Israel’s Internal Security Agency (ISA, also known as the Shin Bet and Shabak in Hebrew) is launching the second cycle of its tech accelerator program, Xcelerator, in partnership with TAU Ventures, the investment arm of Tel Aviv University founded earlier this year.
The program was announced in May, allowing the domestic security service to tap into entrepreneurs working in a number of artificial intelligence (AI) fields, primarily natural-language processing (NLP) technologies, and data science. Xcelerator selected its first cohort of seven startups in July and wrapped up this fall.
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The next cycle will consist of nine startups focused on robotics, cybersecurity, and fintech, among other fields, according to a TAU Ventures statement, and is set to start sometime early next year.
Xcelerator works with early-stage startups and entrepreneurs who have established proof-of-concept for products and services and are not necessarily already in the security field.
The startups are 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. Like in the first cycle, the startups are offered workspaces at TAU Ventures and will be mentored by tech experts from the ISA, as well as those from the university and the tech industry.
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.
“Following the success of the first cohort, we decided to deepen our collaboration with TAU Ventures,” Argaman said in a statement. “We believe in the power of the Israeli tech sector, its entrepreneurs, its exceptional abilities, and its products which already influence the capabilities of the Shin Bet and its activities toward state security.”
Tel Aviv University President Prof. Josef Klafter said the partnership between the ISA and TAU “has already proven itself and will continue to have an effect [on state security].”
Nimrod Cohen, the managing partner at TAU Ventures, said the program presents a “rare opportunity for startups to work with one of the best intelligence agencies in the world.”
Last year, 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 launch the next.