Israeli startups to share expertise with South Florida through Idea Center at Miami Dade College

Oren Simanian

Oren Simanian, founder of StarTAU.

The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and Star TAU, Tel Aviv University’s entrepreneurship center, signed a knowledge-sharing agreement Friday, linking the vibrant entrepreneurial and high-tech communities in South Florida and Israel.

“This collaboration is testament to the type of synergy we want to see in Miami—with one initiative, in this case Project Interchange, acting as a springboard for another,” said Knight Foundation Miami Program Director Matt Haggman. “By making more of these connections, we can create new opportunities and foster the type of knowledge sharing that is essential to building a strong innovation ecosystem in our city.”

The agreement is the culmination of a process that started in March, when a 12-person delegation from Miami spent a week in Israel as part of Project Interchange, a nonprofit educational institute of the American Jewish Committee. The exchange was funded in part by Knight Foundation.

Last Thursday, the worlds came together again for “Innovation Nation: Secrets From the Israeli Startup Scene,” a presentation by Oren Simanian, founder of StarTAU. His talk was followed by a panel comprised of Felecia Hatcher, founder of Code Fever; Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder Greenberg Traurig; Ben Wirz, director of venture investments at Knight Foundation; and Leandro Finol, executive director of The Idea Center. Haggman moderated the panel. All participants visited Israel as part of the Miami delegation.

Asked about what could be expected as the initial steps in the collaboration, Simanian said that “the first [order of business] is to set up a Business Entrepreneurial Experience here supported by Tel Aviv’s entrepreneurship center.” Plans also involve members of Israel’s high-tech community traveling to Miami for an Innovation Nation conference connecting innovators in the two high-tech communities and also Israeli startups meeting Miami investors, designers and digital marketing firms through a series of programs arranged by The Idea Center, which itself is supported by Knight Foundation

According to PitchBook, a research company, Tel Aviv University ranks in the top 10 of universities with the most venture capital-backed entrepreneurs. As for entrepreneurial ecosystems, Tel Aviv is the top place outside the United States, and fifth best in the world, after Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles and Boston, according to The Startup Genome Report’s Global Startup Ecosystem ranking. The list ranks ecosystems based on performance, funding, talent, market reach and startup experience.

The exits in the Israeli market in 2013, according to Tel Aviv University’s entrepreneurship center, amounted to $7 billion. Last December, the Jerusalem Post reported a survey by the accounting firm PwC Israel that stated that the deals in the country involving companies being bought or going public in 2014 amounted to $14.85 billion.

For South Florida, an area with a budding entrepreneurial ecosystem, there are lessons to be learned.

“The success of an ecosystem starts with good academia,” said Simanian. He emphasized that the three essential components are “academia, government and private sector. That’s where you start. And what’s the balance between them? It depends on what exists.”

“Many people have asked me ‘What’s special about Israel?’ And I tell them that the good thing about Israel is that we don’t have anything,” he said wryly. “In addition to that, what’s special about Israel is that it’s a melting pot.”

“I always tell my personal story: My father is from Iran; my mother is from Libya, … so what you have is an experiment — and all Israel is like that,” said Simanian. “ It took me one day in Miami to understand that this is not [that different].”

Miami, “it’s not Silicon Valley; it’s not New York; it’s not Boston; it’s not Chicago, but this is the best gateway to Latin America,” he said, and he also emphasized a point many in South Florida, in their efforts to champion the area’s serious entrepreneurial potential, often choose to downplay.

“Entrepreneurs need work-life balance. That’s why people like Tel Aviv…  you can’t work 12, 14 hours every day and be effective. It doesn’t work like that. You need to recharge your batteries, and here you can recharge the batteries,” he said. “People work hard and play hard.”

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer. He can be reached via email at [email protected].

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