Schools, Proximity Bring Israeli Companies

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From left: Israel Shamay, head of Americas operations at Israel Innovation Authority; Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority; Vered Nohi, executive director at the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; and Inon Elroy, economic minister to North America | Photos provided

When David Adi was deciding on an American city in which to open a subsidiary of his company, he picked Philadelphia.

He said Philadelphia offered good schools for families, affordability and proximity to cities like New York City and Washington, D.C. The quantity and quality of universities and colleges in the area also provided a large pool to draw employees from, making it easier to hire locally.

“For me, it’s a good community to be in,” said Adi, the founder and CEO of Make-Sense, an Israeli tech company that makes websites accessible for those with disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing loss and neurological disorders.


David Adi

Adi isn’t the only Israeli who’s expanded locally. Because of the size of the country, Israeli companies have to go global to grow. Increasingly, Philadelphia is the city Israeli entrepreneurs want to do that in, said Vered Nohi, executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (PICC).

Adi has a hearing disability, which inspired him to start his company in 2016. Make-Sense remains based in Israel, and most of its customers are still there. Because of the potential for growth in the American market, though, Adi decided to move to Philadelphia when he opened the subsidiary here.

“I came here to focus on the American market, because that will be the largest market in the end,” he said. “That’s the main reason I decided to move to the United States and start a business here.”

Adi has also opened offices in Connecticut and is interested in possibly opening offices on the West Coast as well, though Philadelphia would still serve as Make-Sense’s American base.

MobileODT, an Israeli company that creates smart colposcopy and visual assessment options for women’s health clinicians, also has a Philadelphia presence through its medical director, Jonah Mink, who’s originally from New York and lives here now. Mink first got involved with MobileODT while living in Tel Aviv in 2013. He was impressed by its founders and interested in using his medical knowledge to make a socially- mindful impact.

Jonah Mink

Soon after, he moved to Philadelphia to continue his medical training, and he continued to stay involved with MobileODT. In addition to him, the tech company also has a salesperson based here.

“The connections to the health systems and access to target markets, the specialists that we’re involved with in the Philadelphia area … just by the density of the area, the medical establishment here has been very, very helpful,” Mink said.

Adi and Mink will both speak at a PICC event called “Startup Nation in Philly — The Local Innovation Story” May 2 at MAKE Offices. The event will address innovation in Israel during Philly Tech Week.

Nohi said technology does well in Israel because of a confluence of several cultural elements. This includes the high education level of its workforce and a culture that encourages teamwork and problem-solving.

“Another part of the culture is hunger,” Nohi said. “There is a culture of competitiveness, a hunger to succeed, a culture of immigrants. If you want to succeed, you have to be basically hungry for it. You have to put the extra mile, the effort, to innovate and to have your company succeed.”

Military enrollment also helps. While serving in the Israel Defense Forces, young Israelis learn leadership skills, teamwork and how to make quick decisions. The military has been a source of innovation for the country.

“When one of those young soldiers completes their service, they’re ready to lead teams that can innovate,” Nohi said. “The other thing in Israel is that it’s OK for a young, talented individual to propose a different route or solution among her or his peers, which traditionally is not the way to go in corporate America or other countries.”

Israeli culture has a mentality that it’s OK to fail, and investors like entrepreneurs who have failed before and have learned from their mistakes.

Finally, Nohi said, the Israeli government is supportive of innovation. This happens through the work of the Innovation Authority, which supports new companies through funding.

In general, Israel is one of the top countries in the world for entrepreneurs to seek out investment.

There’s somewhat of a herd mentality in Israel, Nohi said, which means that when one person hears of another’s success, they want to replicate it. For this reason, if one company moves to Philadelphia and does well, other companies follow in those footsteps. This has brought many Israeli companies to the area, and Nohi said she believes it will continue to progress this way.

With more than 100 research institutions and universities in the area, tech companies, especially those in life sciences, food, communication and e-commerce, get a lot out of having a local presence. It’s also a great location for supply chain logistics.

“[Israelis] hear that Philadelphia is not a place just to stop and visit,” Nohi said. “There’s entrepreneurship here, and there are opportunities here, and you don’t necessarily have to be in New York to be successful. The ecosystem here supports innovation, and it’s significantly more economical to be here compared to New York or Boston or San Francisco.”

In November, Israel and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania signed a memorandum of understanding supporting joint ventures. Nohi said this represents the growing business ties between the two places, as well as a recognition by both Israel and Pennsylvania of the economic impact of collaboration.

“The interest is evident,” Nohi said. “The understanding that there is great potential for economic growth is evident. The priority from both parties, from Israel and Pennsylvania, is phenomenal so, yes, definitely, we foresee growing the commercial ties.” 

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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