From the city of tea to the Mediterranean Sea: London mayor’s delegation charms in Tel Aviv
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London Mayor Boris Johnson laughs as he gets up to speak at Campus Tel Aviv Monday, November 9th (photo credit: Gedalyah Reback)

London Mayor Boris Johnson laughs as he gets up to speak at Campus Tel Aviv Monday, November 9th (photo credit: Gedalyah Reback)

An alliance of smart city innovators, edtech specialists and incubators are accompanying Mayor Boris Johnson on his trip to Startup Nation

When you think of London, do you think of spots of tea, monocles, and bowlers? Well, I do also. But that shouldn’t keep you from thinking about computers.

According to Compass, it is indisputably Europe’s largest tech hub with an ecosystem worth more than $44 billion. They have also staked out a claim as the global capital for financial technology, education startups, and smart city firms. Thirteen of Europe’s 40 unicorns (tech startups worth more than $1 billion) are in London and venture capital investment Q1-Q3 2015 has already eclipsed what it was in all of 2014.

With all that behind him, Mayor of London Boris Johnson is leading a major delegation of British entrepreneurs and key leaders to Israel this week as part of a major networking initiative between the two startup hubs. With him he brought reps from 16 companies — primarily in the smart city and edtech space — to find partners for new ventures or potentially recruit talent for back home.

At a press event on Monday, several of the delegates presented their thoughts on collaboration and exchange between London and Silicon Wadi. On a panel that Eileen Burbidge moderated, the Chair of Tech City UK, we got a showcase of talent that had one or another connection to both startup ecosystems: CEO James Layfield of Central Working, CEO Yoni Assia of eToro, CEO Remo Gerber of Gett and CEO Tom Hatton of RefMe. Ian Fordham, the co-founder of the brand new strategy council Edtech UK, presented global recognition awards to startups in the space.

The most amusing showing came from the mayor himself. He seemed intent on making sure he wasn’t just a political showcase and he actually had things worth quoting.

“My earliest contribution to the Israeli economy was as a volunteer on a kibbutz,” he mentioned, maybe surprising some in the room. “But clearly the economy has moved on since,” perhaps suggesting his personal efforts on the crops may have pushed Israelis to move away from collective farming as a long-term business model for economic development.

His humor was straight-faced, linguistic, and he knew his audience. He jested how lucky he was to be able to take credit for 20,000 startups mysteriously appearing on his watch. Further, he boasted London had more restaurants than Paris, more residents than Rome, and you were five times less likely to be murdered in London than you were in New York.

The Big Smoke and the Big Orange

There is a major exchange of human resources between the two countries. Perhaps as many as 80,000 Israelis reside in the UK — 50,000 of them in London alone. The number is likely similar for Brits living in Israel. Trade between the countries is worth more than $5.5 billion per year according to the Israel-Britain Chamber of Commerce. One of the points that the delegates kept stressing was that the UK would benefit tremendously from Israeli human capital.

Other companies, like pre-seed investor Entrepreneur First, is scouting the prospect of launching a new accelerator-like program in Israel. Exam preparation company Gojimo is looking for possible publishing partners and co-working accelerator Innovation Warehouse is trying to develop a network between London and Israel. Architecture-visualizer Lucid and “digital university” startup Proversity are also searching for new customers and partners for joint ventures.

Perhaps the most on point in his comments about the two tech hubs was Index Ventures partner Saul Klein, a British expat in Israel who’s been the UK’s Tech Envoy to Israel since December 2012. He works out of the UK Israel Tech Hub, a joint initiative of the British and Israeli governments. The hub focuses on networking and scaling for digital, biomed, cleantech and Arabic digital content companies.

“You just see energy in Israel across all sectors,” he told the crowd. Therefore, it was clearly vital for the UK “to cement this partnership.” He continued emphasizing London’s central location as an access point to Europe and hub for emerging markets.

“Israel should work with the UK to access Asia & Africa,” hitting a note that has been played a lot in recent years with Israelis. “That’s where you find the major growth opportunities today.”

The delegation is touring Tel Aviv all week, visiting representatives from the Israeli edtech industry, IoT companies, smart city startups and other public officials. The trip is sponsored by London & Partners, Edtech UK, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.

The mayor gets into hot water with Palestinians

On Wednesday, the mayor had to cancel planned events in the West Bank because of comments he made against “lefty academics” who boycott Israel. This occurred because of fears for his personal security.

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