The government of Israel has actively participated in the development of Israeli Venture Capital (VC) market through hybrid financing, i.e., a mix of private and public VC funds. This was done to gain the maximum advantage of private funds from foreign investors.
Formation of the YOZMA Group – Initiative of the Israeli Government
The government has continually faced the challenge in Israeli VC policies on how they can deal with a small size of their domestic market and limited availability of funds. In order to tackle this issue, the Israeli government created the YOZMA Group in the early 90s. This program followed the U.S. style VC operations. Although, it carried tax breaks and equity guarantees for foreign investors, yet, there were not enough incentives for local investors.
YOZMA group was formed in 1993 with the infusion of 100 million U.S. dollars that was supplied by the Israeli government. It is basically a VC fund that invests in high-tech startups. During the next three years after its formation, the group created a total of ten hybrid funds. The second fund was launched in 1995 with the backing of European, American and Israeli investors. Each of these funds was financed with approximately 20 million U.S dollars.
Alongside these initiatives, YOZMA was also involved in new startups, which gave rise to a professionally managed VC market in Israel. The group turned out to be a catalyst for development and growth of the VC sector in Israel. Companies at any stage of development could receive funds from the group, but its primary focus is to invest in early stage companies that target high potential companies in biotechnology and life science sectors.
YOZMA III CEO Club – Initiative of the YOZMA Group
The group also developed professional relations with a number of well-known academic institutions and IT incubators in the country. Some of the companies in the YOZMA portfolio directly arose from these institutions. With the aim to involve executives at a senior position and founders of successful firms in YOZMA’s activities, a group was formed called YOZMA III CEO Club. This group turned out to be a great success and was a valuable source of a number of investment opportunities available at a particular point in time to companies or investors.
Privatization of YOZMA and New Challenges Faced by the Government
The late 90s, the government took a decision to privatize the YOZMA group as it believed that the private sector was adequately strong and healthy. The Israeli government auctioned its direct co-investments in 14 organizations. It also sold away its interest in 9 YOZMA funds to its partners. Although, the state still holds a small interest in two YOZMA funds, yet, all the funds are privatized and the direct contribution of YOZMA related VC capital has largely declined.
Other Initiatives by the Government to Improve VC Sector
The Israeli government also undertook a number of other initiatives, including the launch of tax incentive schemes for investors, fostering the international research and development, and development of other programs.
- Tax Incentives for International Business Angels
According to a research paper by Günseli Baygan, a large number of Israeli VC funds are believed to be injected by business angels in Israel and other countries, specifically the U.S. The government offered tax incentives along with other programs to connect small enterprises and VC funds with international institutions and multinational companies.
Many of the VC funds started their offices in the U.S. and Europe to provide assistance to portfolio companies in finding investors and bringing awareness of technological and market developments in the international market. Given the small scale of the local market, it was a great move to flourish VC firms.
- Fostering International Research and Development (R&D) Agreements
The government also fostered international R&D agreements, including the Israel-US Binational Industrial R&D (BIRD) foundation and the US-Israeli Science and Technology Commission. The BIRD was established in the 70s to fund R&D in startup companies. Moreover, it has also made a contribution by working alongside VC community, making its matchmaking services available for their portfolio companies in order to find out the business angels.
- Other Programs
Apart from the above mentioned initiatives, different government bodies, including the Export Institute in Israel, MATIMOP – an Israeli Industry Center for R&D, and MESSER – Israeli Idea Promotion Center, made their contributions by offering assistance to small firms and entrepreneurs in assessing local and foreign markets for launching their services and products.
The VC industry in Israel grew from an investment of $440 million in 1997 to $1,759 billion in 2007, and almost all the investments in the country focus on high-tech companies, including bio-technology and ICT.