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Ireland and Israel have great synergies and overlap

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tech and startup insights with Mattan Lass as published in Irish Tech News 14 November 2016

By @SimonCocking. Interesting interview with Mattan Lass Israeli/Irish Hi Tech and Startup Lawyer with @philipleelaw. We spoke with Mattan to learn more about his insights on the Irish and Israeli startup scenes, their relative strengths and where they might mutually reinforce each other.


What was the reason for your trip to Israel in September?

My trip to Tel Aviv, as part of the official Irish delegation to the DLD Innovation Festival, was my fourth business trip to Israel in the last 12 months. I travel frequently to Israel to raise the profile of Ireland as a destination for Israeli hi tech investment.


What’s your own background?

I am the only lawyer qualified to practice in both Ireland and Israel, running Ireland’s only dedicated Israel legal desk with Philip Lee. Knowing the culture and having fluency in Hebrew puts us in the unique position of understanding both jurisdictions.


How would you describe the Israeli startup scene?

Every time I’m in Israel I’m taken aback by the palpable excitement of the place – the youngsters churning out cutting edge innovation at every turn, the breakneck pace and sheer audacity of the local business culture – the Startup Nation, as it likes to be known, has a tech and R+D ecosystem unlike any other. Tel Aviv, in particular, is a city apart. Somehow it manages to offer the thrill of a thriving, chaotic and ultra-modern international business hub that never sleeps with a laid-back, beach bar vibe and a famously hedonistic nightlife. It is a very special place.


What do Ireland and Israel have in common?

What strikes me most is the synergy between both countries and the existing overlap between the companies that already operate in both countries – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Teva, Amdocs etc. There are many reasons why the tech superpowers of the world have particularly chosen Ireland and Israel, ahead of others, for investment. My passion is to promote the advantages of bilateral investment in Ireland and Israel further and to make it a reality for SMBs as well.


What insights do you have from visiting and comparing Ireland and Israel?

As for relevant takeways for Ireland from our trip, I think these fall into two categories: lessons for the Irish startup ecosystem and Ireland as a scale-up destination.

  1. Lessons for the Irish startup ecosystem:
  • Information sharing and collaboration have been the key ingredients of the Israeli start-up miracle: thousands of startups working in close physical proximity to one another, often in co-working spaces, feeding off each other’s ideas and innovations. This is particularly effective in a small country such as Israel (and Ireland), where everyone seems to know one another. Dublin needs far more low cost co-working spaces and entrepreneur networking groups to facilitate the vibrant sharing of information we witnessed in Tel Aviv.


  • Access to information on startups and founders: one of the standout examples of recent collaboration between Ireland and Israel has culminated in the Startup Commissioner’s TechIreland database of Irish startups – inspired by Israel’s Start-Up Nation Central, a non-profit organisation dedicated to connecting companies and countries to the people and technologies in Israel that solve their most pressing challenges.


  • Access to key individuals: foreign visitors to Israel are often surprised by how accessible key figures in the Israeli tech scene are to regular entrepreneurs. The merit-based culture of directness and informality means that important investors, opinion leaders, mentors and successful entrepreneurs are always accessible for promising Israeli startups.


  1. Ireland as a scale-up destination
  • Israel is considered as one of the world’s most innovative economies, with a startup ecosystem that is second only to Silicon Valley. While Ireland could do more to learn from Israel’s experience, its true advantage lies not in trying to emulate Israel but in its potential as a scale-up destination for innovative Israeli companies.


  • Israeli tech companies are world leaders in innovation and R+D, but they are not so good when it comes to scaling up internationally. Traditionally, Israeli companies have focused overwhelmingly on their products or services, often looking to sell their IP and exit for huge sums at the earliest opportunity. There are many reasons for this exit-driven market, but recent trends make it clear that, as the Israeli tech scene matures, there is a growing appetite for building large, multinational companies – something which is still very difficult to do from within Israel. We are witnessing a new breed of well-funded, courageous entrepreneurs that are constantly looking out for new international locations from which to expand their operations into European and North American markets.


  • This is precisely where Ireland comes into its own – as a gateway to the large European and North American consumer markets either side of it. When considering where to base their international headquarters, Israeli companies consider the strength of the Irish talent pool and, in particular, the multilingual skills available here; the fact that it might soon be the only English-speaking country left in the EU; the use of the Euro and Ireland’s geographic proximity to both the European and North American continents; and Ireland’s general ease of business and favourable tax regimes.


  • Ireland has a number of distinct advantages for Israelis looking to scale-up – particularly tech companies looking to set up multilingual sales, marketing and admin operations.


  • To date, Israeli tech investments in Ireland have mainly come via acquisitions of Irish companies – e.g., the recent acquisition of Brite:Bill by Israeli giant Amdocs. As Israeli companies continue to grow internationally, we expect to see future investments come by way of establishing European HQs and undertaking R+D in Ireland. And as we have seen in the case of the large US multinationals – they may come here for sales and marketing, but end up undertaking R+D as well. Further ahead, we expect to see Israeli companies that are scaling internationally from Israel using Ireland as a pivot or base to grow into Europe and to North America.


  • The UK has long been the most favoured destination for Israeli companies looking to expand in Europe. In 2014, there were more Israeli companies listed on the London Stock Exchange than from any other foreign country and it is estimated that there are currently over 70 Israeli companies already operating in the UK. With the ongoing uncertainty over Britain’s future, Ireland’s value proposition to internationalising Israeli companies has become even more significant, particularly in attracting Israeli fintech companies already feeling the chill from potential curbs on European financial “passporting” regulations following Brexit.


Mattan Lass