Shin Bet reveals, for first time, its tech 'garage'

Shin Bet’s initiative for startups, “the garage”, will help start ups get out of their garages to the outer world. Startups will get to try out their technology with Shin Bet resources.

 Incoming Shin Bet leader Ronen Bar. (photo credit: SHIN BET)
Incoming Shin Bet leader Ronen Bar.
(photo credit: SHIN BET)

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) took the unprecedented step of hosting a public event telling the story of how it established its “garage” for tech start-ups four years ago and unveiling its future tech vision.

“We strongly believe in innovation inside the Israeli intelligence community,” said Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar, speaking virtually on Tuesday at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv. “We are glad to imagine investors, entrepreneurs and partners. Though unfortunately we still see tanks approaching Kyiv these days, we all wish the war will be over soon, but we all know that modern warfare is based on innovation.”

Bar noted that innovation “has two different meanings. The internal one describes the ability to give [opportunities to] all of the young Israel Security Agency employees and [outside] entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but for whom it is difficult to promote in a conservative and traditional workplace. The external meaning has an ongoing process. It is not just technology built in the intelligence community, but in start-ups meant for other means... improvements which may be suitable for our needs.

“We are currently considering a new layout, allowing technology employees from the cyber ecosystem to work with us, and I would like to invite bidding companies to take part in it. This program gives the opportunity for talented employees working in your companies to join us for a day or a week or so,” to help with “our ongoing challenge to combat terrorism, espionage and defend Israeli national security.”

The Shin Bet head said that private-sector employees would gain an important and fulfilling experience, employers would get more accomplished employees, and the Shin Bet might benefit from their talents.

After Bar, the current Shin Bet chief of “the garage,” referred to as “Ido,” spoke live to the select crowd of cyber experts and entrepreneurs.

“Four years ago we realized we were missing out on you guys,” said Ido. “Some of the brilliant technological minds are in Israel dealing with technological challenges.”

He said that the intelligence agency decided that it wanted to take advantage of the “Israeli start-up ecosystem and... moved from risk management to opportunity management. We opened our gates.”

They decided to name the Shin Bet’s initiative for start-ups “the garage” to evoke Apple, Google and Amazon, all initially founded by a small number of individuals in their garages or similarly modest venues.

Ido said that the Shin Bet wanted “to help start-ups get out of their garages to the outer world. But why would a start-up even want to work with the Shin Bet, and what would be in it for us?”

The Shin Bet “needed to create a win-win situation for the start-ups and the Shin Bet,” Ido said, noting that his agency had found synergies with start-ups working on technologies for human resources, video analytics and many others.

He said that through the agency, these start-ups were able to “try out their own technology, and that no early start-up could have access to these kinds of resources [provided by the Shin Bet] at early stages” of their development.

ACCORDING TO Ido, the agency decided that the “garage could not act like a bureaucratic entity. It needed to have a start-up’s DNA, to be agile and as fast as them.”

Presenting statistics that the Shin Bet had funded 33 start-ups and was still engaged with 18 of them after the initial program, Ido said that this showed more than a fantastic 50% success rate.

In addition, start-ups involved in what was typically an initial four-month program had later raised over $150 million.

Ido said that the Shin Bet will soon be launching a new public Internet site for the garage, where companies will be able to apply to be considered for it.

Former science and technology minister Itzhar Shai spoke to the audience about his multiple experiences working with the Shin Bet’s innovation wing, both as a businessman and later as a minister.

He complimented the Shin Bet for leaving behind the public sector culture – typified by worrying about mistakes and who might get blamed – in favor of pushing hard for innovation and rewarding taking daring chances.

The conference featured three alumni of the Shin Bet’s start-up garage. They included the founders of Asio, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze maritime forensics at ports; Canditech, which has AI technology to assist with tailor-made work tests for recruiting new employees; and Xtend, whose drones foil terror attacks, including downing as many as 2,500 fire kites and balloons from Gaza.

Cybertech founder Amir Rapaport thanked the Shin Bet for opening up more of its innovation projects to the public after years of discussions.