The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Across the region, women are speaking out about the need to increase their numbers in corporate leadership. A Tel Aviv conference last week drew top women from the fields of technology, investment and academia who are in positions to bring some degree of change. At a time that women make up fewer than 10% of the CEOs in Israeli tech companies, those who attended the Women’s Empowerment Summit came away with the sense that a lot more work needs to be done.
As business ties strengthen between Israel and its Gulf partners to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Bahrain is inviting Israeli startups to base some of their operations in the island nation. Meanwhile, a young Israeli company by the name of Wilco, has developed a gamified training program for software engineers that works like a flight simulator for pilots.
On the culture side this week, Saudi Arabia is coming out in the New York fashion scene with an exhibition by 100 of its designers showing clothing in eight categories, ranging from modest to demi-couture. The desert kingdom also features in our sports coverage as former President Donald Trump proudly opened the LIV Golf tournament to his club in Bedminster, N.J., and pushed back against critics of the Saudi-backed event.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit, where we cover the Middle East through a business and cultural lens. Read on for the stories, deals and players at the top of the news. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
Israeli women push for greater influence in tech world
Yifat Oron, who runs the Israel office of Blackstone Inc., the world’s second-largest private equity firm, said she’s appalled at the industry’s meager support for women. Citing the $330 billion invested by venture capital firms in technology companies last year, Oron asked at a conference last week what percentage of that sum was invested in businesses led by women.
“It’s really bad – 2%,” she told the audience at the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit in Tel Aviv, as Linda Gradstein reports for The Circuit. “A slightly less bad number is the amount of money invested in companies that have women in the founding team – that’s 16%. It’s still really bad. Why is it bad? Because we don’t have enough women investors. So it’s a vicious cycle. We have to solve it.”
With Oron, a senior managing director at Blackstone, painting the grim investment landscape, others at the July 26 conference concentrated on how to improve the situation through networking and pushing companies to recognize the need for change. Ofra Strauss, chairperson of the Israeli foodmaker Strauss Group that was founded by her grandparents, said the company has evolved since earlier days when she was often the only woman in key business meetings. “It only took me two minutes to understand,” Strauss said. “If the room was empty of women and I didn’t see them around me, something was fundamentally wrong.”
Speakers also focused on other realms where women are not equal partners. Ruth Wasserman Lande, a member of Israel’s parliament from the Blue & White party and a former diplomat at its embassy in Egypt, said working in the Arab country was not easy. “I spent three years as a woman in Cairo and being an Israeli Jewish woman was challenging,” she told The Circuit in a phone interview. “We still have a way to go to have truly equal opportunities. We have more to deal with especially after we get married and have kids and have more to juggle. It is changing but slowly.”
Wasserman Lande, who is co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, noted efforts by the United Arab Emirates to promote women. For example, women by law make up half the members of the Federal National Council, an unelected advisory body to the royal court. When it comes to tech, only 5% of all CEO’s in the UAE are women, according to government figures, which is just below the global figure of 6%.
Bahraini envoy pitches Israeli companies on operating in Gulf
Touting low operating costs and significant labor subsidies, Bahrain is reaching out to Israeli companies and raising the idea of moving some of their operations to the tiny Gulf nation. Bahraini Ambassador Khaled Al Jalahma outlined his government’s intention to set up a regional hub that would cater to the needs of Israeli startups in a July 28 meeting in Tel Aviv with executives from more than a dozen companies. Bahrain is both “willing and flexible” to help foreign companies get set up, said Yariv Becher, vice president for “innovation diplomacy” at Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that promotes emerging Israeli companies, which arranged the meeting.
The ambassador told the Israelis that his country “is business friendly and our work attitude is tachles,” according to several people present, scoring points with the group by using a Yiddish word that means straight talk. Israeli executives who attended the meeting said Al Jalahma made a good case for his country as a Middle East hub for sales, R&D, manufacturing and other roles.
“We want to be very active in the region and Bahrain can be a gateway,” said Rotem Arad, director of business development for H2Pro, an Israeli company that produces so-called “green hydrogen” by splitting water into its component molecules and generating cleaner, renewable energy. Among H2Pro’s investors are Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. and Jerusalem-based OurCrowd.
Other companies at the Tel Aviv event, which was sponsored by the Bahrain Economic Development Board, were Addionics, Aleph Farms, Beewise, C2i Genomics, Finteka,, Papaya Global, Minute Media, Monday.com, Scorpio Labs, See Tree, Set Point and Trieye.
Read the full story here.
Israeli startup Wilco closes experience gap for aspiring software engineers
A rookie software engineer sits at his desk and faces a problem he’s never encountered before, at least not in his college coding class. The wrong fix could cost his company millions, but luckily the stakes here are much lower. This engineer is honing his skills at a fantasy company on an online platform that works much like a flight simulator for aspiring pilots.
When the Israeli startup Wilco launched its simulator platform last month, On Freund, the company’s CEO, and his founding partners were taking a page out of the playbook used by pilots, architects and race car drivers by creating a simulation experience for software engineers to gain new skills and master existing ones regardless of someone’s career opportunities or background. Engineers using Wilco complete various “quests” that allow them to practice troubleshooting problems that commonly arise in real-world situations, but in an engaging way that’s akin to a video game.
“I quickly realized that there is a difference between the theory which they have learned in school and the actual hands-on practice that takes years to come by,” Freund told The Circuit‘s Sophie Cohen.
The idea for Wilco (the name comes from the Roger Wilco character in the “Space Quest” movie franchise, not the alt-rock group) came to Freund about a decade ago. After he graduated from Tel Aviv University, he was managing a team of engineers at Handy, an online platform that connects users with cleaning and handyperson services, and Freund was looking for ways to let his team practice and learn new skills, outside of coding, that were not taught in university.
Last year, Freund, Alon Carmel, Wilco’s chief products officer, and Shem Magnezi, the startup’s chief technology officer, came together to launch Wilco with $7 million in seed money; the platform is accessible to any software engineer regardless of their background or location.
Asia Focus: The sale of two ports in Haifa to Indian and Chinese businesses highlights Asia’s interest in Israel’s new Gulf ties and making the country a trans-shipment hub for Europe.
Green Power: Greece and Saudi Arabia agreed to work together on developing green hydrogen as a renewable energy source in Europe.
R&D: Apple is setting up a research and development center in Jerusalem to work alongside two other Israeli facilities in Herzliya and Haifa. Meanwhile, Yahoo! is also expanding operations, hiring Neetai Eshel as managing director of R&D in Israel.
Solar-Powered: French corporate giants TotalEnergies and Veolia will build a solar energy system to power a desalination plant in Oman.
Actis Invests: Actis, a UK-based private equity firm will acquire a controlling stake in Yellow Door Energy, a renewable developer based in Dubai.
Hospital Robots: Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center opened what it billed as the world’s largest emergency room, featuring self-triage screens and robot guides.
Digital Diplomacy: The White House is working to boost cyber cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Israel in an effort to counter Iranian digital threats.
Congressional Probe: The House Intelligence Committee held a hearing to look into Israel’s NSO group, whose Pegasus software has been used by by governments to spy on activists, journalists, political leaders and U.S. citizens.
Saudi-Israel: Saudi Arabia’s Mithaq Capital amassed a 20% stake in Israel’s Otonomo, becoming the biggest shareholder in the auto technology company.
Ad Purchase: Israeli digital advertising company Tremor is buying Amobee, an Israeli advertising platform, for $239 million from Singapore’s Singtel.
Robot Docs: Diagnostic Robotics, led by Dr. Kira Radinsky, has raised $45 million for its AI clinical prediction system.
French Influencers: Saudi supermarket retailer BinDawood bought a majority stake in France’s Ykone, which specializes in marketing through media influencers.
Neom Stock: Saudi Arabia expects to raise $26 billion by selling shares in the futuristic Neom megacity that it’s building on the Red Sea coast.
Egypt Gas: Adnoc Distribution, the UAE’s largest gas station operator, will acquire a 50% stake in TotalEnergies Marketing Egypt for about $186 million.
Tech Layoffs: Hundreds of Israeli tech workers lost their jobs with the closing of R&D centers by AID Genomics, a medical diagnostics company, and Asurion, a U.S. insurance company.
On the Circuit
Gal Krubiner, Avital Pardo and Yahav Yulzari, founders of Israeli fintech business Pagaya Technologies, became billionaires when the stock rose 700% on the Nasdaq exchange.
Ian Johnston has been appointed chief executive of the Dubai Financial Services Authority, regulator of the emirate’s financial services free zone, returning to a job he held between 2012 and 2018.
Guy Oseary, the Israeli-American agent who manages Madonna, U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, has branched out into the NFT (non-fungible token) market through Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club, according to a profile in Variety.
Ahead on the Circuit
Aug. 11-16, Dubai: NFT World Investment Expo. International gathering of investors to discuss future trends in the market of non-fungible tokens. Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Residential Building.
Sept. 5-6, Jerusalem: Cleantec, an international conference bringing together business executives in water technologies, renewable energy and recycling. International Convention Center.
Fashionistas of Arabia: Saudi Arabia organized a fashion exhibition in New York, bringing together 100 Saudi designers to show their work. The exhibition, sponsored by the Saudi Arabia Fashion Commission, is divided into eight categories, including ready-to-wear, modest, concept, premiere, demi-couture, bridal, handbags and jewelry.
On location: Jerusalem, Tzfat and Acre are among Israeli cities discussed in an article in Variety that international filmmakers are using as locations to convey the exotic atmosphere of the Middle East.
Trump Defends Saudi Golf-backed Tour: Former President Donald Trump defended hosting the Saudi-backed LIV GOLF tournament at his club in Bedminister, New Jersey, against accusations that the kingdom was using the event to rehabilitate its image as an abuser of human rights. LIV, which is supported by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has lured stars from the PGA circuit, such as Phil Mickelson with payments reported to be as high as $200 million.