ŠKODA Auto is a part of the Israeli innovation ecosystem

An interview with Vít Lichtenstein · Head of Technology Scouting & Business Development, ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab Israel Ltd.

 (photo credit: ŠKODA AUTO)
(photo credit: ŠKODA AUTO)
What image does ŠKODA AUTO enjoy in Israel?
ŠKODA AUTO is represented by Champion Motors, a prominent Israeli importer. We lead the European automotive corporations in the number of cars sold in Israel. Last year we sold 19,500 vehicles. Our successful cooperation in the Israeli market led to the establishment of a joint venture, the ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab Israel Ltd. In this way, we are directly connected to the Israeli innovation ecosystem. The Israelis increasingly perceive us both as a manufacturer of high-quality cars and as a leader in digitization. We partner with the best Israeli start-ups for the development of hardware and software solutions for use in both the Czech and Israeli markets. ŠKODA AUTO is regarded as a highly innovative company, with whom the Israeli start-ups seek to cooperate. We are a part of the VW Group, and we also share technology with  12 strong brands. For start-ups, we are literally a gateway to the global market.
What type of start-ups do you look for?
We seek enterprises, so-called mature companies, with interesting technologies, which already have an advanced product and have experience in cooperating with a bigger corporation. That facilitates accelerated testing of the product’s suitability, which is done in cooperation with the ŠKODA AUTO headquarters and is then integrated into the mother company. We currently focus on solutions in electromobility, charging, and energy storage, plus we are interested in cybersecurity and Big Data solutions. At present, we have cooperation underway with 20 start-ups. Overall, we have approached hundreds of companies. 
Start-ups are known for their high creativity, flexibility, and instincts. Is there something specific with Israeli start-ups?
While start-ups in Europe frequently initially focus on the local market, Israeli start-ups plan to expand into foreign countries from the very outset. In Israel, everything is prepared from the beginning, including English-language documentation and communication.  Start-up founders are often middle-aged and bring their experience from serving in the military into their business, working in corporations, and then establishing their own technological enterprises. In connection with Israel, one frequently hears the expression of chutzpah, which is synonymous for the courage to seek new ways ahead in the start-up environment. I will add tachles, which can translate as going straight to the point. In Israel, people appreciate the ability to say matter-of-factly everything you expect from the cooperation already in the first meeting.  
What similarities do Czechs have with Israelis, and where can they complement each other?
Both countries seek to present themselves in the international arena as leaders in specific areas. There is diversity among the population in Israel, and it truly is the proverbial melting pot. The diversity of enterprises is very instrumental for innovation and the rise of outstanding technology. Such diversity is what we lack in the Czech Republic. Conversely, Czechs are strong in process management, and we can apply and integrate improvisation. That is where I can see a big room for mutual cooperation.  We can learn presentation and self-presentation skills from the Israelis.
Can the Israeli experience of ŠKODA AUTO inspire other Czech businesses?
I know from my own experience how important it is to have representation directly in Israel. The competitive environment is so intensive that the knowledge of the language and cultural and religious specificities, coupled with everyday face-to-face contacts, is what makes the difference for individual firms. We are in touch with many firms operating in Israel. We also cooperate with the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Czech-Israeli Mutual Chamber of Commerce, with whom we share our experience. But there is no substitute for a personal presence.
This article was written in cooperation with Donath Business & Media s.r.o.