Venture capitalists find more to Israel than Zionism

While he describes life in the US as “living with gold handcuffs,” Roshwalb isn’t painting a rosy picture of his life in Zion either. “Israel is expensive,” he admits.

aMoon MD Managing Director Gur Roshwalb (photo credit: PR)
aMoon MD Managing Director Gur Roshwalb
(photo credit: PR)
Not all olim arrive in Israel to serve in the IDF or go to university. In the case of two aMoon executives, coming to Israel was a way to advance their careers in venture capital health investments while also reaching the goal of living in the Jewish state.
“I lived in the Bronx for 12 years but think of myself as a New Yorker,” Gur Roshwalb, MD, managing director of Israeli life sciences venture fund aMoon, told The Jerusalem Post. Despite the differences between NYC and Ra’anana, as the Israeli city is smaller and one must have a car to get around, “we had a soft landing,” when he and his family came to Israel, he told the Post.
Roshwalb decided to make aliyah roughly a year ago with his wife and four children, who range in age from eight to 19 years old. His professional background extends to roughly two decades in the healthcare industry, as he wanted to be a medical doctor “since I was five or six years old.”
Roshwalb realized his dream and, while working in the field, became interested in Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
A great deal of a medical doctor’s time is spent keeping handwritten records on how patients are doing and checking observations against previous data. At the time, the clinic he was working for had declined to upgrade to an EMR model because it was expensive (each doctor in the clinic would need to invest $25,000). Despite its practicality, it was rejected.
From that perspective, Roshwalb suggested Israeli culture has an opposite problem, it is so comfortable with EMR that sometimes it loses touch with the patient. “We medical doctors are meant to lay hands,” he said.
“The focus should be the doctor-patient relationship.”
Roshwalb decided to go back to school by taking night classes, got an MBA and switched gears, from medicine to investment banking. Yet the two fields were not divorced from one another, as he was focusing on evaluating medical technology.
From there, he became more and more interested in a fascinating field merging medical science and business – drug development.
Roshwalb is quick to point out that what people might think about large pharmaceutical companies is far from reality. For example, the 1983 Orphan Drug Act created an incentive to develop cures for rare illnesses such as ALS and Huntington’s disease.
When discussing the current race to find a COVID-19 vaccination, he described the various different ways in which such a drug might be created: via a chemical route, examining which chemicals might destroy the virus.
It could also happen through a genetic route, hoping to disrupt it, or by targeting an enzyme or an antibody vital for it to function. Such a massive effort is not without practical considerations, he hinted while expressing his hopes such a cure will be found soon.
“Nice to have isn’t need to have,” he says; a one-liner that packs a lot of sense while discussing, as an example, a drug for hair growth. Such a drug, Roshwalb said, is “nice to have” but not a must.
From a venture capital point of view, the drug being developed has to be in a good position to fetch a good price in the space of up to a decade so that the VC could turn a profit, sell the company and invest in something else.
While he describes life in the US as “living with gold handcuffs,” Roshwalb isn’t painting a rosy picture of his life in Zion either. “Israel is expensive,” he admitted, and advised anyone making aliyah from North America to be ready for it. “
You pay more and you sometimes get less,” he told the Post, “especially when customer service is the issue. If you buy an Israeli kitchen, you pay a lot and get a good kitchen, but the experience as a client is far below what it would be in the US.”
Yet, Roshwalb is joyful about many aspects of his life in Israel.
“People here care about Independence Day,” he said, “and from many aspects, such as kosher food options to personal safety – Israel has a lot to give.”
“If you have kids, you need to move here when they are young or else your only other option is to retire here when they are adults,” Canadian-born Todd Sone, father of three, told the Post. A partner at aMoon, Sone said he believes that “we make important decisions emotionally, whom we marry is one and where we want to live is another.”
“Canada is a great country,” he said. “I didn’t run away from Canada, I ran towards Israel.”
Referring to the State of Israel as “the most meaningful event in Jewish history,” he expressed his great desire to allow himself, and his children, a chance to be a part of that major event.
He and his wife came to Israel in 2014. Sone and his wife both have family connections to medicine, with his father owning a chain of pharmacies and his wife’s family owning a drug manufacturing company. From his perspective, two things are his top priorities: “solving a clinical problem” and “showcasing Israel” to the world.
“Moving here allowed me to do the two things I always wanted to do,” Sone told the Post.