With many Israeli startup founders racing to sell their companies, the question is: Can the Startup Nation breed ‘unicorns’ – large, multinational companies worth $1 billion or more?
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While Israeli high tech unicorns such as cybersecurity giant Check Point and collision-detection company Mobileye are a source of Israeli pride, they’re scarce. More often, startups are sold way before reaching the $1 billion valuation mark.
In 2014, Israeli startup exits and IPOs topped $15 billion, according to accounting firm PwC, with dozens of companies sold for much less than $1 billion.
In a panel discussion during the DLD Tel Aviv conference today, high tech entrepreneurs attempted to address the following question: What does it take to become a unicorn?
Titled “the prospects of becoming an Israeli unicorn,” panel participants included some of the most prominent Israeli entrepreneurs.
“Becoming a unicorn should be a milestone – not the goal”
According to Uri Levine, who sold his mobile navigation app Waze to Google for $1.3 billion two years ago, “becoming a unicorn shouldn’t be the objective; the goal should be to solve a problem, to create as much value for as many people,” he said. “Becoming a unicorn should be a milestone – not the goal.”
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Serial entrepreneur Dov Moran, the inventor of the popular USB flash drive, who sold his company M-Systems to SanDisk for $1.6 billion in 2006, said “serial entrepreneurs – who founded several companies – are more likely to create an Israeli unicorn,” because many young startup founders are too eager to sell early.
He went on to say that “an entrepreneur needs to have the ability to find a way to succeed despite failures and be able to withstand struggles. It’s not obvious.”
Shahar Waiser, CEO of mobile taxicab service Gett, valued at $ 2 billion, said “the appetite for creating a unicorn is there. The talent and venture capital are also there. We just need more talent in the consumer space.”
Ilan Levin, a director at 3D printing company Stratasys, said that in order to become a unicorn, a startup needs “a long-term vision, and the right infrastructure built from the start,” one that can sustain a growing organization.
Meanwhile, Saul Singer, co-author of the seminal book ‘Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle’, said he believed that the next Israeli unicorn will be one that can address a major need in a market outside the US. According to him, Israeli startups are better positioned to succeed in non-US markets than their Silicon Valley peers.
“It’s not just about the American market anymore,” he said. “This is a new world. The next unicorns will be built on problems not necessarily occurring in the US. We’re moving into a less US-centric world. Major opportunities are now outside the US.”
Evidently, the ways to create a large, multinational high-tech company are diverse, yet panel participants agreed on one thing: Israel can and will breed more unicorn companies in the near future.
Photos: Pikiwiki, Gett, Waze