Israel’s Internal Security Agency, also known as the Shin Bet in Hebrew, is launching an accelerator in partnership with the newly founded TAU Ventures, the investment arm of Tel Aviv University, to tap into early-stage startups working in AI, primarily natural-language processing (NLP) technologies, robotics, and data science, the ISA announced on Wednesday.
Titled Xcelerator, the program aims to work with startups and entrepreneurs who have established proof-of-concept for a product or a service and are not necessarily already in the security field.
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The accelerator will launch next month with six startups selected by a joint committee of professionals from the ISA and TAU Ventures. Each will receive a $50,000 grant from the ISA, with no equity and no restrictions. Enrollment will close at the end of May.
The selected startups will be offered workspaces by TAU Ventures in a recently renovated complex within the venture capital fund’s offices and will be mentored by tech experts from the ISA, as well as those from the university and the tech industry.
“The cooperation with the ISA will offer opportunities to jointly explore new capabilities, look into potential cooperation, and take advantage of short feedback loops,” the ISA and TAU Ventures said in a statement.
The ISA is headed by Nadav Argaman and answers directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. The agency is in charge of internal state security, including counter-terror and counter-espionage efforts in the West Bank and Gaza, personal protection of Israeli leaders, securing Israeli embassies abroad and providing security for Israeli airlines.
“The ISA is already developing and implementing advanced technologies in a wide array of fields. This program is launched with great faith in the tremendous value of the Israeli technology industries, the brilliant minds behind them, and the technological breakthroughs we have witnessed in various field,” said the ISA’s chief innovation officer, whose identity is not publicly known, as per policy.
“Cutting-edge technological capabilities that are being used in the finance, advertising, agriculture, and automotive industries are generic capabilities that could serve as major stepping stones for the ISA in the future,” the chief innovation officer said,
The purpose of the program, the chief innovation officer further added, “is to allow entrepreneurs who are taking their first steps in various technological fields to advance in an accelerated pace toward their goals, without any commitment or limitation. This is based on the understanding that fostering these technologies and having the ISA and the entrepreneurs share and exchange knowledge and information between them could facilitate further breakthroughs and enhance our ability to meet any challenge.”
Tel Aviv University President Prof. Josef Klafter, said the university was “proud to establish a partnership with one of the most important agencies safeguarding Israel’s security. The combination of the ISA’s intelligence and technological challenges, the scientific research and resources of Tel Aviv University, and finally, a group of outstanding entrepreneurs, could yield triumphant results.”
Nimrod Cohen, the managing partner at TAU Ventures, launched just last month, said the accelerator was “a groundbreaking program on an international level,” and marked “the first time the most important counterterrorism organization in Israel, and one of the best worldwide, is investing in and supporting technologies from the local ecosystem of entrepreneurship, seeking to adopt these technologies and employ them in its routine activity.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the startups to work with a leading intelligence agency with no restrictions and without being required to make any commitment in return,” Cohen added.
The Shin Bet’s venture comes a year after the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, launched a venture capital arm to invest in cutting-edge Israeli technologies. The fund was named Libertad (which means “freedom” in Latin, but is also the name of a ship that carried Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis in 1940) and offered as much as $500,000 for research and development projects.
It completed its first round of startups investments in March, and is set to issue another call for applications later this year.