I’ve known Naomi Krieger Carmy since she ran the UK Israel Tech Hub, a British Government effort to increase the economic collaboration between the two countries. After a successful tenure as CEO, Naomi then moved back to Israel with her family and joined the Israel Innovation Authority, previously known as the CSO, or Chief Scientist Office. I caught up with Naomi on her new role as the head of societal challenges, brought to you below.
VC Cafe: Hi Naomi, great to have you on VC Cafe. Could you kindly give a brief introduction of yourself to our readers?
Naomi: Hi Eze, great to be here. I head the Societal Challenges Division at the Israel Innovation Authority – the government agency responsible for supporting Israel’s tech and innovation ecosystem, mainly by funding of about $450M annually. My team focuses on two key challenges – how to address the ecosystem’s talent shortage, and how to harness technology to solve social problems. Before this, I was an investment banker, ran a NGO, set up and ran the UK Israel Tech Hub, and a few other things :)
VC Cafe: In the past, the chief scientist office encouraged multi nationals to set up R&D centres in Israel. The latest PWC report shows that there are now more than 500 multi nationals operating in Israel in various capacities. What are the implications on talent and how have the goals changed?
Naomi:We’re very proud of the global interest in Israel, and there’s no doubt MNCs have played a big role in developing the ecosystem. At the same time, with so many global players, there are also some challenges – in particular, tough competition over local tech talent which makes it harder for local start-ups and growth companies to find the people they need. These days, we’re focused less on opening development centers and more on encouraging deeper engagement and interaction with the local ecosystem, for example through an Innovation Labs program supporting open innovation models between multinationals and Israel start-ups.
VC Cafe: What are the challenges you’re looking to solve in your current role at the Israel Innovation Authority?
Naomi: The first is talent. The supply isn’t keeping up with the demands of Israel’s vibrant and growing industry. Some solutions are straightforward, such as increasing the number of university graduates in engineering and computer science. But some require new approaches – such as doing a better job getting talented women and minorities into the industry, and using new training methods such as coding bootcamps or lifelong learning models for advanced skills such as AI.
The second challenge is how to help Israel become Impact Nation. Israeli tech has potential to solve some of the biggest social problems – in education, health and more. We have great entrepreneurs, thought leaders, great companies in this space (think ReWalk or Orcam) and organizations supporting them. But we still have a ways to go to realize the potential of all this as a vibrant ecosystem, with more players and activity, including more investors and international partners.
VC Cafe: Are there any initiatives currently in place that more founders or VCs should be aware of?
Naomi: Personally, I’m thrilled that we recently launched a new program giving increased support to women-led startups, joining our successful programs for Arab and Ultra-Orthodox led companies. We had over 300 women at our launch event and the applications are coming in. We also run three dedicated impact tech support tracks – GovTech, Assistive Tech and Grand Challenges (solutions for health challenges in developing countries). So whether you’re a founder looking for funding or an investor looking for good companies – the good news is that our funding is always non-dilutive (we don’t take equity), we’re willing to take on risk, and repayment is only out of future royalties from sales. Some of our impact tracks are even royalty-free.
VC Cafe: What would be your advice for future founders or under-represented sectors in Israeli high-tech?
Naomi: Israeli high-tech has become so much more diverse and frankly much more interesting – both in terms of its verticals/sectors and the people in it. One of common things we notice for many women and minority entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs further away from the geographic center, as well as impact entrepreneurs, is that they’re not as well connected and plugged in to the right people to help them. For a founder, that can make all the difference. There are some excellent support organizations, mentors and good people out there willing to help. Use them, but be discerning – not all advice is good advice, and not all money is worth taking!
Also think how makes you different can become an advantage – for example, better understanding of a market (e.g. women’s health), ability to hire and retain talent from within your community, or your burning passion to change the world. Good luck!