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Sand curtain has come down, says OurCrowd CEO on UAE-Israel ties

Michal Michell Divon/New York
Filed on November 22, 2020
Jonathan Medved and Sabah Al Binali

Jonathan Medved's investment platform has partnered with Al Naboodah's Phoenix in the UAE.

Announcing a $100 million partnership with the UAE's Al Naboodah’s Phoenix is just the beginning, according to Israel-based OurCrowd CEO and Founder Jonathan Medved.

“The sand curtain that existed between Israel and the Gulf has now come down, and there’s no rebuilding it,” he says. The Israeli high-tech pioneer says that the new partnership isn’t just a business opportunity but being part of making history.

The company is looking not only to sell Israeli products to the Gulf, but to build new ones with Emirati partners, and establish joint long-term investment platforms beneficial to both sides. There are even talks of establishing an R&D center there, “this has importance way beyond what we’re seeing now”, says Medved.

Speaking with Khaleej Times, the Israeli investor stressed how the OurCrowd strategy for the region is wide and long-term, one that will create a platform for generations to come.

“We’re not going to be investor tourists; we’re going to be solidly built in the Gulf. Try 20 or 30 sectors; it’s not just food-tech, logistics, and fintech but mobility security, drones, ed-tech, med-tech, smart-cities, you name it. It simply goes very, very broad and the good news is that Israel and the Emirates have technologies, interests and abilities in these areas. Both sides are going to be investing bilaterally.”

While the Israeli founder predicted there would soon be $10 billion of bilateral business with the Gulf, the company’s new regional head, Emirati entrepreneur Sabah Al Binali believes the potential is 10 times that.

“Everybody is just looking at Israel and the UAE as endpoints, looking at domestic demand in one country as total demand from the other, but Israel and the UAE are complimentary global trade partners; Israel has comparatively stronger links to the Western world, while the UAE comparatively to East Asia.

So if you look at them as a bridge rather than an end point - the potential is just massive,” says Al Binali. Both Israelis and Emiratis come from entrepreneurial cultures. The same drive that built buildings out of nothing, is often a similar drive to building a startup says Medved, but it’s the differences and diversity that ultimately make this a perfect match.

“They’re very good at execution, very good at planning, good at providing long-term finance. So I think that there are absolutely complimentary skills relative to scale between the two countries. I don’t believe you can make great startups by having everybody who thinks alike, everybody who looks alike. Diversity is a critical element in my business.”

The newly boosted UAE-Israel business sector is sparking investor curiosity worldwide. In several recently hosted OurCrowd webinars, European and Asian investors were eager to hear more about the Abraham Accords, asking how their respective countries can play a part.

“It’s not just Israel and the Emirates falling in love or honeymooning, but it’s the whole world watching this,” says Medved, who believes the global pandemic also plays a role in the peaked interests over this year’s rare good news.

Perhaps one of the few countries that hasn’t shown the same level of enthusiasm (aside from Iran, Turkey and the likes) is the US, who has been preoccupied with its own set of domestic affairs including a highly contested election, nation-wide demonstrations, and a call for social and criminal justice reform. None the less, American and British experts are currently dominating UAE and Israel investment, and the US will continue to play a crucial role, according to Al Binali.

Still, this newly formed relationship will encounter challenges surrounding different business practices and cultural norms. Like several Israeli officials have already expressed, Medved fears that “Israeli ‘chutzpah’, speed, and impulsiveness encountered with polite more measured Emirati business” could lead to misunderstandings that strain the relationship.

Both sides will have to adapt when it comes to the pace in which business is done in order for it to work for both sides, says Al Binali. Opportunities in the UAE are always unlocked when you view it as a long-term relationship.

— Michal Michelle Divon is a New York-based journalist





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