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Israel and Georgia create a peach of a business environment

Posted By Allison Kaplan Sommer On November 13, 2005 @ 6:00 pm In | No Comments

Georgia’s governor Sonny Perdue views a demonstration of emergency evacuation equipment for hi-rise buildings developed by Israeli companies.The gift that an Israeli businesswoman handed to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue last week reflected the warm relationship between Israel and Georgia: a cap that spelled out in Hebrew letters the name of the city’s beloved baseball team – the Braves.

The gift-giving took place at the opening of the Georgia Technology and Trade Mission to Israel. Accompanied on his first trip to Israel by a delegation of business leaders and other Georgia politicians, Perdue was also the highest-ranking US official to participate in the Prime Minister’s Economic Conference last week.

The focus of the delegation’s visit was clearly business – their schedule was packed with meetings with Israeli venture capital firms, broadband and technology companies and many other business leaders. The goal was to build and develop mutually beneficial relationships in industries that both Israel and Georgia have made a top priority – life sciences, agriculture research, nanotechnology, software, telecommunications and aerospace.

“Israel is a world leader in business and technology, and already one of Georgia’s major trading partners,” Perdue told reporters. “We expect this mission will generate new economic activity in Georgia and enhance our state’s position as one of Israel’s primary business centers in North America.”

While many Israeli high tech companies automatically set up shop in the Silicon Valley or the Northeast when they make their move into the US – alternative locations like Georgia have been working hard to convince them to expand their horizons.

None have been as aggressive or as persistent as Georgia’s largest city, Atlanta, which has attracted 45 Israeli companies so far, and is working to draw more. While most people associate Atlanta-style romance with Gone With the Wind, Georgia is romancing Israeli business in a completely different way than Rhett Butler wooed Scarlett – pointing out its strengths as a hub of high tech and communications, and therefore, a perfect match for Israeli companies looking for an entry point to the US market.

“We are proud that so many Israeli companies are using Atlanta as a second home,” Perdue told the gathering of business leaders. “We appreciate what you add to our state.”

To Israeli companies who had not yet set up US operations, he added, “I want to personally invite you to come to Georgia.”

Beginning in the spring, Atlanta will be additionally attractive to Israeli businessmen: Delta Airlines is set to inaugurate direct flights between Tel Aviv and Atlanta, making it the only US city besides New York to enjoy regular direct access to and from Israel.

The mission’s opening event took place in Ra’anana where Perdue met Mayor Nahum Hofri to discuss the city’s ongoing sister-city relationship with Atlanta.

Perdue said that the Atlanta and Israeli business communities not only focused on similar industries, but they shared common qualities: a no-nonsense style and a mutual recognition that “the 21st century economy is a competitive one and advantage has to come from constant innovation.”

Echoing the governor’s sentiments was Craig Lesser, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“In Atlanta, our most valuable resource is our people – our human resources. It is the people who sell Georgia business, and it is the people who sell Israel business – we both have an educated, young, motivated, and technologically savvy workforce.”

He ticked off a list of the factors that contribute to Atlanta’s attractiveness to Israeli companies – the mild weather, cultural life and recreational activities, strong Jewish community, low cost of living relative to other cities and – some that represents an advantage over Silicon Valley locations – the East Coast working hours, which overlap partially with working hours in Israel. The Delta flights, he said, will only add to its convenience.

Lesser called the mission “a continuation of a relationship that has been in force for a long time. We are serious about this relationship and we want to grow this relationship.”

Speaking at the gathering, Israeli entrepreneur Zohar Zisapel, founder and chairman of RAD Data communications, confirmed that the experience of doing business in Atlanta was a positive one for Israelis. “They are truly welcoming – they really want you,” he said.

As Atlanta and the southeast region work to attract Israeli business, their most vigorous matchmaker is the Southeastern Region office of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, headed by president Tom Glaser. The American-Israel Chamber of Commerce focuses on promoting investment and trade between the US and Israel, and the southeast regional office is one of the most active in the country. The AICC co-sponsored the mission together with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“When an Israeli company decides that it is at the stage to establish a beachhead in the United States, the community where it lands is affected positively. These companies come into the community, build their business sector, create jobs and strengthen the tax base. The people who are involved in these companies become good corporate citizens,” said Glaser.

As an indication of the activity taking place between the two locales, a number of announcements were made to coincide with the delegation’s visit. Israeli company dbMotion Inc. revealed that they have chosen Atlanta as the location for its US subsidiary.

dbMotion provides technology that makes relevant patient medical information available at the point-of-care through secure electronic data exchange between otherwise unconnected or geographically remote organizations. If you’re from California, but hospitalized in Nebraska, the doctors treating you will be able to access all the relevant information from a computerized database. The US subsidiary of dbMotion was established earlier this year to help meet the growing demand for regional health information network (RHIO) technologies in the North American market.

Perdue said he believed the company had a bright future in the US. “This technology has the potential to vastly improve health care, especially in rural areas. Increased access to patient information along with tight security controls and privacy protections is a winning combination.”

Peter van der Grinten, general manager, US & Canada for dbMotion said the company was “excited” to make Atlanta their US home, because of the city’s access to major markets and skilled work force.

Demonstrating that the business traffic travels both ways, Atlanta-based ClickFox announced during the mission that it will open a major research center in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba.

ClickFox, founded by Georgia Tech researchers including Israelis on the faculty, has patented technology that enables companies to transform existing customer data into true, objective insight by showing customers’ step-by-step behavior within self-service systems, such as voice and speech-enabled IVRs, web, kiosks and CRM applications. ClickFox translates interactions from multiple service touch points into an intuitive, visual map, revealing quickly and easily what customers actually do and why, so that companies can align customer needs to their business objectives.

Tal Cohen, president and co-founder of ClickFox, said “We are very excited that our recent growth has enabled us to expand our operations to take advantage of the excellent technology talent pool in Israel. This move helps us to accelerate our research and development plans, which will allow us to proactively meet and exceed the requirements of our rapidly growing customer base.”

ClickFox is an example of business cooperation between Israel and the southeast as a two-way street offering mutual benefit, said Glaser.

“ClickFox is an Atlanta company, and they needed funding to expand. They had trouble finding that support locally – and three Israeli venture capital funds, stepped up. And now we have an announcement that they are opening a research and development facility in Kfar Saba. Israeli investors did a great thing for an American company and now the benefit is coming back to Israel – this one went both ways.”

Finally, one of the hosts of the delegation – Veritas Venture Partners – a fund headquartered in Israel and Atlanta, and a driving force in promoting Israel-Atlanta ties – and one of the investors in ClickFox – announced that they were investing in Asankya, a company commercializing network technology developed at Georgia Tech.

Asankya’s patent-pending technology allows network devices to concurrently use multiple paths in a wide-area network (WAN), which enables a new area of networking known as “grid networking.”

“Asankya is a great example of how Georgia is fostering truly breakthrough technology – invented by Georgia Tech faculty, funded by Georgia grants, commercialized by Georgia Tech’s VentureLab, and incubated by the state of Georgia’s Advanced Technology Development Center,” said Laurence Olivier, the Atlanta-based partner of Veritas.

“And now, it has attracted money and expertise from Israel to help grow the business.”

Veritas has also been a key player in organizing the second annual US-Israel Broadband Business Exchange, scheduled to take place in Atlanta on Feb. 13-14, 2006.

The exchange is a unique model that premiered last year, which is designed to encourage business relationships among emerging broadband technology companies from Israel and the Southeast US with other major North American-based companies.

Like last year, the event will be hosted by Cox Communications, Inc. together with the AICC. It was such a success that CableLabs – one of the major American companies which participated – asked the organizers if they could join the list of co-sponsors.

The exchange is a unique model in what is essentially ‘corporate speed dating.’ Large companies and small start-ups with new and emerging technologies submit lists of companies they would like to meet with and are “matched” The pre-event matching procedure meant that every meeting takes place with a partner that a company has interest in – and none of the participants’ time is wasted listening to pitches of no interest to them – they enjoy a day packed with short, productive meetings.

Israeli companies expected to attend the event include emerging technology companies in the hottest areas at the moment: digital and IP video, multimedia technologies, operating and provisioning systems, content management, voice-over-IP, wireless voice, data and video, Internet security applications and interactive television applications.

The major US companies expected to attend to meet with them include cable operators, equipment/infrastructure vendors, systems integrators, content providers, and venture capital firms.

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