An Interview with Elinor Honigstein, UK Israel Tech Hub
Building the Future of UK-Israeli Tech Relations
As part of our #100israelistartups initiative, 2Scots was lucky enough to sit down recently with Elinor Honigstein, who heads up the UK Office at the UK Israel Tech Hub, a British Government venture based between the UK and the British Embassy in Israel responsible for building tech partnerships between Israeli innovation and British businesses.
Elinor has spent the last decade building communities and strategic partnerships around companies missions, products and services Passionate about driving measurable change in the space of gender diversity and tech, she regularly facilitates #IamRemarkable workshops, Google’s initiative to empower women & underrepresented groups to speak openly about their accomplishments, and has also recently been part of the United Nations Women delegation. She completed an Impact Investing and Social Innovation course at Haifa university and advises tech corporates and startups on integrating social impact into their culture and services.
"Elinor, many thanks for agreeing to talk to us about all the great initiatives you are involved in. First, can you tell us. what are the core benefits of the Tech Hub for Israeli startups? What makes the Hub unique?"
The UK Israel Tech Hub was founded by the UK Government to promote tech partnerships between UK businesses and Israeli innovation. With offices in Tel Aviv and London, our mission is two-fold: on the one hand, we assist British businesses in growing and gaining competitive advantage by leveraging Israeli tech, and on the other hand, we help Israeli companies expand internationally via the UK. We work across different sectors, those where we identify unique synergies between the two countries. Currently, these include Healthcare, Fintech, Cleantech and EdTech. Our corporate partners in each sector include Tesco, NatWest, Saga, Boots, AstraZeneca, among others. In addition to our commercial work, we also lead strategic initiatives and projects that are in line with the government's agenda of creating an inclusive society and addressing climate change. Toward this end, we launched the UK-IL Climate Change forum, the UK-IL Women Leading Innovation, and working to promote the Arab Sector in tech in Israel.
As far as results are concerned, we have clear KPIs and metrics to measure our impact. A primary one is the number of different partnerships that we initiate and facilitate including joint ventures, research and development collaborations, clinical trials. During the past decade, we have helped facilitate over 200 partnerships, valued at over 100 million pounds, that have generated around 1 billion pounds in economic value for the UK.
What makes the Hub unique and why I love working in this organisation is its driving spirit of collaboration. As we know, innovation is not just about building new products, but also about finding the right partner. We act as a trusted advisor to both sides to build those relationships. Based in London, I oversee our UK partners while the team’s innovation managers, based in Israel, have strong ties to the Israeli ecosystem and deep understanding of the UK industry. By working together, we are able to match UK businesses' needs with the robust and relevant technology offerings coming out of Israel and nurture those relationships.
There is sometimes a feeling in Israel that the US should be the first market destination for growth. What would you say to Israeli founders about the opportunities in the UK?
From day one, most Israeli startups set themselves up for the global market. Since they often aspire to expand to strong economies within the English-speaking world, many start with the US as it is considered to be the biggest and most accessible market globally. It is, after all, where Silicon Valley is and where the majority of the money is. There are, however, several advantages of expanding your business to the UK first.
For starters, the UK is much closer to Israel than the US, and travel within the country is relatively easy as the distances are shorter, compared to the US. This makes a big difference to day-to-day life.
As we look at a more complex issue -taxation- in the US, every state has its own laws and taxes, so starting businesses and moving to new states is more challenging. The laws and tax system in Britain, aside from a few minor variations for Scotland and Northern Ireland, is the same everywhere.
In addition, if a startup is looking for investment into its business, the UK has a lot of Angel investors and Venture Capital firms that are encouraged by very generous tax savings (EIS and SEIS).
Last but not least, setting up a UK company is very straightforward, and there is a great deal of free help available. For example, the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT) helps foreign companies setting up shop in the country. The Hub is another example of a government-led initiative whose primary goal is to build bridges between Israeli startups and British corporates and investors.
I guess that if an Israeli startup really has their eyes set on the US, they may find an easier route by starting in the UK first and expanding from there. This way, they would have gained the experience of expanding internationally in one of the easiest global markets and are likely to have gained high visibility from Americans looking for merger & acquisition opportunities – as the UK is usually the first place they would look.
You clearly engage with many Israeli & UK businesses. What are the cultural differences between the two sides?
It is the cultural differences between the Israeli startup and the British corporate cultures that I witness up close very often. At the Hub, we have our eyes and ears open in both ecosystems and observe how the Israeli startup culture is always-on, fast-paced and very (sometimes too) direct, whereas the British corporate culture is often slower, more receptive to softer sales techniques, with limited bandwidth.
Our goal is to act as a bridge builder between these two influential elements and make sure that, on the one hand, startups plan ahead by considering the time it may take to get a response, communicate a clear value proposition, and prepare for meetings. Meanwhile, we ask the British side to select decision makers for those startup meetings who can ask the right questions and speed up the process. Additionally, we often find a key corporate contact to work with to make it as smooth interaction for the startups as possible as well as try and establish a clear timeline.
For Israeli startups looking to penetrate the UK market, what top tips can you give them?
As a first step, remember that different markets have different problems- do not assume they are the same. Do your homework and think about how your product can solve the challenges faced by British customers.
The second point to remember is that London is not the only place where you can set up your business. In some other regions, for example Scotland and Northern Ireland, businesses can take advantage of government incentives to set up and operate there.
Thirdly, the UK investment scene makes it relatively easy to start a business with a vibrant angel investment market for seed rounds thanks to tax relief schemes offered by the government - well worth learning about these schemes to attract more investors.
Lastly, understanding UK business culture is crucial. You should not underestimate the value of spending time with those who can help.
What has made you passionate about promoting female founders?
It is widely known that women hold fewer executive positions in technology, venture capital, or entrepreneurship (only 1 in 3 founders is female, after all) than man. For me, however, being able to translate the data and numbers into real stories by meeting with talented founders across the UK and Israel and listening to their challenges and successes- has made me passionate about taking action to level the playing field, rather than waiting for others to do so.
I have since become a qualified #IamRemarkable workshop facilitator, a Google initiative designed to encourage women (as well as interested men) to be more vocal about their achievements and promote inclusion in the workplace and beyond. So far, I have delivered workshops to over 150 people worldwide which has been incredibly rewarding; I am also a co-leader of the London Chapter of UPWARD, where I am able to connect and support executive women internationally;
As part of a virtual course I am taking at Haifa University on Social Innovation and Impact Investment, I am working on a project supporting a venture that promotes diversity in tech in Israel; and among the initiatives I am most proud to have launched is the UK-Israel Women Leading Innovation, which we established at the British Embassy in Israel to support women on both sides of the border in the form of business, networking, mentoring and investment opportunities. Utilising our unique position as a bridge between the UK and Israel and the knowledge, expertise, and talent in both countries - we have been able to connect, ease barriers, and expand access for women in innovation. Some of our specially curated events include: Expert Panels: Raising capital & opportunities- Public Sector, & Private Sector, Female Founders Office Hours with UK & Israeli VCs, and more.
What advice would you give to female founders who may be launching or thinking of launching their startup?
My main advice to women interested in starting their own technology business is to take full advantage of all those opportunities and initiatives out there designed to give them a head start.
We are seeing a growing number of diverse VCs and initiatives in the UK and Israel aiming to close these gaps and level the playing field for female founders. For example, Diversity VC, Playfair Capital, Ada Ventures, and others are championing female founder office hours and investments on the UK side.
Similarly, Israel has Yazamiot (the female entrepreneurs' community), Neome Investing Club, Women2Women, Women on Stage, She Codes, and many other groups. Such initiatives are great for building networks and visibility for women in the industry and for shining a spotlight on the value diversity brings to technology & business growth.
In terms of other pieces of advice that I would give female founders who are seeking to start their own tech businesses, they would be similar to those I would give to male founders. For women to succeed, they do not have to "work" on developing traits differently than men, such as their confidence or risk-taking abilities. Success involves learning the rules of the game, bringing together a diverse team of investors, developers, researchers to push for better and new ideas, and building your network- from VCs to corporates to community players.
What do you see as the hot sectors for Israeli-UK collaboration these days?
Healthtech: Israel has emerged as one of the world's leading life sciences powerhouses in recent years, ranking first in the world for medical device patents per capita and second in biopharmaceuticals. The country is also known for its high-quality scientific research institutions and is home to international companies such as Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and others. With these factors in place, and the fact that medical professionals and technologists have access to 100% anonymised electronic medical records in Israel- the ecosystem is well positioned to advance in the area of Digital Health. The large British market can greatly benefit from these data and solutions, and at the same time, offer attractive opportunities to innovative companies coming out of Israel. Focus areas are Wellness, Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring, Digital Apparel & Sensors, Medical Imagery and others.
Cyber security: Israel is a major force in cybersecurity innovation and development internationally, in part due to the army units that specialise in this field. As the world becomes increasingly digital across all industries, it is crucial for companies to know how to protect their customer and organisational data. Since the UK is amongst the most digitalised societies in the world, it is also at risk from cyber-attacks. As a result, the UK has the commercial demand for cyber security products, as we can see from the growing appetite for cyber security among the UK's financial services.
Therefore, connecting British corporations to Israeli cyber security companies can help to ensure that the UK is a safe place to live and do business online. The international collaboration also has the potential to advance the sector on a broader level, both technologically and in terms of information exchange.
Cleantech and Energy: The UK is a world leader in the utilisation of clean energy: from creation to distribution to usage, as evidenced by its leading role in the Green Industrial Revolution and RaceToZero. Israel also strives hard to cut down on the use of non-renewable energy, and it is a proving ground for innovation disruptors in cleantech. Specifically, strong solar energy solutions are thriving in Israel, seeking to develop utility solar projects at scale. Combining these two strong ecosystems - by enabling UK companies to tap into Israel's thriving innovation technology in areas such as autonomous ride services, EV charging, and home automation - can serve to strengthen both sides.
Which 5 words would best describe how British companies view Israeli startup founders?
Bold, relentless, direct, creative, and hardworking
Tell us about one cross-border collaboration you have overseen that you are most proud of?
In my work, I make sure to show both sides that there is a desire to cooperate, that the skills and abilities complement each other, and that the results can be beneficial. While reaping the rewards of my labour can take time, there are important milestones along the way to appreciate. A recent project I am proud of is designing and delivering a Cleantech Bootcamp for a select group of Israeli and European startups in this sector looking to expand to the UK (in partnership with Global Tech Connect). As a result of this virtual entry programme, I have enjoyed witnessing up close the relationships formed between a number of international startup founders and UK's leading figures in Cleantech, like National Grid, Octopus Energy and others.
It is especially important in the months leading up to the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow this year, and it benefits all parties involved - the international startup companies, the British marketplace, and the environment..
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