When Noam Bardin demonstrated how Waze — a Twitter-infused GPS — got him from LAX to the Luxe Hotel on Sunset in 26 minutes during rush hour, several attendees at the third annual Israel Conference immediately took out their phones to download his app.
“The closing of the 405 [in mid-July] is the best moment to look at this app and understand what it can do for you every day,” Waze CEO Bardin said.
During the daylong conference at the Luxe Hotel on June 2, which attracted several hundred Israeli and American businessmen and entrepreneurs, CEOs of established and start-up Israeli companies were given five minutes each to show off innovative solutions for Twitter-age problems to the audience, some of which they could put to use right away. Product pitches included Genieo, a customizable newspaper-style homepage that provides news from your favorite sources; PicScout, image-recognition software designed to prevent picture cybertheft; and DudaMobile, a platform that optimizes Web sites for mobile phones (as it did for the conference’s Web site, israelconference.org).
Sharona Justman of STEP Strategy Advisors, who co-founded and co-chaired the conference with Israeli technology scene godfather Yossi Vardi, served as the effusive master of ceremonies during the event, introducing each presentation with the day’s watchword: “amazing.”
“We consider this our contribution to giving Israel a brilliant, positive shine in the world market,” she said.
While she’s driven by a deep connection with Israel, politics played no part in the presentations and panels. “It’s a business-focused conference that tells the stories of success with Israeli companies,” she said.
This year’s conference focused on Israeli inventions that enhance and optimize how information — entertainment, news, social media, advertisements and games — is distributed and received.
“We’ll all be multiscreen users,” said Jonathan Miller, CEO of Digital Media Group and chief digital officer of News Corp., in his keynote address. He predicts that a strategic linking of mobile phones, computers and televisions will occur over the next three to five years.
“I think we’re about to see Web video become a real force,” he said. “That’s good news overall, but, for companies like us, we have to figure out how to coexist with this new world while maintaining our place in the existing world.”
One presenter that caught Miller’s eye was VivoText, a text-to-speech application founded by an Israeli classical pianist that imbues electronic voices with human expression and inflection, paving the way for electronic devices to read news.
Other companies demonstrated how Israelis are at the forefront of ushering in the video revolution. Hollywood- and Israel-based RayV is a company delivering broadcast-quality HDTV over IP technology. In addition to providing the evening’s entertainment, endearingly geeky Israeli pop star Yoni Bloch showcased his company, Interlude, which designs interactive music videos and movie trailers.
If not founded by Israelis, companies represented at the conference have research and development offices in Israel. For instance, LivePerson, a company that provides live chat solutions, was founded by Robert LoCascio, a Catholic Italian New Yorker who describes himself as “Jewish by acquisition”; his company acquired three Israeli companies and has 300 employees in Israel.
“When I’m there, I’m very happy,” he said in an interview, “because people are very creative, very engaged and excited.”
During panel sessions, Israeli executives from AOL, eBay, Marvell Technology Group, Nokia Siemens, Microsoft/Xbox, Plimus and Yahoo! discussed the influence of Israeli brainpower and inventiveness on these corporate giants. Conspicuously missing was a representative from Apple, but conference co-founder Justman promises that will change next year.
“There’s so much business going on in Israel that there’s room for everyone to get involved in an Israeli business,” Justman said. “And it’s not only in the line of interest of the Jewish business community — it’s an opportunity for every business person.”
In the sunny outdoor corridor, Clark Callander, a managing director with GCA Savvian, a financial investment bank based in San Francisco, eyed the booth of Powermat, a charging mat for smartphones soon to be outfitted in GM automobiles and at airport terminals. While he said he likes visiting Israel, Zionism played no role in his attendance; he sought to diversify business opportunities.
“Markets are changing so fast around the world,” he said. “You can’t only look at the U.S. You have to see what’s coming out of other countries.”
This year, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) joined the conference as a co-sponsor. As a leader in the natural resources sector, TSX listed its first Israeli company, Adira Energy, last December and hopes to become an alternative to NASDAQ for Israeli companies at early stages of growth. The pro-Israeli sentiment coming out of Canada is an ancillary benefit.
“For us, it’s really just for the business, but the culture of support is never a bad thing,” said Kevan Cowan, president of TSX Markets and group head of Equities.
But for Daniel Friedland, a partner at the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm in downtown Los Angeles, his interest in expanding his firm’s representation of Israeli companies stems from a recognition of Israeli innovativeness and entrepreneurial spirit — and also his personal love for Israel as a Jew.
“It’s easier to stay with what I have,” he said, “but to make business with Israel happen, you have to have the passion and drive.”