Israel 2008: One Conference, a Few Friends, Many Startups & Some Observations

Just like that, it has been six months since I had my life-changing experience. And perhaps that’s why I was comfortable flying out to Tel-Aviv to attend Yaron Orenstein’s TWS 2008 conference, meeting with tons of startups and getting together with friends. The journey, not the visit to Israel, turned out to be quite arduous, mostly because of the modern air industry’s inability to observe punctuality and show any degree of respect for their customers. (Of course, if you follow my Twitter feed, then you are up on the news.)

Since coming home, I have been struggling with a jet lag and some other issues that have prevented me from writing my recap of the Israel 2008 trip. For the past two weeks I have struggled with the urge to smoke, for the heat has triggered memories of sitting at sidewalk cafes, drinking espressos and smoking with friends, watching life just take a lazy stroll. Fighting to stay the course and not smoke took all of my energy, so now you know the reason for my sporadic appearances on the blog, and not replying to your emails. Perhaps that is why the foggy weekend was a welcome opportunity to write about my visit. (The photo gallery of the trip is embedded at the bottom of the post.)

Xen Mendelsohn To Report On Israeli Startups For GigaOM

First, an announcement: Xen Mendelsohn, whom I first met on my 2007 trip to Israel, is going to be our blogger in Israel. She is going to be contributing posts about Israel’s more promising startups and the mobile industry in general. Her thoughtful, intelligent and understated ways are in sync with how we work around here. She writes the Xellular blog. Welcome Xen, to our little family of writers.

TWS 2008: Nice Start, Needs To Get Bigger.

Now a bit about TWS 2008. The conference was organized by Yaron Orenstein, the guy behind the popular Israeli blog He told me that he got 8100 applicants and the aim was to pick the 10 most promising Internet startups in Israel. A big panel of judges helped narrow down the field. I saw many companies but frankly, only four stood out. (You can find the complete list on Yaron’s web site.)

WorkLight has developed a middleware platform that allows enterprises to securely use Web 2.0 tools including widgets. I wrote about this being a big opportunity for the now defunct Business 2.0, so it is hardly a surprise that I liked this company. Another company that impressed me was

Nuconomy which has developed analytic tools for the social web, and helps get more meaningful information, not just page views. (Longer piece pending.) In the same vein was HiveSight which has developed a platform that helps marketers actually make sense of social media. Peanut Labs would be a close competitor.

The company that stole the show for me was Mo’Minis, which has come up with a development and publishing platform for mobile games. I wanted to write more about these guys but somehow we couldn’t find the time, though I remember meeting the two co-founders at a bar the night before the conference. Anyway Xen can follow up.

Another startup that merits a mention is Wix, which is an online platform that allows users to create striking and easy-to-build web content in Flash (web sites, widgets, blogs etc.), and publish it anywhere they want online. A close competitor would be Sproutbuilder of San Francisco, and like that company, I don’t see these guys as a business. Still, it’s worth trying out.

Some thoughts about the conference: It needs more resources, and the Israeli tech community needs to help grow this event. For a first-time event, I was impressed by the sheer number of startups Yaron had attracted. The event also got the attention of many European investors. For instance, Seedcamp‘s Saul Klein was in attendance. I hope Yaron includes more than just web companies next year. I can’t wait to go back.

And some other notes…

I met close to 24 startups and over the next few days I am going to write about some that made an impression. As you might imagine, I didn’t get much time to relax, because I got swept up in the thrill of meeting new companies and entrepreneurs. No, it wasn’t all work. I had sushi in Tel Aviv, took a drive through the desert and attended a Jewish wedding ceremony of my friend Shirin, whose family happens to be from Calcutta. (Mazel Tov!) And somewhere in between, I found time to meet students from IDC and talk about how to blog about innovation.

And if that wasn’t enough, I got to attend Tel-Aviv’s fabled White Night, a night-long party across the city. Now that was wild. This trip was actually made more than fun thanks to three people — Ouriel Ohayon, who is Mr. Techcrunch France, but lives in Tel-Aviv; Orli Yakuel , who is super awesome and knows everyone in Israel’s web community, thanks to her blog, Go2Web2; and finally Benchmark Capital’s Michael Eisenberg, who has become such a dear friend that he let me use his conference room as workspace for a day. Now he is a busy guy; how he manages to find time to blog I don’t know. With friends like these, are you surprised that I want to go back?


P.S.: In case you wanted to know — I am still smoke-free!

Related Israel 2008 posts

Destination Tel-Aviv: Some Work, Some Fun
Will They Really Modu
Destination: San Francisco.

Photo Gallery