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By Matthew Kalman
Israel has announced the first set of innovation visas for foreign entrepreneurs who want to create new Israeli companies. Under the new scheme, about 50 approved entrepreneurs sponsored by one of 12 Israeli host companies (known as “landing pads”) can reside and work in Israel for up to two years. The entrepreneurs will be eligible to apply for a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority’s Tnufa program for tech startups, and if the company takes off, the entrepreneur can extend his or her visa for a further five years and qualify for additional government support.
“The landing pads selected will provide foreign entrepreneurs a 'soft landing' in the local ecosystem in order to formulate their innovative initiative to the point of establishing a company in Israel, enriching the Israeli industry with excellent entrepreneurship,” Anya Eldan, vice president and head of the Startup Division of the Israel Innovation Authority, said in an emailed statement on June 21.
Israel’s burgeoning high-tech economy includes an estimated 5,000 startups and is among the most active in the world, attracting a total of $2.3 billion in investment in 312 companies in the first half of 2017. But many Israeli companies have trouble marketing their technology abroad, and emigration has resulted in the transfer of technology offshore. Under strict immigration laws, it was previously almost impossible for anyone who wasn’t Jewish to legally settle and work in the country unless married to an Israeli citizen or sponsored for a renewable one-year visa by a local company.
Omri Boral, co-founder of Tech for Good in Tel Aviv, which nurtures startups that develop technological solutions for global, social and environmental issues, said her organization had become one of the hosts for the new visa holders because of the “great potential” in working with foreign entrepreneurs. She plans “to bring them here and have them stoke up the Israeli innovation practices and know-how,” she said in a phone interview July 27.
Dror Sofer, managing partner at The Lighthouse, a shared working space and tech forum in Raanana north of Tel Aviv, said Israel’s tech community had been asking for such a scheme for some time to enable Israeli entrepreneurs to work alongside colleagues from abroad.
“The essence of innovation in the world is becoming much more a kind of cooperation and fusion of knowledge from different places and different countries and different cultures,” Sofer said by phone July 27. “We strongly believe that by creating the environment for entrepreneurs from different cultures and different places to work together we won’t just see an opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs to open companies in Israel—we see this more as the first step to creating international startups.”
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For more information on Israeli HR law and regulation, see the Israel primer.
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