The 2018 Conexx Gala at the Atlanta History Center paid tribute to 70 years of Israeli innovation. It was impossible not to feel pride in the ingenuity of “new old-fashioned genius”: the grit and chutzpah that drive Israelis to question, argue and push on past new boundaries.
The Conexx: American Israel Business Connector dinner event Thursday, March 22, saluted partnerships in the Southeast, recognized deals and honored the wheeler-dealers who propelled them.
In the pre-function hour, local businessman Andy Siegel said he came to mingle and find prospects for his insurance agency. “I like to work with Israeli companies locating here, and many of them are indeed a good fit.”
In the Grand Overlook Ballroom, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general to the Southeast, touted the benefits of investing in sophisticated Israeli markets, noting that after the United States and China, Israel has the most companies on the NASDAQ.
“And this is such a young country,” she said.
she went on to praise President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May, “which will make the 70th anniversary celebration that much more special.”
Randall Foster, the new Conexx chairman and general partner of the Seraph Group, boasted that Israel has birthed 7,000 startups. He said 1,000 of them came in the past year, reflecting “growth at a rapid rate. Plus, they are constantly being replenished. … Israel’s whopping $5.4 billion in venture capital is second only to New York’s $6 billion.”
A polished video displayed Israel’s immigrant mélange as a driver of success. Israelis get business done by questioning, arguing and getting straight to the point. A Georgia solar energy company showed its area of success in “renewable light,” which is now being used in Africa.
The U.S. Company of the Year award went to Savannah aircraft company Gulfstream, which, in collaboration with Israeli technology. Has grown its workforce from 1,000 in the 1980s to the current 10,000, said Mark Burks, who collected the award for Gulfstream.
Gene Gurevich, Mobileye’s director of government affairs and public policy, accepted the Deal of the Year award for Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of the automobile collision avoidance and automation company. It was the largest acquisition in the history of Israel.
Gurevich wowed the crowd with the potential of Mobileye’s collision avoidance technology. He noted that of the 40,000 deaths on U.S. roads last year, 90 percent resulted from human error. Autonomous drivers (not yet available) could avoid 30 percent of the crashes, he said.
He also suggested that driverless vehicles could help the blind and disabled and create 2 million employment opportunities. Intel started in Israel in 1974.
Honored in a related field was Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research for the year’s Innovative Academic Partnership. Other award winners included Sapiens, Israeli Company of the Year; the Birmingham Jewish Federation, U.S. Community Partner; and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Israeli Community Partner.
Guy Tessler, the president of Conexx, mentioned the innovative concept of “collaborative soft giving,” whereby credit card purchases can be rounded up for automatic charitable contributions.
The last and biggest presentation of the night, the Tom Glaser Leadership Award, went to inventor and entrepreneur Benny Landa, who appeared in a video that extolled his higher-education charitable foundation that aims to close the gaps between rich and poor, Arab and Israeli, and to promote tolerance.
He was touted as a courageous, philanthropic and visionary leader. The Landa Group focuses on revolutionary patents in printing and imaging, with cutting-edge digital applications in food packaging, energy and even hair coloring.
Conexx also raffled off a trip for two to Israel, which Susanne Katz won.