BT shows it’s good to talk as it hosts 19 Israeli high-tech firms

By Shelly Paz, June 12, 2008

British Telecom’s warm hospitality towards 19 Israeli startup companies, on show this week at the BT Tower in Central London, may not signal a sudden end to the anti-Israel sentiment that the ambassador this week bemoaned in Britain.

But it does suggest that the UK telecoms giant has discovered the goldmine of Israeli high-tech.

Six months ago, the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour invited BT to launch a direct business channel between the two communities.

This week, during a flying visit of Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs to London, they had a chance to get to know each other.

“The relationship with Israel is good for BT because it means making money,” Ian Livingston, BT’s newly appointed chief executive told the guests on Tuesday evening, prior to an Israeli Innovation Day held on Wednesday. “It is not just Israel as a partner for innovation, but as a partner for business.”

His predecessor, Ben Verwaayen, said he could not help falling in love with Israeli high-tech while visiting the country in 2006. Two weeks after he stepped down as chief executive, his dream is starting to take shape.

During a dinner that was held at the restaurant at the top of the BT Tower, both the British and the Israeli businessmen — and notably fewer businesswomen — discovered that they have at least two things in common: they aim to make money, and be at the forefront of the world’s high-tech industries, regardless of their political beliefs.

“Three goals guided us while planning the first Israeli Innovation Day: to open British eyes to the Israeli market, to open the door for the Israeli startup companies, and to establish a relationship between the two communities,” said Gil Erez, minister of commercial affairs at the Israeli embassy in London.

Matt Bross, BT Group chief technology officer, an enthusiastic American supporter of the Israeli high-tech industry, pointed out to BT’s headhunters that, “during 2007 alone, there were 400 new startups in Israel, more than in any European country”.

When the Israeli entrepreneurs were asked by the JC why they bothered with a country in which there is constant criticism of Israel, they just smiled and talked of the opportunities. “Of course, our software is already in the American market,” said Alon Levitan, a marketing manager for Intercast Networks. “The UK is another market, and an interesting one because of the great amount of legal [TV] content one can find while surfing the internet.”

Mr Levitan represents a company which makes the downloading of TV shows and movies easier and more accessible. “Our being here, showing what we have got to offer and making business change its wrong and mistaken concepts about Israel, helps a lot more than avoiding the British market,” added Gideon Drori, CEO of another young company, Tjat Systems.

Tal Baron, director of London-based Pontis, which offers focused marketing, said: “Anti-Israel criticism is not noticeable among the business community here — and even if it is present, it doesn’t affect the deal.”

Last updated: 10:57am, June 12 2008