When I put together the Israeli Startup Roundtable in Tel Aviv last month, I realized that there’s a real need for networking in Israel. It’s a small country, so supposedly everyone knows everyone, but what is missing is a formal opportunity to connect, exchange ideas and discuss business opportunities with like-minded techies.
Kinnernet is a great example. The invite-only conference put together once a year by Yossi Vardi, recently hosted 250 net and technology addicts, some geeks, VCs, entrepreneurs, bloggers and media peeps who tried to predict where the internet is going and what are the prevailing trends in a series of workshops and discussions. No Powerpoint is allowed. The conference lasts three days, completely isolated from the noise of the real world. It is strategically located near the Kineret, the sea of Galilee, in the north of Israel. (Yossi: if you’re reading this, I’m waiting for my invitation ). There are many blogs, videos and images from the conference if you’d like to catch up. This year a few prominent bloggers from the San Francisco Bay Area joined the conference including Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, Craig Newmark (Craigslist) and more. They wrote about their experiences in the blog Travelling Geeks.
This week, Mashable announced MashBash Tel Aviv and offered 500 free tickets. I met Mashable’s CEO last night in San Francisco, and he told me they barely lasted a few hours. People are hungry for formal and unformal networking opportunities. As part of the visit, Mashable will be showcasing a few Israeli startups and meeting with VCs, technology companies and key Israeli tech figures as part of the Israel Media Tour. Stay tuned as VC Cafe joins the Media Tour.
San Francisco is coming to Israel! Gavin Newsom, the Mayor of San Francisco, is headed to Israel this week, leading a high-level mission with almost an unprecedented scope. Newsom and about 100 San Francisco-area leaders will explore investment opportunities, cooperation, and business partnerships with local Israeli companies. The focus of the mission will go beyond Tech, adding a focus on Israeli arts and archeology. The mission is being organized by San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation (JCF) and coordinated by Robert Blum, CEO of Cytokinetics and Bobby Lent, co-founder of Ariba (NASDAQ: ARBA). Check out this Globes article for all the details.
Another conference that is recommended is the yearly IVA event (The Israel Venture Association). This year’s conference will be held on May 19 and 20, 2008, in Tel Aviv focused on the topic “The Golden Age of Israeli Entrepreneurs” (When I wrote the “Golden Age of Israeli Startups” I hadn’t seen this – I wonder who came up with it first). As opposed to the conferences above, the IVA is more ‘serious’ looking at macro level issues such as “Israel and the World – increasing global competitiveness, connecting Israel’s cutting-edge industries with global trends, full maturation of the industry,funds – entrepreneur relationship, From Innovation to Commercialization: Life starts at 60 (million) and more. The IVA 2008 site has more details on the speakers, attendants and the 50 Israeli startups that will showcase this year. You may register for the pavilion here.
On a more regular basis, you can attend the social-flared parties/networking events such as iDrink. With communities in Ning and Facebook, iDrink tries to bring together the members of the startup industry in Israel. It is a tech-meetup of sorts without a set agenda.
GarageGeeks is a much more serious. A registered non for profit association, the Garage is a virtual and physical place for innovators from different disciplines: hacking, gaming, electronics, software, hardware, art music, design and so on. The Garage is an actual 100 squared meters warehouse in the industrial area of Holon. GG hosts monthly events, and is sponored by two VC funds. During Kinnernet, the Garage has a mini version of Burning Man, presenting their latest gadgets and artwork to the conference. The projects are pretty ingenious. To name a few: WiiMan a full action figure costume of a super hero that functions as a Nintendo WiiMote remote and a Guitar Heronoid – a robot that plays guitar hero for you. The list go on. Among the people behind Garage Geeks you’ll find many familiar names in the Israeli High Tech industry.
If you prefer the more structured events, TIIC and IsraelNetSphere are more suitable for you. Those are Web 2.0 meetups, hosted at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya by the blog The.co.ils , dedicated to Israeli startups, entrepreneurs and Web2.0 trends (Hebrew). Th.co.ils created a small social network called the the.co.ils Zone which along with TheMarker Cafe (I wasVC Cafe first!) tries to bundle up the startup industry in Israel, with a sub-par UI and social network functionality.
I’ve started building the VC Cafe Network with a different focus in mind. My goal is to establish actionable contacts and to further business through the way of introductions, while establishing a network with a certain level of trust. Kind of like Facebook meets aSmallWorld, meets Linkedin. The first Startup Roundtables kicked off in Israel and San Francisco, and there are more to come. I’m looking for partners to get this project off the ground in a high level. That includes a rock star developer or two, a design guru, writers and someone with a good sense of humor, to keep it fun. If you think you fit one of these descriptions, email me.