DELEGATION TO ISRAEL – “Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays and Haifa works.”

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Last month the Gibraltar-Israel Chamber of Commerce (Gibrael) led the first ever business delegation from Gibraltar to Israel.

We caught up with Eran Shay and Ayelet Mamo Shay who head Gibrael to find out how this historic trade mission went:

A business delegation to Israel. How has this idea came about?

“Well, after 20 business delegations which we brought over from Israel to Gibraltar and 15 business events over the past year and a half, we thought it was about time that we take a business delegation the other way round… to Israel”, says Ayelet.

What sort of people participated in the delegation? Any particular sector?

“The delegation was quite well diversified” says Eran; “although predominantly finance-sector related, the delegation also included a delegate from the maritime sector. There were representatives from two leading banks, two leading law-firms, a couple of asset managers as well as from trust and accountancy firms”. “Also, demographically it was rather mixed”, adds Ayelet, detailing that there were four women and nine men, both Jewish and non-Jewish, some of which have visited Israel many times before, yet still were very eager to come on the delegation.

What was the objective of the delegation?

“Like on any other business delegation, the key objective for participants is to find mutual business opportunities and expand the network of contacts”, explains Eran. “but this time. the delegation also focused on finding out what made Israel the StartUp Nation; how it has become such a HiTech Powerhouse, and what lessons can Gibraltar learn from this relatively small and young state”.

What was the itinerary like?

“Very intensive” laughs Ayelet. “We hardly gave them any time to relax… It was full of action from eight in the morning to ten at night”. The three days itinerary was split one day in Tel Aviv, one day in Jerusalem and one day in Haifa. There is a saying in Israel that “Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays and Haifa works”, the delegation got a taste of the three.

What type of HiTech activity did they see?

“There was plenty of HiTech focus” says Eran. In Tel Aviv, the delegation visited WeWork co-working space, one of the world’s most successful nesting grounds for evolving startups, where they have met with entrepreneurs and experienced the sense of community the place has, which differentiates it from so many other co-working spaces”. “The place is oozing with innovation” adds Ayelet, “from the unusual shape of the boardroom table to the Star-Trek Transporter-like toilets”. The delegation also participated in the Tel Aviv FinTech Conference which took place that week at the Barclays Bank Accelerator, listening to leading innovators and investors talking about future trends in the market and various challenges.

“In Jerusalem, the delegation visited JVP StartUp Incubator and Venture Capital fund – one of Israel’s pioneering HiTech funds – which has already taken 32 companies from StartUp level to IPO on the world’s leading capital markets, and attracted investments of over $1.1 billion.

In Haifa, the delegation was rewarded with an exclusive tour inside Intel’s research labs, where the next generation computer chip processors are being developed and tested. Set in a HiTech Park, surrounded by Research & Development centres of top global names such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, FaceBook and more, Intel is one of Israel’s biggest employers, providing jobs for about 30,000 people”, explains Eran. “From there, we took the delegation to Israel’s (and one of the world’s) most prestigious technology institution – the Technion”. “The Technion is a global example of how investment in education, skills, and brainpower can shape, create, and empower a nation” explains Ayelet. In the last 15 years alone, the Technion has produced four Noble Prize Winners in Chemistry. It is a place where people, from as young as high school age, are taught to become innovators, think outside the box and research solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.”

What has been the highlight of the visit?

“First and foremost, I must say that the bonding and friendship that was formed amongst all the delegates, has in itself made the visit so enjoyable”, says Ayelet. “But for me, for sure, the highlight of the delegation was the visit to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, where the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset congratulated and welcomed the delegation publicly on the plenary, where many Members of Parliament were present in a live parliamentary session. Besides the UK, I don’t think Gibraltar has ever been honoured in such a way by any other Parliament in the world. For me, this is a truly unforgettable experience.”

“The Gala Reception evening was another highlight”, adds Eran. We have teamed up with the Israeli Ministry of Economy and invited over 100 of the top business people, innovators and HNWIs in Israel to meet the delegates. This was a super-networking event and a very productive one for our delegates. It has firmly positioned Gibraltar in the Israeli business circles”.

Was there any time for some sightseeing?

“We managed to take the delegates to see the Old City in Jerusalem”, tells Eran. “It is a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims share their most holy places of worship in the world, be it the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall and the Church of the Sepulchre. I think no matter what religion you are, standing there and looking over the Temple Mount, you get a spiritual uplift like in no other place in the world”.

“We also took the delegates on a wine tasting experience”, adds Ayelet,” in one of Israel’s oldest vineyards, near the Baron Rothschild town of Zichron Yaacov, the Israel equivalent of the famous Tuscany region in Italy”.

What has been the feedback you got from the delegates?

“We have had some amazing feedback from all delegates”, tells Ayelet. “For many, this visit was a complete eye-opener, not only in relation to the StartUp scene but also in relation to how Israel is viewed in general. The world media likes to portray Israel in not a very favourable manner and delegates have told us how they found Israel to be completely different from what they imagined it to be like. They felt completely safe and in a very open and welcoming environment. One delegate even told us openly that these three days were amongst the best days of his life… I was really touched”, says Ayelet.

Selwyn Figueras, Head of Business Development for ISOLAS, formed part of the delegation. He explained that “Gibraltar and Israel have much in common. We are both small countries, we don’t have particularly friendly neighbours but we both just get on with living our lives and doing very well from it. Our workforces are very well educated – Israel’s because of its great universities and the military and national service, and ours because we invest such a significant amount of our annual public expense in sending our children away to UK universities. Gibraltar is home to the second largest Jewish community by number of population per Jewish person outside Israel.”

He continued by saying that “during these few days in Israel, we have met with some truly great ambassadors of Israel’s drive and ambition, as well as its humanity. We had the opportunity of spending time with officials from the Ministries for foreign affairs and of the economy, our only regret being that we didn’t have the luxury of spending many more hours talking about the various subjects and putting the world to rights. The week-long visit has illustrated for us the significant opportunity that an approximation of business ties between Gibraltar and Israel can engender. I believe that Gibraltar represents a real opportunity for Israel by becoming a jurisdiction that complements, as opposed to competes, with the innovation eco-system that exists there. The possibilities Gibraltar offers as a jurisdiction where the regulation of fintech business will become a reality, one hopes, in very short order, allied to our competitiveness in speed to market and cost efficiency will, I think, make for a compelling business case for many Israeli startups. Throw our relationship with and access to the UK that we have and will continue to retain, post-Brexit, into the mix and you start to hear a powerful message, one which we have been making loud and clear during our time there.”

Joanna Martinez, Senior Private Banker for SG Hambros Bank said; “It was a great pleasure to form part of the first business delegation to travel to Israel.  The existing good relationship with the Jewish Community locally, and possibility of building and enhancing mutual business opportunities with entrepreneurs in Israel was the driver of attending this delegation. The experience exceeded my expectations and was not only successful in growing my network of business partners but extremely educational.”

Daniel Rudich, Director at Hassans Law Firm added: “Although Hassans has extensive experience with Israeli clients having set up the overwhelming majority of the Israeli business operations in Gibraltar, this trip was an eye-opener to a totally new segment of Israeli high-tech start-ups. It was a valuable trip and experience. Worth repeating!”

Benji Hassan, Finsbury Trust told us: “It was inspiring to uncover how this beautiful, young country of 7.1 million, with many resources going into state security has resourcefully demonstrated that ‘knowledge’ is the key to success. The established and young entrepreneurs explained that there is no fear of failure, in fact, they perceive this to be an asset with investors choosing start-ups whose founders have learnt from these experiences. Those success stories with whom we had the privilege to meet, gave clear accounts of the evolution from identifying a need to developing a product to bring to market. The Israeli Hi-Tech sector is a fascinating one. Our lives in modern society are dependent on these technologies, many of which are being generated at the R & D Centers that we visited. There is no doubt in my mind that the commercial relationship between our two countries will continue to evolve with Gibraltar offering products and solutions that promote the success for us all”.

Richard W De La Rosa from Astralship Corp Ltd represented the only maritime-related company to visit Israel as part of this delegation. “Our aim was to focus on the few shipping companies in Israel and provide them with support with ship brokerage and ship agency services. What was very evident during our intensive three day visit, is that there are numerous opportunities to be harvested and supported within the wider scope of maritime services. I am already looking forward to returning either later this year or early 2018.”

Ashish Gianani from Atlantic Capital Ltd said: “The Lonely Planet guide starts with ‘Nowhere on earth stirs up passion quite the way Israel does.’ But this was a business delegation made up of lawyers, bankers, company managers, accountants and shipping professionals. The agenda was packed with back to back meetings with start-up incubators, innovation centres, government departments, large multinationals and universities. Three days to get our heads around a culture developed over 3,000 years and share the advantages of doing business with our small yet appealing peninsula on the southern tip of Europe! After those three days and visiting the three biggest cities, it has been a truly mind opening experience to learn from the innovation and enterprise that thrives in every citizen to develop Israel into a startup nation. Thanks to the impeccable organisation by Ayelet and Eran, it has been a treat to experience the natural beauty of its landscape, mouth-watering tastes of its dishes and the warm hospitality of its residents. Even when the delegation, proudly wearing our little flag badges of red and white, waved good bye with the words “Shalom” and “L’hitraot” – one thought came to mind ‘Nowhere on earth stirs up passion quite the way Israel does.’”

Finally, any future plans for more delegations to Israel?

“Of course”, says Ayelet; “we are already planning the next delegation for later this year, around late October – early November, and already have over ten people who told us they are definitely coming with us on this next delegation. Given that we like to keep the size of the delegation to roughly 15 people, I would say to anyone who is interested to hurry up and contact us now, or else they may miss out on their place. I would also like to mention the new Gibrael Membership Cards that we have recently launched, unlocking a multitude of benefits and discounts for members both in Gibraltar and in Israel”.

Further details can be found on www.gibrael.org or via email info@gibrael.org.