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May 8, 2020 10:16 am

UK Remains Attractive for Israeli Tech Despite Coronavirus Crisis

avatar by Allon Sinai / CTech

UK Parliament in London. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

CTech – While numerous countries around the world, including Israel, are already taking steps towards returning to relative normalcy post-coronavirus (Covid-19), the United Kingdom is still in the midst of the health crisis. The country recorded 6,111 new cases on Wednesday, the third most since the crisis began, with 539 deaths on the day, taking it to a total of 30,615, second only to the US. There is no end in sight to the lockdown and according to some estimates, the country’s economy could shrink by as much as 14 percent due to the pandemic.

It is in these extremely difficult circumstances that Yariv Becher, the minister for commercial affairs and head of the Economic and Trade Mission at the Israeli Embassy in London, is working to promote Israeli businesses and startups.

But Becher is far from discouraged, telling CTech earlier this week that there will always be opportunities for Israeli companies. “The shrinking UK economy means its market will be less attractive for Israeli companies,” he said. “But on the other hand, I think that companies that have solutions that can address the new normal or can provide organizations with ways to be more efficient or cost-effective will have an advantage.”

Delegations from Israel are no longer visiting London and face-to-face meetings are out of the question, but the UK Mission’s significance, as one of 44 economic missions operated globally by the Ministry of Economy and Industry, is only increasing according to Becher. “The role that we play will be much more important going forward in terms of making the connections and being the representative of the companies on the ground,” Becher explained. “The biggest effect the current crisis is going to have is on travel, especially in the UK as it will likely take longer to recover. In that case a lot of companies would need our boots on the ground to help them. We are working far more individually with companies and helping them get to the right contacts using our network.”

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Becher and the mission have been busy getting in touch with British companies to understand what challenges they are facing and what sort of solutions they are looking for, hoping to provide them based on Israeli technology and innovation. The mission has also been holding many online activities, including a recent cybersecurity webinar on the right response to a cybersecurity incident occurring while a company is working remotely.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) launched a contact tracing app this week, a month-and-a-half after Israel’s Ministry of Health released a similar application called HaMagen, Hebrew for The Shield. The technology behind the app is not known to have come from Israel, but Becher revealed that the NHS was very interested in learning more about its implementation in the country.

“I’m not sure where the technology comes from, but what I do know is that we held a webinar together with the health ministry last week about Israel’s response, as well as the HaMagen app, and an NHS representative who attended the webinar asked us afterwards to connect them with the ministry of health to learn about the adoption of the app in Israel,” he said. “They wanted to know how the citizens were encouraged to use it and learn from us how we deployed the solution.”

Becher said that over recent months he has received many inquiries from Israeli companies from a wide variety of sectors, including healthcare and EdTech, hoping to sell their product in the UK. But the responsiveness in the UK has been varied according to Becher, with many organizations being overwhelmed by approaches from companies or feeling that in the current situation they can’t evaluate new propositions and are more focused on surviving the crisis.

“Every startup is facing a lot of challenges with what is going on in the world. But I think that Israeli companies are more dependent on foreign markets, especially Israeli technology companies,” Becher noted. “British startups are usually looking at the UK market and most of the US startups don’t even look at other markets. But in Israel, we are much more affected by what is going on in other markets. I think that also gives us an advantage because we are much more active and aggressive, in a good way, in terms of engaging. Because of that entrepreneurs are very attentive to whatever changes are happening in different markets and try to react accordingly.”

Despite the UK’s struggles with coronavirus and the massive blow its economy has suffered, Becher believes there is a bright future ahead for Israeli technology in Britain. “Before the coronavirus, my sense was that the UK is a very important market for Israeli technology. My previous posting was in Chicago and when I came to the UK. I was surprised to see how advanced it was in terms of adopting technology, its openness for innovation and also openness to working with Israeli companies,” Becher said. “No disrespect to the US, but especially in the London area there is a lot of potential for Israeli companies and for Israeli innovation. I see a lot of openness and receptiveness towards Israeli startups so there is a good foundation to build on. Regardless of what the coronavirus effects are going to be, I think that the UK and London will definitely remain a destination for Israeli companies.”

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