Tell us more about how EcoMotion helped start an industry in Israel.
Mamo: From Day One, our inspiration was "Let's do something different. Let's not do another event. Let's create this ecosystem where people can really know each other." We call it a community. People really feel like they're part of something together, not coming to an event. The event is just like a highlight of something bigger than that.
Arnon: When we started EcoMotion there were less than 100 startups that were somewhere around, including by the way, Mobileye. GM had a research center in Israel. ... All the OEMs, and most of the Tier 1s have a presence in Israel. There was a tailwind from some successes like Mobileye. The industry started to switch between materials to knowledge, software instead of rubber, etc., and Israel is full of these technologies because these are all military spec technologies, connectivity, electrification, machine learning, cyber defense, cybersecurity. Israel is kind of the land of milk and honey for this particular technology.
Describe how the industry evolved.
Arnon: If you look at the history of the industry of Israel, in the '80s it was the printing, digital printing. Israel today is the world leader in digital printing. In the '90s it was connectivity and communication, because a couple of companies, such as Nokia, bought a few startups here in Israel, and so on. 2015 onwards, I would say, it became the mobility era in Israel.
Mamo: We can't take credit for building what exists today in Israel totally. But definitely, there is a correlation. Obviously, we can't take credit for the hard work the entrepreneurs did, and the investors that pour money into the industry, and talented HR. But I think we have some kind of credit for supporting that movement. ... Instead of like, running 20 miles an hour, we've made it to run at 100 miles an hour, getting entrepreneurs the support they need, giving this industry the acceleration they need in order to become what it is today in Israel.
How much venture capital activity was there prior to mobility becoming a hot topic? Tel Aviv is well positioned in that respect, like Silicon Valley. Does it have an advantage over other places that have the technology but maybe not the regional funding to see it through?
Arnon: There were already I would say a couple dozens VCs, most of them U.S. ones with an office in Israel. When we started EcoMotion, the VC area was already pretty well established. But what happened during that time, there became specialty VC firms only for mobility. Like Autotech Ventures and like the corporate VCs. ... So it's not a big problem raising money in Israel today. It used to be a big problem.
Mamo: When we started, like Meir said, there was a lot of VCs that were generically investing. ... I think GM's Cruise acquisition was the big tipping point for the VC industry in automotive. The fact that, a company that was established, and very shortly after, it was acquired for a billion dollars. That opened the appetite of these investors. They want to be part of this party. And it's an industry of billions of billions, of trillions of dollars of potential investment there. So, it wasn't easy in the beginning, but there was some kind of tipping point, I think it was like 2016. And you just see the shift between super hard to raise money to it's super easy to raise money.
What is the outlook for startups in Israel and elsewhere in light of COVID-19?
Arnon: Well, it just creates more opportunities.
Mamo: Churchill said, "Never waste a good crisis." So I think that, you know, a lot of people see crisis as a challenge. But these are entrepreneurs. They see every challenge as an opportunity. That's what we see. We see every challenge as an opportunity. One of the activities that I'm still involved in is Drive TLV. It's sort of like an accelerator-incubator-innovation hub. We put on our website what [the companies] are offering for COVID-19. Technology is very agnostic. So you can use technologies with different use cases. For example, there is a company that is doing an outside inspection of the car with cameras, so basically, you can have a touchless kind of experience for people doing car rentals, just cameras inspecting the car before and after you return it.
I read an article: The new unicorn is the camel. So you're not looking for the ones that are running really fast because if you're in a desert — and this is literally what's happening now in COVID-19, we're in a desert — if you're in a desert, you want to have a camel, you want to have companies that have the strength to overcome that crisis.
What will happen in general?
Mamo: I think that we're going to see, I would say, three trends. We're going to see companies that were strong and will be stronger from that crisis. We're going to see consolidation; maybe companies that were actively competing with each other. And we're going to see companies that are going to get closed because they weren't good enough. And it's OK. This is part of the process. This is part of the deal. If you're going to be a startup, most of the chance is that the company is going to get closed. Let's be honest. So it's just going to accelerate an existing kind of trend or vector.
But I believe that the strength of the Israeli ecosystem, and the startup ecosystem, is the being adaptable and be able to change.
Arnon: Resilience is the name of the game today. Israelis are used to crisis. You know, we are a small country surrounded by enemies and fish. And so we are pretty isolated. And that's why one of the things that EcoMotion did, bringing the industry to Israel rather than all these startups running around the world, and by calling the industry to come over, that was a big thing.
We are the land of where history started, quote, unquote, so to speak. I'm an antique collector, I have 72 pieces that are older than 500 years. I mention this because for many years, this is what Israel had to offer: oranges and history. But actually for many years now Israel became a high-tech and startup nation, and the brain is sort of leading the tradition now.