Silicon Valley may have competition from Tel Aviv and New York today in terms of where a blue-and-white startup should base itself, but that hasn’t stopped the Israeli entrepreneurial community in California from growing.
“Now it’s easier to make it elsewhere but if you want to be where it’s at, that’s still Silicon Valley,” Moshik Raccah, cofounder of IEFF (Israeli Executives and Founders Forum), tells ISRAEL21c.
“This is where the future is happening. This is where all the big technology companies are, this is where your partners are and this is where the best talent in the world is. Like New York for the money people and Hollywood for the movie industry, this is Ground Zero for tech.”
Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest Andy David recently estimated that there are 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis working in Silicon Valley today.
ISRAEL21c is itself a product of Silicon Valley, founded in 2001 by Israeli-American entrepreneur Zvi Alon (founder of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, NetManage, Netvision and other startups) and later joined by Eric Benhamou (3Com, Palm, Benhamou Global Ventures) to highlight Israel’s creativity and innovation at a time when no other website was focusing on broadening public understanding of Israel beyond typical portrayals in the mainstream media.
While many Israeli entrepreneurs start their own businesses, others such as Johny Srouji (senior VP-hardware technologies at Apple), Tomer Cohen (head of content, LinkedIn), Ran Makavy (VP-growth at Lyft) and Noam Bardin (chief Wazer at Google) hold key positions in American companies.
“Some of the best talent from Israel is coming here. They are starting wonderful companies in Silicon Valley and they’re collecting talent around them which is not just Israeli,” says Raccah, who relocated from Israel in 2001 while working for Amdocs.
Some Israelis arrive with company relocation programs as Raccah did; some attend US universities and choose to stay; and others come specifically to pursue business opportunities.
Investors like Gigi Levy Weiss, who recently returned from Silicon Valley to Israel, nurture the Israeli-California business relationship. Levy Weiss, founding partner of the NFX Guild, introduces investors to blue-and-white startups.
“In the tech world there is a lot of appreciation for Israeli tech people and tech startups,” says Raccah. “Israel has a wonderful reputation in tech. We’re considered some of the best.”
ISRAEL21c presents 15 of the many movers and shakers in the Israeli startup scene in Silicon Valley, in no particular order:
- Oren Zeev
Oren Zeev and Oren Dobronsky (see next entry) are often mentioned in the same sentence. The two share a sense of responsibility for grooming the next generation of Israelis in Silicon Valley. They’re also early investors who take an active company-building role.
Zeev, founder of Zeev Ventures, was an early investor in Chegg, Houzz, Audible, Tipalti and others, and sits on numerous boards of directors. He is also cofounder and chairman of supplier payments automation platform Tipalti.
Israeli entrepreneurs, product managers and engineers interested in moving to Silicon Valley often turn to Zeev for advice.
“Israelis here succeed at all levels, as entrepreneurs and as executives. An Israeli who lands here has a massive advantage over Swedes, Italians — or even Texans — because everyone knows everyone,” Zeev told Haaretz, adding that Israelis are represented at every significant company in the area.
- Oren Dobronsky
Not many high-tech CEOs can claim they own a popular hummus eatery but Oren Dobronsky, cofounder and CEO of virtual shopping mall app Wondermall, sure can. Dobronsky arrived in Silicon Valley in 2008 after eight years in New York.
“Life in the Valley was good, but one thing was missing: a big plate of creamy hummus like back home in Tel Aviv, with fresh pita and Mediterranean salads,” the serial entrepreneur, angel investor and Internet veteran explains about his restaurant, which caters to the startup community and is the scene of many business deals.
Dobronsky is a member of TechAviv Angels — a group of 30 Israeli tech stars with combined exits of $3 billion – who identify, fund and mentor Israeli startups in Israel, New York, Silicon Valley and Boston.
Dobronsky tells ISRAEL21c that one of his “biggest contributions to Israeli high-tech” is securing the first regular non-stop flight from San Francisco to Tel Aviv. In 2014, he launched a petition and 8,500 individuals pledged to buy 35,000 round trip tickets a year. United Airlines launched the new route as a result.
A graduate of Mamram, the prestigious IDF Central Computing Facility, Dobronsky has founded and invested in successful companies including online interior-design startup Houzz.
- Noam Bardin
Noam Bardin, the chief Wazer at Google, is one of the best-known Israelis in Silicon Valley. In 2013, Waze became the first Israeli consumer-app company to be bought for over $1 billion.
Bardin also invests in Israeli tech; he recently participated in a funding round for Airobotics, a Petah-Tikva-based maker of automated industrial drones.
Bardin was included on Business Insider’s 100 Stars of Silicon Valley of 2013.
Before Waze, he served as CEO of Intercast Networks and cofounded Deltathree, a leading international VoIP service provider. Today Bardin, who has a master of public administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is a regular on the speaking circuit and a mentor to new entrepreneurs.
- Shuly Galili and Gil Ben-Artzy
Shuly Galili and Gil Ben-Artzy are cofounding partners – with serial entrepreneur Liron Petrushka — of UpWest Labs, a Silicon Valley-based seed fund investing in Israeli tech entrepreneurs and startups.
UpWest Labs provides access to key players through mentorships, seed funding and capital for Israeli portfolio companies including SentinelOne, Airobotics, HoneyBook, Neura, Keywee, Apester, Javelin networks and many others.
Galili previously served as executive director of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, and she writes about entrepreneurship and tech for publications such as Women 2.0, VentureBeat and Forbes. She also serves on the Advisory Board of C100 Canadian Entrepreneurs Network.
Ben-Artzy, who has an MA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School of Business, helped develop Yahoo’s first R&D center in Haifa and advised Fortune 500 companies when he worked at Boston Consulting Group in New York.
In 2015, GeekTime included Galili and Ben-Artzy on a list of 100 most influential people in Israeli high-tech.
- Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen
Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, partners in life and business, are the Israeli brains behind Houzz, a platform for home remodeling and design used by millions of homeowners and more than 250,000 architects, designers, contractors and other professionals. In August last year, Houzz set up shop in India.
The married couple, who met on a bus in Thailand, famously started the award-winning app at their kitchen table in 2009 while deciding how to redecorate their California home.
Tatarko and Cohen ran a short-lived small tech-services company in Israel and then moved to California. Cohen worked at eBay as senior director of engineering.
“They’re part of a new generation of Israelis establishing companies here,” Raccah notes. “[Their] success is attracting a lot more … engineers and people from product management, designers and business folks from Israel. And they establish their own companies, so that’s the next generation.”
- Oz Alon and Naama Alon
In 2013, Oz and Naama Alon, together with cofounder/CTO Dror Shimoni and cofounder/Head of Customer Experience Shadiah Sigala, founded HoneyBook, an invitation-only platform that has revolutionized the way event professionals and clients connect.
The Alons, a married couple – she studied interactive media at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design; he ran a bar and events company in Tel Aviv — hadn’t thought of building a company outside of Israel.
“On the one hand, we love Israel desperately. On the other, we knew that our $100 billion target market was not in Israel,” Naama Alon told ISRAEL21c in 2014.
So they took the bold step of establishing their business in San Francisco, but also maintain a Tel Aviv development center.
- Dror Berman
There isn’t an Israeli startup that doesn’t want Dror Berman’s attention.
The founding managing partner of Innovation Endeavors, an early-stage venture capital firm backed by Google CEO Eric Schmidt that partners with startups applying cutting-edge technology to transform industries, Berman is always on the lookout for investment opportunities in Israeli technology.
In 2015, GeekTime included Berman on a list of 100 most influential people in Israeli high-tech.
Prior to joining Innovation Endeavors (which has offices in Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley), Berman worked at Yahoo and headed an R&D team at NICE Systems. He also spent three years in an elite unit at the Israeli Defense Forces and received an MBA from Stanford.
- Nir Zuk
Nir Zuk’s name is synonymous with firewalls. An alum of the elite Unit 8200 in the IDF and one of the earliest employees at Check Point Software Technologies, he moved to California in 1997 with Check Point but left in 1999 to start OneSecure, a pioneer in intrusion prevention and detection appliances.
Zuk went on to be CTO at NetScreen Technologies, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2004. In 2005, he founded Palo Alto Networks, a multinational network and enterprise security company based in Santa Clara, California. One of its overseas offices is in Tel Aviv.
Zuk was raised in Rehovot by a schoolteacher mother and engineer father. He got his first computer in fifth grade and has said that he taught himself to write code and develop software, as well as write viruses for fun. Today, of course, he’s keeping viruses at bay.
- Darya Henig Shaked
Israeli social impact investor-philanthropist-entrepreneur Darya Henig Shaked is on a mission to build an equal-opportunity ecosystem.
As CEO of Stride Ventures, she works with female and African entrepreneurs who have innovative solutions to create social impact while achieving market-rate returns. She helps them tap into the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
Henig Shaked founded Women Entrepreneurs Act (WEACT), a community fostering a business environment in which female founders feel on equal footing.
After earning a law degree from Bar-Ilan University, she worked as a communication specialist in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and as legal counsel to an anti-violence ministerial committee.
- Moshik Raccah
Raccah works hard on strengthening the Silicon Valley-Israel bond.
In 2007, he cofounded the IEFF (Israeli Executives and Founders Forum) – an active organization for the Israeli entrepreneurial and executive community in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. He has helmed the IEFF’s many initiatives – together with co-chair investor-entrepreneur Oded Hermoni — for the Israeli tech community, including meetups, workshops and lectures.
“We started the IEFF for Israelis to help each other find jobs here and just in general with connections and work,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
“He is the hub for everything Israeli tech-oriented there,” ICONYC Labs cofounder Eyal Bino tells ISRAEL21c about Raccah.
Raccah also is cofounder and CEO of Silo, a professional network for entrepreneurs.
Raccah formerly was managing director at VentureMind, founder/CEO of Winsite, and VP sales and business development at Microsoft Israel.
- Yasmin Lukatz
Yasmin Lukatz is executive director of the Israel Collaboration Network (ICON), a non-profit organization “that aims to create a Silicon Valley-based community to harness and support Israeli startup technology and innovation.”
ICON, located at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, serves as an entry point for Israeli entrepreneurs and their startups to Silicon Valley, helping them get connected and find funding.
Previously, the lawyer-by-training worked as COO of Evoz, a startup in the cloud-based home monitoring sector.
A TEDx speaker, Lukatz served as an officer in the Israeli Air Force and received an MBA from Stanford University.
- Zohar Levkovitz
Entrepreneur-turned-investor Zohar Levkovitz is the go-to person for new Israeli startups in need of investments and mentoring.
The founder and former CEO of Amobee, a global marketing technology company sold for over $310 million in 2012, Levkovitz has been at the forefront of mobile and Internet technology development for over a decade.
Levkovitz grew up on Kibbutz Dafna, near the northern town of Kiryat Shemona. He began his career as a copywriter and planner for advertising agencies. Later he served as CTO of Comverse’s 3G, MMS and WAP Push activities.
Levkovitz was named Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 in California, CEO of the Year 2010 in Israel, and Technology Pioneer for the World Economic Forum.
He presently volunteers as chair of the US Board of SpaceIL.
This list includes only a few of the many Israelis making their mark in Silicon Valley. We’d love to hear your nominees in the comments below: