1. Business

Israeli tech companies look to enter U.S. market through Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Representatives from three Israeli technology companies that specialize in construction, health care and internet security have spent the last month in Tampa Bay meeting with potential customers, local businesses and community leaders with hopes of entering the market.

The entrepreneurs are the second class of participants in the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), a non-profit organization based at the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center and founded in 2016 to encourage Israeli technology businesses to invest in the region.

Thursday evening FIBA hosted a Connection to Innovation event featuring the visiting entrepreneurs and William Walsh, the vice president of strategy and development for the Tampa Bay Rays. While the event was closed to the media, the Tampa Bay Times was invited to meet with the entrepreneurs to talk about the trip and their impressions of the region.

"It's the friendliest people that we've met in the USA," said Moran Zavdi, CEO of Nucleon, an information security research startup with 20 employees.

RELATED COVERAGE: Jeff Vinik invests in Israeli-Tampa company that makes radiation protection wear

"Most of the world (says), 'What we have is a secret,' but here most of the stuff they will talk about," he said. Zavdi said that Tampa's business climate and welcoming atmosphere makes it is an ideal place for the company to enter the US market.

Each representative said they were eager to start doing business in Tampa Bay, and are considering opening offices here.

"My goal and the overall goal of the program is to be here and understand the market," said Andrew Rella, an executive at ECONcrete. ECONcrete has a line of concrete products used in seawalls, piers, bridges and other marine-specific infrastructure.

"It gave us a chance to sit with the right people and ask the right questions," Rella said. "When we come back in the future… we know how our product is going to help them more effectively."

MORE: Go here for more Business News

While ECONcrete already has a US presence in New York City, it is eager to expand into Florida, where there is big market for their product. Though there is a follow-up trip scheduled for June, Rella said he will be returning sooner.

The third company that remained for the full four-week visit was UC-Care, a company that designs and manufactures medical devices and tools for prostate biopsies.

UC-Care's director of sales, Amit Safir, said that in the last month that he has been in town, he met with representatives from local hospitals, medical labs and private practices.

"In Israel there is a large ecosystem" that supports growing businesses, said Rakefet Bachur, executive director of marketing at FIBA. A focus for the accelerator, therefore, has been on highlighting Tampa's entrepreneurial ecosystem through partnerships with the University of Tampa, the University of South Florida, the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center and the Tampa Bay Wave program.

In 2016, FIBA was awarded a $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which was used to build its workspace in the JCC and cover operating expenses. It also received private and corporate donations.

In 2017, FIBA connected gamma radiation shield producer StemRad with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who in turn became the lead investor in a $6 million fundraiser. StemRad now lists its U.S. headquarters office at the JCC.

FIBA will be hosting another group of visiting businesses in April or May.