IT mission to Israel a non-event for startups

An IT trade mission to Israel has proved unsuccessful for several local IT startups invited to attend the weekend conference to put their business on Israel's venture capital agenda.

Led by the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, the delegation saw business representatives from the Australian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry body pitch for investor backing and forge strategic links with Israel's 2500-business IT hub.

Technocash, a prepaid electronic debit card provider, joined the talks to launch a global profile for its franchise model, said Raymond Pakalns, Technocash's technical director.

Despite a $94,000 export grant from Austrade, the company sought to capture a share of the international teenage and elderly market with its virtual cash technology.

Although Pakalns acknowledged that the startup may be faceless overseas, he was confident uptake in Israel would be strong. "We just need to get known," he said, "Israel is a possible launching pad."

"We'll have massive, over-the-counter distribution opportunities (overseas)," he claimed, referring to the plethora of B2C dot-coms in the region.

Past experience with local VC companies has left Technocash with a poor impression of the VC community. Pakalns did not want his company falling victim to what he considered the paternalistic VC/dot-com relationship.

"The VC's goal in life is to wait for you to ramp up to look like you're going to go broke. Then they can pump their $10 or $20 million in you," he said. "Technocash's job is to raise smaller funds over the long term."

Asked to elaborate on the result of the delegation, Pakalns revealed only that Technocash was attending a series of "bookings" with Israel-based investors.

Aspect North, a digital mapping applications consultancy which contracts solutions to the Department of Defence, made the trek to Tel Aviv with rather blind ambition.

"We believe the IT and digital mapping markets are coming into play and are the way of the future," said Brian Hancock, a senior partner at Aspect North.

However, he conceded his company took the trip "not really knowing what the outcome would achieve".

"The opportunity was too good to miss. If you don't go, you won't know."

He concluded the delegation was merely a chance to "network", producing no tangible partnerships for the company as yet. "Israel may well have been our first (global) business opportunity," a company spokesman said of the outcome.

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