Google to incubate Israeli startups

The Internet giant looks to ‘give back’ to the fertile Israeli developer community outside of its two Israeli R&D centers responsible for tools such as Google Suggest. Photo by Serge Attal/Flash90 Google Israel plans to go the extra mile for …

The Internet giant looks to ‘give back’ to the fertile Israeli developer community outside of its two Israeli R&D centers responsible for tools such as Google Suggest.

Google presenter

Photo by Serge Attal/Flash90
Google Israel plans to go the extra mile for Israeli entrepreneurs.

Hard as it is to believe, Google is barely a decade old — not too far out of “startup territory.” So it makes sense that the now giant company would still have a soft spot for entrepreneurs just starting out.

Recently Google Israel announced that it will go the extra mile for Israeli entrepreneurs, by opening an incubator where great ideas can grow and mature into great products and services.

Google has been in Israel for about five years, and “from the beginning the goal was to build a research and development center in Israel, and to innovate global products and technology,” says Yossi Matias, director of Google’s R&D center in Israel, which employs about 250 people at facilities in Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Google Israel is known for its innovations. Several key technologies developed either entirely or in part at Google’s local R&D centers include Google Suggest, Google Trends, Google Insights for Search and others. As the leader of this very inventive team, Matias appreciates the importance of supporting developers and startups.

“I have been looking at how to contribute to the developer community, especially in the early stages that will have the biggest impact on their ability to succeed,” he says. As a result, the Google Incubator program was born.

Getting into the Google groove

The project is set to begin in early 2012, with around 20 “pre-seed” start ups (about 80 people) participating in each “round.” Companies will be expected to graduate from the incubator after several months, and will be replaced by another startup. The project will be open to startups from different fields, “with an emphasis on open-source technologies, naturally, since that is an important value for Google,” says Matias.

The technologies will not be limited to any specific area. Google is open to hearing about good ideas from the gamut of digital technology, from desktop, to cloud, to mobile, says Matias. He reveals that a Google team will be established to work with universities, colleges and other organizations with the aim of exposing the project to the maximum possible number of entrepreneurs and developers.

Yossi Matias

Yossi Matias, director of Google Israel R&D.

Google hasn’t decided how much, if any, money will be invested in specific companies, but the point of the program isn’t funding; it’s about “getting into the Google groove,” imbibing the influence of one of the most innovative teams at one of the most innovative companies in the world.

“We will provide them with working space and an Internet connection,” says Matias. “The entrepreneurs will be working on a floor of our new headquarters, right next to our R&D team in Tel Aviv. They’ll have an opportunity to work with our engineers and programmers, as well as experts from outside the company, who will be able to help and inspire them,” Matias said.

While Matias, who will be directing the program, will take each idea on its own merit, companies must meet certain basic qualifications. Google will be looking for “the kind of things investors in a startup look for — a good idea, an enthusiastic team and people who are easy to work with. That’s important because we will be working with them on a daily basis for at least several months.”

Bringing great ideas to market

In return, he says, “companies will learn a lot about how to succeed, both technically and practically. We’ll be helping them with marketing as well, helping them to not only develop their idea, but bring it to the public.”

In addition, he says, “we’re hoping also to include entrepreneurs and developers from different sectors in Israel, including those that don’t have high representation/exposure in the Israeli technology scene today.”

Of course, Matias says, Google is always interested in good ideas for its own purposes, and it’s certainly possible that Google could even acquire some of the startups that will be working in the incubator.

It wouldn’t be the first time Google has gone “shopping” for Israeli ideas; in 2010, Google acquired two Israeli companies (Quiksee, which developed 3D video tour software for use with Google Maps, and LabPixies, which makes ‘widgets’ for iGoogle and Android phones.

But the incubator program isn’t about acquisitions, says Matias.

“The incubator is a separate program sponsored by Google, and not about work inside Google Israel,” he says. “We are here to help the developer community, sharing our know-how and bringing great ideas to the fore.”

“The Israeli developer community is hugely innovative and has the potential to create many more ground-breaking technological developments,” corporate headquarters stated in a news release at the founding of the incubator. “This project was initiated with a desire to encourage entrepreneurship and to provide support at exactly the stage when developers are often most in need of it.”