CEOs of Israeli start-ups often face numerous challenges when seeking to expand their companies into the US market as they may have difficulty relating to the American customer, lack critical business connections and marketing savvy. With these concerns in mind, three years ago the Merage Foundation was established with the financial backing and vision of Paul Merage, the founder of Chef America and a long-time supporter of Israel. "Paul Merage and I were here for about a week [three years ago] and we met with business leaders, politicians and deans of Israeli business administration programs and the overwhelming message that was repeated time and again was that Israeli firms and start-ups needed assistance marketing themselves in the United States," Marshall Kaplan, the director of the foundation, who is in Israel this week working on the foundation's current projects told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The foundation organizes a bi-yearly conference in California at which 30 Israeli executives from the information technology, security, medical devices and life sciences sectors spend 10 days immersed in learning new marketing techniques and business strategies from top entrepreneurs and expert faculty of US business schools. The goals of the conference, according to Kaplan, are to assist these CEOs in expanding successfully as well as to increase trade between the countries as a vehicle for economic growth in Israel. Pini Ben Elazar, a member of the first CEO class in 2005, has seen his medical patent company grow more than 300 percent since attending the conference. "I am not saying that the entire growth can be attributed to Merage, but some of it - mainly the marketing ideas I learned there - have definitely contributed to the growth of my company," Ben Elazar said on Thursday. In addition to working with CEOs, the foundation also hosts 15 Israeli MBA students for two weeks each summer with the aim of providing these future business leaders with a highly developed global business understanding, as well as improved negotiating skills. Revital Hirsch currently works in business development for Elron Electronic Industries Ltd. and participated in the 2006 conference. "The conference allowed me to gain a larger perspective as how business is done generally and it has definitely given me the tools I need to help the companies I work with," she told the "Post," calling the professors at the conference head and shoulders above any she has studied with. The third objective of the foundation is to help ensure that Israel maintains its place as one the world leaders in research and development and technological creativity. The foundation is currently planning a forum in June that will bring together technology and business leaders from across Israel at which they will discuss the impact and importance of the hi-tech sector. "We will be exploring all areas" explained Kaplan, "including capital markets, taxes, corporate coordination and expansion of markets with the objective being how to best generate success for the mid- and low-tech sectors similar to that now being enjoyed by hi-tech." Kaplan noted that while the Merage Foundation is organizing the conference, the resultant action agenda from the forum will be Israeli defined. "We are there to listen and to help," he said. The foundation currently has 105 alumni from its CEO and MBA programs.