Avi Winter, the founder and CEO of GDI Israel, has the singular ambition of bridging the Israeli startup ecosystem with the ecosystems of Singapore and the wider ASEAN community. A former data operations manager at Morningstar, he progressed to a business development role at 3H Global, a consultancy dealing with high-level government relations in Israel. Since the end of 2014, Winter has moved into the realm of management consulting and curating dealflow for investors, helping venture firms enter and negotiate the complex realities of Israel’s business ecosystem and nuanced culture. Winter attributes Israel’s youthful optimism, that brings with it the attitude that anything is possible, and its beliefs that systems and conventions can be challenged, in addition to its difficult relations with its neighbors, to be the key reasons behind the country producing more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations. Edited Excerpts.
What does GDI stand for and what are its core competencies?
Our goal is very simple. We exist in order to help investors navigate Israel successfully in order to achieve their business goals. We are able to do this thanks to our unique grasp and understanding of the country’s culture, business environment and how things work here. This includes identifying appropriate investment opportunities, top quality deal flow, accessing local partners and overcoming bureaucratic hurdles. As a result, we make sure that investors do not find themselves caught in any of the pitfalls of doing business in Israel. In essence, we are the bridge which connects investment to Israel.
You previously worked for 3H Global, an Israeli global consultancy, which deals with high-level government relations. What does this background imply specifically to potential clients who engage you?
My time at 3H gave me exposure to all aspects of Israeli business and government and at the very highest levels. It gave me an insight into how each component of the business landscape works and how they interact with government, decision makers, the media, etc. Thanks to this top level experience, I have a full understanding of how to make things happen here and the ability to produce top quality dealflow, as part of helping my clients achieve their goals.
What are the specific, fundamental qualities of Jewish culture that have influence Israel’s economic success?
Israel is a very multicultural society, a complex ethnic mix. As a result, it’s probably more accurate to talk about how the unique Israeli condition has helped shape the country’s economic success. This is a young country, just 67 years old. Therefore, there is a youthful optimism that anything is possible and that systems and conventions can be challenged. In addition, because Israel has difficult relations with so many of its neighbours, it has never been able to rely on regional exports, meaning Israel had to be innovative and creative in order to prosper economically. The requirement to think outside of the box has helped bring about our success.
How does this translate to the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia in particular?
What this means is that there is a great pool of opportunity in Israel for investors in the Asia-Pacific region to tap into some of the world’s most exciting, cutting edge developments, projects and companies. Israel, a country of just 8 million people, is second only to China in the number of companies it has listed on NASDAQ. That gives you an idea of the sort of business potential that exists in Israel.
What is the value proposition of the service you’re offering to people seeking to enter the Israeli investment and startup ecosystems?
At the end of the day, GDI is offering top quality dealflow. We are able to reach out to all corners of the market in any industry here in Israel. That means that we can provide an A-Z service for investors from the search process, through to an acquisition all the way to a sound exit strategy. In short, we are offering to work alongside clients every step of the way to ensure that they can harness the huge economic opportunity in this country.
Would you say that the intellectual capital of Israel is linked to the Jewish legal tradition of questioning assumptions and conventions- leading to the development of intellectual capital?
Once again, I look at this through Israeli eyes, which encompasses a wide variety of traditions. However, there is certainly a culture of questioning here in Israel, a kind of restlessness which means that Israelis are always looking to push boundaries and to do things differently, to improve on the accepted status quo. This kind of atmosphere where conventions are routinely challenged definitely plays a role in Israel and indeed Israelis becoming world leaders in so many fields.
Would you say that Israel’s military conscription has a bearing on the nature of entrepreneurship in Israel? And if so, what lessons can Singapore and other countries with conscription learn from how Israel implements it?
It certainly has an impact. Israeli soldiers are inevitably trained not only to be team players, but at the same time to be resourceful and to take the initiative. It is a recipe for the establishment of successful start-ups and businesses.
However, this sense of energy and innovation often needs to be complemented by a healthy dose of practicality. And that is exactly what we provide. We are able to take a step back to work out exactly what are the practical steps needed in order to transform the latest Israeli idea into a coherent and ultimately successful business.
Whats your opinion on the involvement of the Israeli government in fostering innovation in Israel?
Israel’s government and leadership fully understands the importance of the country’s entrepreneurial environment and is very supportive in helping make it flourish. Just last year, the government opened the country’s first national cyber-park, an impressive campus which has been developed in partnership with some of the world’s biggest companies. It is a great example of the way in which Israel’s government helps to facilitate innovation with very real, tangible support.
What are the specifics of Israeli culture that many foreigners are unaware of, especially when conducting business or engaging in entrepreneurship?
Every country has its’ unique characteristics. Israelis are renowned for being very open and personable. They want to get to know people personally, about their families and their interests. The distinction between professional and private lives is a lot less rigid here than in other parts of the world.Things are also a great deal less formal in Israel than you may find elsewhere. You will find that even CEOs often rarely wear a suit and it is not uncommon for a business meeting to take place in a coffee shop. Business owners also typically have a real passion and total dedication to their work. Often this needs to be tempered with a practical take on things, which is where we come in.
Whats the benefit to investors based in the Asia Pacific investing in and engaging with the Israeli startup ecosystem?
Very simply, Israel’s startup community is consistently producing market-leading products and developing innovation with a global impact. As such, an investment in Israeli creativity is a stake on the pathway towards international success. The fact that global tech giants such as Google, Intel and Microsoft all have a significant presence in Israel speaks for itself.
What are the specific industry verticals that Israel is strong in and what sort of returns can investors look at?
There are plenty. From agricultural solutions which are exported globally, to biotech, cyber-security, the internet of things (IoT), chip development and more. As for returns, it really depends which area an investor is interested in. Our job is to help make the right match for them and one factor which we always take into account is the sort of return that an investor is looking for.