The Startup Nation has always looked beyond its borders when selling to customers, raising money, and opening new offices… and while conflict is raging at home, Israeli tech still needs to be strong to drive the economy.
It’s therefore critical to be a presence at key global trade conferences even at times like this, when it is very difficult physically and emotionally to do so.
One of the most influential conferences, held every January, sets the tone for the year: the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
For a brief few days, the overwhelming nature of a conference like CES helped professionals in Israeli tech focus on their primary goal: delivering results, no matter what.
Israelis who attended the conference say they felt torn. On the one hand, they wanted to be at home during the war, but on the other, they recognized the importance of their role in the country’s economic wellbeing.
And so they decided to set a tone for 2024 of continuing to engage with the world to push business forward despite extremely difficult circumstances.
The Startup Nation at CES
In years past, the Israeli Export Institute regularly hosted a buzzy pavilion in the center of Eureka Park, where startups and countries set up booths and demos.
This year the Israel Pavilion was a scaled-down affair, but there was still a lot of energy. Many people were interested in the displays and engaged with the entrepreneurs sharing their startups’ vision.
Of particular note, CES CEO Gary Shapiro ceremoniously cut the ribbon cutting on the Israel Pavilion, solidifying the support of the global conference for the Startup Nation.
“Over the past few CES conference years, EcoMotion has hosted an event for the global smart mobility ecosystem and a chance to meet mobility tech startups,” says EcoMotion Executive Director Jennifer Schwarz.
“This year, around 30 Israeli mobility tech companies attended CES. This year was especially important to attend CES to continue to deliver the message that Israeli tech delivers no matter what. As one of the biggest meeting points of the year for our ecosystem, it’s a chance to reconnect with so many of our global partners and meet new partners.”
Excitement and enthusiasm
Just upstairs from Eureka Park was an enormous hall featuring emerging technologies in 2024, including solutions focused on technology addressing solutions for the challenges of aging populations.
Several Israeli startups were featured at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) AgeTech Collaborative.
One of these was Zoog, which uses augmented reality to bring generations of families closer together through remote storytelling.
Zoog cofounder and CTO Matan Guttman said his experience at CES “was a fantastic opportunity to meet our audience in person, which added a tangible and personal dimension to our relationships. Seeing firsthand the excitement and enthusiasm for what we’re building at Zoog was both humbling and energizing. Engaging with the global business community during this period was generally positive. We received countless messages of support from people we met.”
Another startup featured at AARP was Voiceitt, an automatic speech recognition platform providing independence and a better quality of life for people with speech and motor disabilities.
Cofounder and VP of Partnerships Sara Smolley reflected on her experience at CES during wartime:
“Whether we live abroad or in Israel — I am currently based in South Florida — we have all been affected deeply and continue to be affected [by the war]. The best way to respond to this was what I felt spending a week around other Israel tech founders… and how I was inspired by the approach of the other founders and leaders.”
An investor’s perspective
Traditionally, CES has been a place to develop business, connect with global brands, and build relationships with media. Investors who support Israeli startups and contribute to the growth of the Startup Nation also attend this global forum.
A well-known Israeli investor at CES this year was Michael Granoff, founder and managing partner of Maniv Mobility, a venture fund that invests in and supports early-stage startups inventing the future of transportation, mobility, energy and logistics.
“In the first two months of the war I canceled three trips and was very uneasy about being outside of Israel,” Granoff tells ISRAEL21c.
However, he adds, “Recognizing that I have solemn obligations to our investors, to our portfolio companies and the hundreds of people they employ, and to our organization, it was neither practical nor desirable to live in a state of suspended animation indefinitely. CES is the largest convener of constituents in our ecosystem on the annual calendar. And so, four members of the Maniv team went to Vegas.”
Granoff says attendees made the best use of the experience in order to drive their businesses forward, and were often met with words of encouragement from the global business community.
“Through one-on-one meetings, through hosting events, and through attending other events, we were able to touch base with a very large number of people important to our business,” he says.
“I found it extremely heartening and encouraging that we received an overwhelming amount of support and sympathy from people at CES who came from all over the world. Watching television and social media, it is easy to become convinced that we are isolated and alone, but in many unprompted interactions we found people giving us strong words of encouragement.”
Of course, there were distractions from home.
“On the first day of the conference, I learned that our neighbors lost their young son-in-law in battle. Shortly after the conference came a terror attack at the bus station outside my kids’ school which severely injured children of good friends. And the burden of wartime existence was never far from the surface during our time in Las Vegas,” Granoff says.
We can contribute success
“Like many,” says Zoog’s Guttman, “I was deeply shocked and grieved by the events of October 7. As founders and leaders, we not only had to manage our own mental state but also support our team, many of whom are grappling with personal losses or are in active reserve duty.
“We soon recognized that focusing on our work offered a healthy distraction and helped maintain our collective mental wellbeing.
“More importantly, we understood that our most significant contribution to our community and country during this challenging time is our success,” he says.
“With many local businesses struggling due to the economic impact, our growth in the US market, especially the 100% increase in Q4, stands out.
“Attending CES is more than just representing our company; it’s about representing Israel on a global stage. It symbolizes our commitment to moving forward and building a robust company that contributes positively to Israel’s economy and society.”
Jonathan “Yoni” Frenkel is a LinkedIn ghostwriter, content marketing strategist, creator and founder of YKC Media.