Israeli high-tech entrepreneur turns his focus to politics

Wed Oct 1, 2014 5:39am EDT
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By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Erel Margalit has packed a lot in, from frontline combat in Lebanon to a PhD in philosophy at Columbia University, advising Jerusalem's former mayor and launching a billion dollar venture capital firm. Now his focus is politics, and trying to reboot the original "start-up nation".

Dressed in a designer black t-shirt and dark jeans, 53-year-old Margalit retains the air and style of a multi-millionaire high-tech entrepreneur. With fluent, American-accented English, he is as much at home in Silicon Valley or New York as Israel.

But after 20 years of building up companies via the Jerusalem Venture Partners fund that he created - including some of Israel's most successful start-ups - he stood as a candidate for the left-of-center Labour Party in elections last year and won a seat in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

He has not withdrawn from the domain of technology and finance since then - he keeps an office in JVP's headquarters and is an advocate for innovation centers around Israel - but his focus is on better connecting the worlds of politics and high-tech to reinvigorate Israel's economy.

"Technology in Israel needs to move from the category of the few to something that sweeps the country in a much bigger way," he said in an interview at his JVP office, decorated with paintings by his wife, an artist.

"I'm interested in some of the new communities that could get involved, so if the Arab community gets involved it's exciting and it can help us open up the economy and the way we are doing things."

One of Margalit's projects is getting central and local government to back technology hubs around the country, including a cyber security one in the south, near a new Israeli military headquarters, one in the agricultural north focused on medical food and biotechnology, and others centered on the Israeli-Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

Around 20 percent of Israel's 8 million people are Arabs, mostly living in and around the cities of Nazareth and Haifa. Like the 12 percent of the population that is ultra-Orthodox, they are not always well integrated into the wider economy.   Continued...

Founder and managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Erel Margalit speaks during an  interview with Reuters in Jerusalem in this January 30, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Files