How Israel’s Hot Startup Scene Is Fostering Several Unicorns
Jul 27, 2015
I recently had the privilege to fly from Silicon Valley to what many call Silicon Wadi (also known as Tel Aviv, Israel). Israel has more than 6,000 startups and attracts more venture capital per person than any other country in the world.
While I was in Israel, I was able to sit down with some of the people behind the hottest startups on the planet and find out everything there is to know about the tech scene in Israel, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas. It was amazing to meet some brilliant entrepreneurs who are shaping how we do things online.
Here are some of the hot startups that I see as having a bright future as well as a potential billion-dollar valuation (if they don’t already) in the near future.
One company that impressed me a lot was Windward. Windward is the only company in the world analyzing and organizing all of the world’s maritime data–which amounts to over a hundred million data points a day. According to the company, the oceans are a “Wild West” frontier and one of the last analogue markets remaining–yet the stakes there are unimaginably high, with over 90 percent of the world’s trade shipped via the oceans.
Until 2010 and the arrival of commercial satellites, data on a ship after it had left shore was not available. After 2010, there was a glut of data, but it was largely unusable and often intentionally manipulated by ships looking to disguise illegal terrorist or criminal activity. This is where Windward comes in, combining data sciences with cybersecurity algorithms to make sense of this data and turn it into actionable information. Currently, Windward’s clients include governments, navies, and intelligence agencies around the world that rely on its insights to secure the seas, but the company is also planning to debut a financial-intelligence solution soon, which will bring the same level of real-time visibility to the movement of global commodities and help identify new trading opportunities.
The company was co-founded by two Israeli ex-navy captains, Ami Daniel and Matan Peled, and has raised over $15 million from Aleph and Horizons Ventures.
You’re rarely by your computer or filing cabinet when you find yourself desperately needing to access an important document. Docady, the “ultimate app” for those unexpected moments, aims to help by making them easier to deal with. The app fills a very specific gap in the market, where personal assistant, online storage, and document-scanning apps cross, combining all these functions in one place to provide users with instant access to all of their most important documents–whenever they need them.
Instead of being caught without a copy of your health insurance when you travel, or without your child’s medical records in the ER, you’ll be able to open up Docady and pull any critical document up immediately. Beyond acting like a portable lockbox, the app utilizes something called SmartDoc Intelligence to process the “dumb” image of a digital copy and extract the important data from it to understand a document’s meaning. This means the app is able to notify users of upcoming deadlines (like that expiring driver’s license) in plenty of time to take care of things with minimum hassle.
The app was developed by former employees of PayPal and Israeli startup Onavo (acquired by Facebook in 2013), and the overall vision sees them eventually plugging in useful services associated with specific documents, like home insurance or tax returns, which continue to make those more frantic moments in life more bearable for users.
Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) is a leading Israeli venture capital firm dedicated to building world-class technology companies. Founded in 1993, JVP has been ranked one of the top-10 consistently performing VC funds worldwide by Preqin. With over $1 billion raised to date, the fund has invested in over 120 companies and has been instrumental in leading 28 of the largest exits out of Israel, including the recent IPO of leading cybersecurity forerunner CyberArk and PayPal’s acquisition of JVP Cyber Labs company CyActive.
JVP recently led the Israeli segment of the Global Innovation Awards, established by leading Chinese management consulting firm Shengjing Group, which is taking place in China, the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Israel. “The competition is part of a new strategic cooperation between JVP and Shengjing to promote investment in Israeli startups and to promote Israeli startups in the Chinese market,” said JVP managing partner Kobi Rozengarten. “Israel creates leading companies in technological development and innovation, and that is exactly what the Chinese are looking for.”
Stock trading isn’t something that is generally associated with younger people, because the barriers to entry, both perceived and real, are significant. GetStocks is a trading platform attempting to change that by creating a platform that combines the legitimacy of a full online stock brokerage with the social tools and UI necessary to make the stock market accessible to a new generation of investors. Launching in July, GetStocks’ platform is welcoming and its interface is easy to navigate–a stark difference from existing platforms–as it caters to novice investors as well and seasoned.
GetStocks is infused with social media insight to help users tap into critical information as it unfolds. Other unique social features allow users to follow one another for a fee–so less experienced users, for example, can see what trades are being made by successful traders in the ecosystem and get an insight into strategies they could also adopt. Taking this a step further, the “Piggyback” feature allows users to allocate an amount of money to directly mimic trades by a user of their choosing. Both these features should quicken the learning curve for new investors, a hugely attractive prospect for newcomers to trading.
Realizing that hard-coded ad placements are limiting–they cannot adapt to different devices and screen resolutions, they are impossible to optimize in real-time, and they create banner blindness as visitors get used to seeing ads in the same position and format on every page–FirstImpression set about to change online advertising forever. FirstImpression is a smart management platform that automatically analyzes every individual webpage and corresponding user behavior and tailors the ideal placement on the fly to provide maximum revenue. According to the company, the platform provides 30-150 percent performance lift in comparison with conventional hard-coded placements.
The fear of his autistic son’s running away or being abused by a care provider motivated one Israeli father to develop AngelSense. Doron Somer, father of Itamar, realized that, as a result of his son’s inability to fully communicate with him, he was incapable of fully protecting him. Nothing on the market allayed his fears, so Somer teamed up with hi-tech executive Nery Ben-Azar to build a community platform that would improve the quality of life of children with special needs and bring peace of mind to their parents, through the use of technological solutions.
Autism affects approximately one in 68 children and nearly half of all children with autism run away at least once before their 17th birthday. There is a clear need for such a solution to ensure these children are safe and that their parents are afforded the peace of mind they deserve.
By developing a remote call-center model, Ben-Azar and Somer enable parents of children with special needs–and who have left their full-time jobs to take care of their kids–to return to the workforce and support other parents with similar needs. AngelSense’s entire customer care team is composed of parents of children with special needs and who themselves are users of the product.
Founded in 2006 by Israeli cybersecurity expert Maty Siman, Checkmarx provides comprehensive solutions for application-security testing and application-layer attack prevention. Its flagship product is its automated static code analysis scanning for security deficiencies in source code early in the software development lifecycle, when it is most cost-effective to apply fixes. With offices in both Israel and the U.S., Checkmarx has grown employee headcount to over 150 in the past 12 months, and is experiencing revenue growth of greater than 100 percent in 2015. The company has an industry-leading customer-retention rate and currently serves over 700 customers worldwide, including Salesforce.com, SAP, Samsung, Coca Cola, and the U.S. Army.
We met with Checkmarx just days after it announced a massive $84 million investment from New York City-based Insight Venture Partners. That funding will be used primarily to further accelerate growth through product innovation and global expansion.
One Hour Translation
One Hour Translation is the world’s largest online translation agency in terms of its number of languages, number of translators, and revenue. With a community of over 15,000 certified translators worldwide, One Hour Translation provides translation and localization services for 75 languages. The company uses an interesting mix of technology and professional human translation to offer a one-stop-shop for business translation and localization. For a company seeking to enter a new market, the company can translate and localize all necessary materials and documentation, including websites, apps, contracts, marketing materials, and advertising campaigns.
The technology allows for translated sites and apps to be kept up to date without the hassle of having to replicate changes made in one language across all the sites. The company’s app localization platform, Lingui by OHT Mobile, allows apps to be instantly updated in multiple languages without the need to resubmit to app stores. Lingui scans the app, extracts the strings, and enables crowd, professional, or machine translation to be used to update the app content.
Playbuzz is the brain child of Shaul Olmert and Tom Pachys, two Israeli entrepreneurs who set out to deliver content to users in a playful and meaningful way. Olmert hails from the digital publishing world, spending most of his career at world-renowned media companies. Pachys’s in-depth knowledge of the technical side of digital publishing proved beneficial to his career in New York’s marketing industry. Together, the two decided to democratize content and engage users in an entirely viral, shareable way. By coupling Pachys’s technical background with Olmert’s insight for content, they built the Playbuzz platform and developed playful content formats that publishers, marketers, brands, and bloggers can use to inject their own content fully optimized for the new breed of digital publishing.
Playbuzz is a free online content platform that enables publishers, marketers, bloggers, and brands to create, distribute, and embed quizzes, polls, lists, and other playful formats for engaging content on any website, social page, or mobile app. The world’s leading publishers use the Playbuzz platform to engage users, increase web traffic, boost their reach, and optimize content for maximum social interaction and shares. Launched in 2013 to address the needs of a rapidly changing content media industry, Playbuzz quickly rose to become the number-one shared publisher on Facebook, according to the NewsWhip index. With a network of partner publishers and creators over 40,000 strong and item share rates averaging nearly 11 percent, Playbuzz-powered content has reached nearly one billion unique audience members since the launch of the platform.
Webydo is a SaaS design platform for professional designers with a code-free, cloud-based business solution that empowers design professionals to lead the responsive website creation market. No other platform in the market provides a comprehensive, A to Z solution.
Webydo is a community-led platform, with designers holding the power over what features that platform should have. Webydo is about reshaping the web and website-creation process by putting the designer in the driver’s seat. With Webydo, designers are able to break away from the traditional process of handing work (and 70 percent of the budget) over to a developer to code, or settling for code-free tools for amateurs.
OurCrowd, the world’s leading equity-based crowdfunding platform for accredited investors, is democratizing the world of investing. Equity crowdfunding means that much smaller investors can get in the start-up game, buying into a share of transformative companies with potentially sizeable returns. OurCrowd is managed by a team of well-known professionals and led by serial entrepreneur Jon Medved. OurCrowd vets and selects opportunities, invests its own capital, and brings these startups to its accredited membership.
OurCrowd investors must meet stringent accreditation criteria and invest a minimum of $10,000 per deal of their choice. OurCrowd provides post-investment support to its portfolio companies, assigning industry experts as mentors and taking board seats. OurCrowd has raised over $140 million in equity crowdfunding for its 72 portfolio companies, including Borro, BillGuard, Consumer Physics (SCiO), BioCatch, Abe’s Market, and ReWalk (Nasdaq: RWLK), OurCrowd’s first portfolio company to complete a successful IPO.
Bizzabo is the world’s first all-in-one event-success platform. Its event management software empowers organizers to create successful events by giving them the platform they need to build vivid websites, sell tickets, boost registrations, grow communities, create powerful mobile engagement, and maximize event experiences–using a beautifully integrated and user-friendly platform. Bizzabo is used by more than 5,000 conference organizers from around the globe. The company has offices in New York and Israel and was co-founded by Eran Ben-Shushan, Alon Alroy, and Boaz Katz.
Showbox, founded in 2013 by Effi Attad (CEO) and Tomer Afek (CMO), is a cloud-based video production tool that enables any brand or individual to engage its followers in sustained, creative dialogue through professional-grade videos ready for publication across any network with just one click.
The platform offers a start-to-finish online video creator that harnesses advanced editing technology, endless creative format options, and real-time cloud capabilities to enable the creation of beautiful, professional video shows.
Formerly the country’s best kept tech secret, ironSource is now Israel’s flagship unicorn, valued at over $1B after a pre-IPO round of over $100M that brought together leading investors from China with Access Industries’ legendary Len Blavatnik. According to CEO Tomer Bar Zeev, the company was started almost by mistake, since the original founders developed the distribution and discovery infrastructure they provide today to serve their own consumer software products, which weren’t getting in front of the right users. Quickly discovering that they had pivoted to a much more lucrative business model, ironSource has since focused on technology that helps great apps get in front of the right users, and then monetize effectively so that they can become scalable businesses.
Today, they enable over seven million installs a day, successfully connecting users with the apps they want and need across different devices. With billions of apps already in app stores, and thousands more added every day, the market need for an app discovery platform like ironSource’s is only set to grow. Profitable almost from day one, the company currently employs over 550 people on four continents, and is particularly active in China, where it partners with leading internet companies like Baidu, helping them achieve global success by targeting an international user base.
What do you get when you mix four computer science PhDs and a Supreme Court clerk committed to bringing cutting-edge academic research to consumer apps? Apparently, a lot of paid downloads. Lightricks is the developer of Facetune and Enlight, two of the most successful paid apps ever launched. Facetune, released in 2013, is a powerful portrait-editing application that became the sixth-best-selling paid iOS app in the world in 2014, was named one of Google Play’s Best of 2014, and is so successful that it is currently used as Facebook’s case study on user acquisition. Enlight, released in March this year, is a powerful photo-editing app that quickly became the No. 1 paid app in over 120 countries, selling more than a million copies, despite its relatively high price of $4.99.
What’s even more exciting is that the company isn’t holding steady at photo editing and is looking to create what one founder calls “the most powerful suite of creative tools for mobile ever seen.”
Cyber-security startup enSilo came out of nowhere in March 2015 and announced a $10 million Series A round last month. enSilo shifts the paradigm of cybersecurity by assuming that hackers are already inside of your system.
Instead, its solution focuses on preventing any critical data from being stolen from your system by advanced targeted threats by blocking suspicious outbound communications. With enSilo, IT security teams receive only one attack per alert, and while a cyberattack is being resolved, employees can continue to work as usual.
Want to watch the latest James Bond movie on any device around the world?Vonetize can help you do just that. Founded in 2008, the company is an early innovator of video on-demand services, providing top-tier Hollywood movies alongside niche ethnic content channels to SmartTVs and mobile devices to millions of viewers worldwide. Vonetize specializes in offering OTT services to emerging markets, including 36 countries in Africa through its Aflix offering, and even works to overcome the challenging telecommunication realities in these areas to make premium content accessible.
Finally, we met with one of the biggest unicorns of Tel Aviv, Wix. Wix is a global web-development platform with over 68 million users worldwide that was founded in 2008 and IPOed in 2013. Headquartered in Tel Aviv, the company’s vision is that everyone should be able to utilize the internet to easily take their business online. Wix’s comprehensive platform and highly curated App Market enable users to build and manage a fully integrated and dynamic digital presence for their businesses, while specialized solutions for specific industries like hospitality and music offer users a complete suite of tools to help them dominate their markets.
These are some of the fastest growing start up companies in Tel Aviv, and definitely ones you will want to keep an eye on.