Stellar Start-Ups: The network's the thing for hi-tech deals

BETH COHEN: 'One of the things we do is to help Israeli developers network, matching up entrepreneurs with American partners.' (photo credit: none)
BETH COHEN: 'One of the things we do is to help Israeli developers network, matching up entrepreneurs with American partners.'
(photo credit: none)
Like 1930s bank robbers, anyone seeking to get richthese days needs to go to where the money is. But unlike the sageadvice doled out back then by Willie Sutton, who suggested thatwould-be millionaires go to the bank, cash isn't that easy to find inthe vaults of those venerated institutions these days. Today, you'vegot to go where financial institutions go when they find themselvesshort: the government.

And with private financing harder to come by thanever for hi-tech entrepreneurs, many are turning to government -specifically, the federal and state governments in the United States -seeking to bid for jobs that will supply them with contracts forservices or products. Among the areas the federal government isinvesting in, for example, is clean-tech.

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced a $2.4billion initiative to produce electric cars and batteries in the US( The money, "the largest investment in thiskind of technology in American history," according to Obama, is beingoffered in the form of grants to US-based companies to build facilitiesin the US to produce car components and batteries.

That's the kind of money many Israeli hi-tech makers of greentechnology could benefit from - considering that many tech developershave US-based marketing offices, which are often incorporated in the USas separate companies. But navigating the path to those funds can be adaunting task for Israeli companies unfamiliar with the rules,regulations and cultural mores of doing business in the US.

Fortunately, though, Beth Cohen of Philadelphia'sBlank Rome (a large law firm) is there to help. Cohen( is the director of emerging-growth servicesat Blank Rome. She is a business-development, marketing and legalexecutive with broad experience in both domestic and internationalmarkets. And as a former chief outside counsel to Tadiran's largest USsubsidiary, she has a special insight into working with Israeli hi-techcompanies.

Among the ways Cohen helps Israeli entrepreneurs is to assistthem in developing presentations and getting the attention of venturecapitalists in the US who are interested in investing in Israelihi-tech. She has for the past several years helped organize and run theannual Israel Venture Conference, one of the east coast's largest suchinvestment conferences, and she has worked with dozens of Israelicompanies to help them find funding or network with potentialinvestors.

Cohen sees clean-tech as an excellent opportunityfor Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs, who in many cases have developedadvanced products and services that are much in demand. With the USgovernment's newfound interest in pushing clean technology, manyventure-capital funds have begun seeking out companies with promisingideas. And many VCs are looking at Israeli companies, because of theirreputations in innovation and development.

"Clean-tech is a new and growing area, and many funds whichformerly invested only in software are expanding into clean-tech,because that's where the action is today," Cohen says.

But while some VCs have returned to the market, others arestill apprehensive, preferring to sit on their cash until things "getbetter," she says

While recent reports have indicated that the first inklings ofa recovery are on the horizon, most experts agree we have a way to go:meaning that companies looking to market their ideas and products rightnow are even more dependent on governments that are handing out grantsand contracts.

This is where Israeli companies could really use an Americanfriend, says Cohen, adding: "Many US companies are looking to partnerwith developers that have already come up with marketable solutions,and Israeli companies more often than not have what to offer. One ofthe things we do is to help Israeli developers network, matching upentrepreneurs with American partners."

The matches prove to be of benefit to both organizations, shesays, since the Israeli developer, along with its American partner, isnow eligible to apply for clean-tech grants and contracts, which areoften restricted to US based entities.

"Often, having US management is the key to getting investmentsand contracts," says Cohen, proudly citing a number of deals she hasput together, enabling Israeli developers and American partners toachieve success.

Besides polishing Israeli developers for their Americaninvestment adventure, Cohen helps spread the word among US companies ofthe phenomenal innovations coming out of Israel. In one recent deal,she helped engineer a partnership between an Israeli clean-techdeveloper and a Fortune 500 defense manufacturer in the US.

"Neither would probably have been able to get involved in sucha deal without help," Cohen says. "The Israeli company probablywouldn't have gotten access to such a company, and the US companyprobably would never had heard of the Israeli developer."

But with the right kind of guided networking that Cohen and herassociates offer, such deals are not only possible - they areinevitable.

"The right connection can be worth millions, and we work hardto connect clients to potential investors and partners," says Cohen.With so many good ideas coming out of Israel, she says, and so manyAmerican companies looking to partner with innovative developers, it'sonly a matter of time before Israeli developers find a deal they canbenefit from, once they start looking around - and Cohen will be thereto help.