Bonding over cyber cooperation and foreign exchange, Singapore and Israel have found new grounds in Tech trade. While, Israel has acquired the reputation of being the startup hub, Singapore poses as the ideal gate into the Southeast Asian market. Or so says, IZMUS which pledges to act as a bridge between both.
In a conversation with Techseen, Rabea Bader, Co-Founder and CEO, IZMUS, shares how IZMUS is poised to bring Israeli startups the right funding and investor relations it needs by acting as as a funnel into Singapore. He also talked about why Israelis are trading carefully towards India and China. Excerpts:
Techseen: Comment on Asia’s startup ecosystem? Where do you position Singapore and how instrumental do you thick IZMUS is in bringing Israeli tech into Asia? Do you not see potential in India or China?
: Asia has the most diverse ecosystem to start with. Southeast Asia is growing fast and Singapore is easily the tech hub of Asia. We have chosen to start from here because countries look at Singapore as a role model. This is based on a lot of research from our side. It has the potential to act like a launchpad because firstly, it is an English speaking country and secondly, it is very law abiding. Israelis have been looking a long time to emerge in the space of tech innovation. The key players are still from the United States and Europe and we are not trying to change that but we want to offer a different place to try and bring their products. Israeli startups focus on globalization from day zero and we, at IZMUS help them come to Singapore and help them realize the same.
I feel Israeli tech has a lot of problem penetrating in Indonesian and the Malaysian market. That is why they need support and rebranding from Singapore to expand its reach into Indonesia and Malaysia.
We see a lot of potential in India, China and Indonesia. And we are looking at India and China but Israelis are treading carefully towards China. A lot companies have been scammed by China and that’s the reason they’re even sacred to take money from Chinese investors.
Techseen: Who is the brain behind the team at IZMUS in picking up startups and what kind of startups does IZMUS focus on? Is there any criteria you follow before pitching a startup? Any promising startup on the enterprise front?
: Before we decide to go with one, we take great care in doing a background check. We have a team in Israel that keeps a check on all the developing Israeli technology. There are certain focus areas and criteria that we have shaped to look into. These sectors include cyber-security, digital health and financial technology which was added recently and our Israel-based experts, entrepreneurs and investment bankers who are picking the best picks from these areas. We dig and when we find good technology we bring them to companies, corporations or government organization in Singapore. We ask them if they would like to meet the startups and at the same time we are actually looking at the needs of the startups in Singapore.
What I do in Singapore is talk to investors and VCs, government organizations and we work very closely to find them the suitable startups they are looking for. Our team comprises of advisors and a core team. Lior Nevo, CTO at IZMUS is the man behind the brains that works in picking the tech houses. He was formerly an officer at Unit 8200, a part of IDF and brings in knowledge about deep technology in cyber-security. And in Israel, most of the entrepreneurs come out of this domain. He is the one who verifies and certifies innovations from different labs in Israel. We also deal with medical technology and are introducing a few like MedAware
which is an app that check if the doctor prescribed medicines are suitable for the patient. We have asked Ministry of Health (MOH
) in Singapore to verify it too. And we have different supervisors to track that.
On the enterprise front there is a promising cyber-security startup named, Communitake
and we are almost closing a deal for it. It is designed for mobile security and has never been hacked yet. Of course we know that will always be a smarter someone but many government agencies in Mexico and South America are already using it. It also ease the process of call back for communication companies that provide tech support and has vendors like Samsung, HTC and Apple.
Techseen: How does IZMUS work in getting the right investor relation for a tech house? Does it help startups raise funds? And what are the challenges IZMUS face in doing so, do you notice any difference in the work culture?
: It’s the question of each startup I talk to. They, Israeli companies, tell me that they’re not only looking at money. Lots of investors from around the world are bringing money to Israel including Indonesia which invested around $400 billion dollars in Israeli startups, while in the public eye it is considered not to be very friendly with Israel. What we try to do is get strategic investors. We look for companies, VCs and corporations that can take the startup and take it to the next level. The ones that can help penetrate the markets across Southeast Asia. We pledge not just money but value and we do that by a lot of research that we carry out.
We scrutinize our probable investors by looking at their last investments and investing records. We also look if and why the investment failed or worked. We speak to the startups that were funded by the investors and try to gauge the relationship that was established. We are not an incubator but we wish to be the bridge between the tech that we support and the investors we bring on board. We help tech teams raise funds and build their product in Singapore from strategic investors and reach the most of the Southeast Asia audience.
The work culture between both is very different and we face a lot of challenges. Our first challenge was getting the startups and investors to trust us.
It was difficult because many startups confuse Singapore to be in China and many ask about Kuala Lumpur. But it is getting better especially after the Singaporean Prime Minister visited Israel to cement relationships between both.
The second challenge has graduated from the first challenge where are people in Israel are mostly unaware of the opportunities Singapore has to offer. That is why my Singaporean partner Joy Phua, Co-founder and CEO at IZMUS is based in Israel and I, an Israeli taken care of the operation in Singapore to offer our partners the information that evolves from this exchange. I feel this way, she can explain better from her point of view about the startup ecosystem in Singapore and vice-versa.
Another challenge that looms is the culture difference. In Israel we have very different work culture.
We believe in direct and fair dealings and it is not exactly the same in Singapore. For instance, we are often misunderstood to be rude and impolite because of the way we talk and conduct ourselves irrespective of who we are talking to and his/her designation. But in Singapore a mail will always start with, ‘May I please’.
So that’s a difference we are trying to bridge. We train entrepreneurs from Israel in learning more about Singapore and once they come here we also have session with Industrialists based in Singapore to grasp how their graph has been. We are trying to match both the eyes.
Techseen: Earlier in May, IZMUS signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with Infocomm Investments (IIPPL). How do you see it shaping? Is it poised to benefit Israeli startups in expanding their reach into Southeast Asia market?
: It is both helping Israeli and Singaporean startups. It is with the help of IIPL which provides the startups with a background information as well as introductions to investors who might be interested. Infocomm Investment also helps in offering an exchange program that host startups from all around the world like Taiwan and South Korea and with his year we will get Israeli startups on board. We will help them ease their access into Southeast Asian market where they’ll be able to meet the key people from the industry, recruiters, consultants and investors. It will also help Singaporean startups. We are launching a database soon which will map all the Israeli startups, which count to be more than 5,000. Similarly investors will also have access to the database where they can go check interesting innovations. This is basically our collaboration to foster smart city initiative. We are only in our eighth month after launching in February this year but that doesn’t deter the work we do. In fact it is only the beginning of a long way.
Techseen: Many argue that there is not much innovation happening in Southeast Asia in the startup space and that it is a copy paste job from the West. What is your take on it?
: Absolutely. Both India and China have a reputation to copy.
I mean they bring the startup, they study the startup and start a similar startup. Israelis are a lot scared about that. Maybe if the IP protection laws are strengthened in the countries, Israelis will be open for business. But is relatively stronger in Singapore that is why we chose to start here.
But I think the startups we are bringing are very hard to copy because they’re not products but deep technology based services. These are solutions and not gimmicks! Like MedAware uses a well-sought algorithm that is built on 5 years of R&D. And if someone wants to copycat it, they’ll need at least 10 years before they put pen to paper. Even Dyadic, another cyber-secutiy startup that helps with verification in financial institutions. And makes sure the person is, who he says, he is. It is also backed by 10 years of research. No matter how much one tries, these guys will always have the original advantage.
Techseen: Aviv has found itself to be the research division of so many tech startups. Do you think Investment market is scarce in Israel?
: People say that investment scenario in Israel is seeing a low but I’m not sure if that’s a fact. I certainly believe otherwise. The figures say that every year Israel is breaking new records in terms of investment from all over the world. Last year alone, excluding the IPOs, exits and investment counted $9.6 billion for Israel. The major investor was still US followed by Europe. Even China and Alibaba invested a lot of money by setting up a mutual fund last year in Israel. And we will see a lot more because the technology is deep and innovative.
Techseen: Is there any blueprint, you envision for IZMUS’ future prospects?
: Currently, we trying everything we can in building a strong bridge between Southeast Asia and Israel via Singapore. Although we are treading very carefully, we are also thinking of expanding our horizons into China and India, the biggest markets in the world. At the end of the day, we want the access to big markets. We are planning to do so starting with Singapore and then gradually broadening to Southeast Asia and the all of the Asia. We are here to make transactions faster, digitized and automated. We have already mapped the startups and investors in Israel in connecting them and notifying them about the business opportunities that can be unlocked.