tumors and kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. The company is using a new form of radiation cancer therapy, and new trials are being conducted in Italy. In more than 70% of the cases the tumors completely disappeared. So far the company is dealing only with head and neck tumors, but in time hopes to come up with therapies for other parts of the body.
As someone who is religiously observant, Medved fully understands what it means to an observant person – particularly a male – who is unable to rise from his wheelchair for those sections of the service that call for worshippers to stand. Therefore, he’s particularly enamored with UpnRide Robotics a company, which has developed a wheelchair that incorporates a mechanism that enables its occupant to stand. Most Israelis might not remember the name of the company, but those who read the country’s most veteran tabloid will have seen the photograph of the wedding of a man called Adir towering over his bride under the bridal canopy, as he stands upright in his wheelchair.
Some six weeks before his wedding, Adir wrote to UpnRide Robotics. It was his dream to be able to stand alongside his bride at their wedding, and he wondered if there was any way in which the company could help him.
The company could – and did. After giving him a trial run at its headquarters in Yokne’am, UpnRide CEO Oren Tamari made it possible for Adir not only to stand under the bridal canopy at his wedding last November, but also to move around the banquet hall in a standing position to greet the guests. For a change, he was looking down at them, instead of them looking down at him.
The poignant part of the story is that Amit Goffer, the computer engineer who invented the chair that brought so much joy to Adir and his bride, is a quadriplegic who previously invented a device for paraplegics that enables them to stand, walk, climb steps and even run.
Up until now, Goffer does not have his own personal wheelchair such as the one that Adir used for his wedding, because the chair is still in the developmental stage, and there are only a few sample models used for tests and special events. But he occasionally borrows one and did so when his daughter got married last July. He stood somewhat taller than other members of the family – but what’s important is that he stood.
The three different areas of helping humanity are emblematic of what the OurCrowd Summit is all about. Aside from being a showcase for Israeli hi-tech creativity in many different spheres, it gives business people from around the world added opportunities to do something positive in and for their countries and to reap personal material benefits at the same time. For those who are actually hi-tech experts themselves, it offers limitless possibilities for joint ventures.
Most VC companies will not accept investments of less than $50,000. Understanding the hesitancy of some investors to risk that much on a start-up that could just as easily be a flop as a roaring success, Medved has lowered the bar to $10,000 minimum investment, provided that the person participating in the crowd-funding venture is an accredited investor.
The company now has 30,000 accredited investors for whom it manages a total of $1 billion in 170 companies.
Together with partners, Medved founded other VC companies before launching OurCrowd in February 2013. Since then, he’s established overseas branches in the US, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
Medved has become a frequent flyer, raising capital around the world for Israeli start-ups. In a sense, it’s an extension of what he used to do for the Jewish Agency. In his book, it’s 21st century Zionism. He is after all selling Israel, not as the over-all charitable cause of the Jewish people but as an opportunity to share in and profit from a voyage of discovery by getting in on the ground floor. “It’s Israel’s destiny to provide answers to world issues. That’s our story. My job is to connect people around the world to the Israel story – and it keeps getting better,” he declares.
He enjoys talking about old-fashioned Zionism “but people are so interested in Israeli technology – that it’s Biblical. It’s remarkable stuff. Selling Israeli innovation is emotional. You’re affecting people’s lives.”
The investments are not made piecemeal, but are an aggregate that enables companies in which investments are being made to receive a large check from OurCrowd, which subsequently follows the investments on behalf of the investors.
For all his traveling and finger-on-the-pulse relations with all the companies in which OurCrowd invests, Medved is very much a family man who is very proud of his wife, who is a published poet, their children and their eight grandchildren.
None of his children has followed him into venture capital and entrepreneurship. His son Moshe, a lawyer, is the only one who came close. He is a partner in Medved Sofer & Co., which provides legal consultation to VC funds and angels investing in Israeli start-ups. Another son Yossi is a filmmaker and the third son Itamar is studying for his PhD in bio-medical engineering.
Daughter Nina is a wonderful singer, who with her husband Yoni Tokayer forms the popular and much in demand singing duo Yonina.
Medved chortles as he tells of the efforts made to get them to become contestants on the talent show “The Voice” on which famed singer Aviv Geffen would be their mentor. They declined.
“They don’t need him,” says Nina’s father. “Yonina has more than 132,500 likes on Facebook, and Geffen has only 104,474.”
Medved has not shed the hippie personality of his youth.
Asked if he still considers himself to be a hippie, the man who now makes millions replies, “Yes, very much so.”
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