The Arizona Israel Technology Alliance and the Arizona Technology Council will lead a state contingent of business people and investors on a trip to Israel this October.
It’s just one of the ways AITA, launched in February by its CEO and president, Leib Bolel, is working to promote economic and technological exchanges between the two desert regions.
Arizona is home to a rich ecosystem of companies clustered around specific technological sectors, or “verticals,” as Bolel prefers to call them.
AITA targets companies in verticals such as autonomous vehicles, agricultural technologies, financial technology and cybersecurity, just to name a few.
“When companies are looking to come to the U.S., traditionally they’re going to the Bay Area or they’re going to New York or Boston,” Bolel said. “There are just some really good synergies on the tech, infrastructure and cost side to be able to do business here, whether it’s just trading or whether it’s going to be actually landing here.”
Bolel, who competes in Ironman triathlons in his spare time, was born and raised in the United Kingdom. He moved to Israel in 2006 and then moved to Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011.
While there, he served as rabbi for Beth El Jacob Synagogue as he completed his Masters in Business Administration degree from Walden University’s online program. He also co-founded Glimpse, a social activism platform helping connect nonprofits and donors.
Bolel and the company moved to the Valley in 2016 for many of the same reasons he now uses to entice Israeli firms.
Rick Stoddard is a partner in Coplex, a startup accelerator and AITA member, and is considering participating in the trip to Israel.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for a delegation to actually go there and learn more about what the opportunity is, not only for Arizona, but also for Israel,” Stoddard said.
Steven G. Zylstra, president and CEO of AZTC, is hoping to participate in the upcoming joint-trip trip as well. Bolel was working for Glimpse when he first met Zylstra.
“We developed a nice professional relationship and would continue meeting from time to time on some of the initiatives he was involved in,” Zylstra said. “Then, he started talking to me about this idea to give Arizona more exposure to the tremendous startup ecosystem that exists in Israel.”
Zylstra helped Bolel with advice and contacts, introducing him to people such as Bruce Wright, the associate vice president of the University of Arizona’s tech parks, including the UA Tech Park at the Bridges in Tucson. He is also a promoter of increased ties between the regions.
“The next idea he came up with was to do this trade mission,” Zylstra said. “We’re promoting that to our members and to our partners and, again, that’s an opportunity to create these connections between Arizona companies and Israeli companies, as well as potential entrepreneurs, investors and innovators.”
In addition to educating Arizonans about Israel, Bolel intends to expose more Israeli firms to the benefits of doing business in Arizona.
In particular, Bolel pointed to a law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March that allows operations in the fintech industry, such as blockchain technologies for cryptocurrencies, to test products for up to two years on as many as 10,000 customers without having to obtain a formal license.
“The fintech sandbox makes it easy for innovative financial technology companies to test out new platforms,” Bolel said. “Other states are starting to copy it, but we are the first. The culture here is one of deregulation and innovation, which is really championed by our governor.”
Bolel also points to the Valley’s low costs relative to other urban centers and the state’s healthy supply of engineers and other skilled workers as reasons Israeli companies are interested in expanding into Arizona.
“We have a strong pool from the universities that are both economical and sustainable to keep,” Bolel said. “We’re working with a company now in California that spends around $100,000 on an engineer. They have them for nine months and then they are poached by competitors. In some cases, the employees are even parking in the same spot.”
AITA has hosted a number of delegations from Israel as well.
“We’ve got a whole pipeline of companies now visiting here,” Bolel said. “You could say that there’s never been a better business climate for the state of Arizona and Israel. That’s what we’re seeing; more companies and more investors reaching out.” JN
To find out more about the October trip to Israel, visit arizonaisrael.com.