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2016-08-26 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

August 26, 2016  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Tampa’s Israeli business accelerator revs up with military contract, $1 million from state

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

The dream of establishing a business accelerator for high tech Israeli startup companies and housing it at the new Bryan Glazer Family JCC in south Tampa is on the verge of becoming a reality, and recently got a $1 million boost from the state to get it going.

Added to that financial boost, a new contract has been signed between Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), an entity the Tampa JCCs and Federation created this year to bring startup high tech companies from Israel to launch North American markets from Tampa.


Vikki Rabenou heads the project Vikki Rabenou heads the project The contract calls for FIBA to bring in “cohorts” of companies that will produce products or services that will fill technology capability shortfalls for SOCOM.

“We are excited to establish a partnership with such a dynamic organization,” said Dr. Vicki Rabenou, president and CEO of FIBA. “Many Israeli startups have been founded by entrepreneurs with military backgrounds. To be able to work with SOCOM will be a tremendous draw for them and to create innovations with such a profound impact is even more appealing.”

SOCOM spends more than $3 billion a year on procurement, including a research and development budget of $538 million in 2016.

The innovations that FIBA cohorts will present to SOCOM will be in the areas of medical technologies, biometrics, mobility, cyber-security, remote sensor power and energy, among other areas.

Not long after work began to transform the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory into a grand new Jewish community center, officials announced a long list of facilities to be housed there when it opens in December. Among them are a fitness center, aquatic center, arts center, JCC preschool, a performing arts area and a premier venue for weddings, b’nai mitzvah, corporate meetings and fundraisers.


Jack Ross, Tampa JCCs executive director Jack Ross, Tampa JCCs executive director Accelerator aspirations

Less publicized but included on that ambitious list was space for the business accelerator, with plans for the JCCs & Federation to take a small equity stake in the companies that are brought to the center. To that end, FIBA was created this year and recently received $1 million in funding approved by the Florida Legislature.

FIBA’s receipt of this funding is in keeping with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s mission to help the state’s economic development vision by funding a variety of programs and initiatives that generate employment opportunities, according to a news release from FIBA. “We are pleased and excited that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has chosen to make such a significant investment in our organization,” said Rabenou. “Our goal is to further develop the Tampa Bay area into one of the nation’s foremost centers for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The funds are meant to support the building of FIBA’s workspace, slated for completion this fall. Including conference rooms and other areas it will have access to, an aggregate of about 2,500 square feet of space at the Glazer Family JCC will be used by FIBA, said Jack Ross, executive director of Tampa JCCs. The state funds will also cover operating costs, including relocation incentives for high tech Israeli companies participating in the accelerator program.

FIBA’s receipt of this funding is in keeping with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s mission to help the state’s economic development vision by funding a variety of programs and initiatives that generate employment opportunities, according to a news release from FIBA.

“We are pleased and excited that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has chosen to make such a significant investment in our organization,” said Rabenou. “Our goal is to further develop the Tampa Bay area into one of the nation’s foremost centers for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

FIBA is the first program of its kind created by a Jewish community center or Jewish Federation in North America and has just been recognized by the Jewish Federations of North America as an innovative business model, Ross and Rabenou said.

The two left Aug. 25 for Israel and will be using Israeli-based offices and assistance from Enterprise Florida to meet with government and business officials and get word out as to the sort of companies FIBA is seeking. FIBA is already accepting online applications and hoped to select the first six for the program in November.

The first cohort of businesses will include only six companies which will send participants to participate in a 120-day program at the Glazer JCC, beginning in February.

There will be two cohorts of businesses per year, Rabenou said, with eight businesses in the second cohort of 2017, then 10 per cohort, totaling 20 per year, after that.

Opportunities for entrepreneurs

The 120-day program is designed to provide Israeli startup entrepreneurs as well as personnel from more mature companies with the information and resources necessary to build “market-ready” enterprises in the United States. During the program, they will meet with a variety of business experts and have opportunities to build relationships with local business leaders.

The accelerator also will help give the Israeli companies access to venture capital and angel funding, public relations and media assistance, access to legal and accounting services and more, a FIBA news release states.

Once companies complete the 120-day program, there will be a “Pitch Day,” where companies will present their products and pitch them to investors, major company executives and representatives of venture funds. The expectation is that the “cohort” companies will then move out into the Tampa community and build their markets.

The incentive for the JCC is that the companies that go through the FIBA accelerator program will grow and the small stake the JCC has in those companies will also grow to not only help sustain FIBA but also bring in revenue for the JCCs and Federation.

Israel has become world famous for its many high-tech startup companies, but the Israeli entrepreneurs need global markets because of the country’s small population and lack of regional trade partners. FIBA’s plan is to expose Israeli startups to a growing market and serve as a catalyst for introducing new technologies and job growth in the U.S.

The idea for the business accelerator came about from a conversation with a Glazer JCC donor as plans for the new facility were being developed. The donor wondered, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could harness the power of Israel’s startups and give them a ‘soft landing’ in Tampa,” Ross said.

“The key was to find someone who knew how to do that, and we found that person in Dr. Rabenou. She crystalized what we had conceptualized,” he said.

“Dr. Rabenou brings over 20 years of experience in all aspects of growing startups from inception to becoming self-sustained revenue-generating companies,” the FIBA website states, adding that she is “a former director of the Biotech & Incubators Investment Committees, with the Chief Scientist Office of Israel’s Ministry of Economy.” She has founded and led early to mid-stage companies and a biomed incubator and is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical School with training in obstetrics and gynecology.

The plan for the FIBA business accelerator comes from her input and from an accelerator program in Massachusetts.

“There are zero Israeli startups in Tampa now,” Rabenou said, pointing out that while Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, TX, are on the radar for Israeli entrepreneurs, Tampa is not. She and Ross said FIBA aims to help Israeli companies “establish a beachhead” here in Tampa.

For more information, go to www.fiba.io.


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