Being the Startup Nation is one of Israel’s greatest assets. The introduction of Israel’s innovation visa looks to share it with the world
Israel is instantly associated worldwide with its renowned entrepreneurial scene and it is this reputation that has brought the country intense interest from members of the global innovation community seeking to become more actively involved with it. While significant exposure can be gained from merely visiting and observing, there has thus far been no route through which foreign entrepreneurs could tap into the richness of the ecosystem to directly benefit from it.
Now in an unprecedented move to change this situation, the Israel Innovation Authority has announced the introduction of a Innovation Visa designed specifically to help realize the aspirations of those wishing to establish themselves in the Startup Nation.
The visa, open to applicants globally, will afford startups with a defined vision the opportunity to base their operations in Israel, allowing them to access the world class support initiatives previously only available to resident entrepreneurs. Through the program, successful founders are assigned a “support entity” which will provide guidance and other strategic value adds such as introductions to venture capitalists, key industry players and prospective business partnerships. Such support entities are selected on the basis of their ability to provide mutual enrichment to the startups they are hosting in conjunction with the quality of the technological infrastructure they have in place.
Another major incentive is that visa holders will be eligible to apply to the early stage startup Tnufa program. If accepted, they are then entitled, with a maximum threshold of $50,000, to 85% of approved expenses associated with such services as prototyping, registering a patent, and designing a business plan. Entrepreneurs can also extend out their visa in the event they are looking to stay more permanently in Israel after the visa has elapsed. If appropriate to their long term goals, they can then apply, as a next step, for the Expert Visa, giving them access to the the full scope of the innovation authorities programs.
On the entrepreneurship front, the visa should serve to reduce the difficulties associated with persons of non-Jewish background applying for a work visa in Israel. Complaints about the bureaucracy surrounding receiving sufficient visas have a long history for foreigners looking to set up shop in Israel. Currently those still waiting for approval, have to contend with several restrictions of the Visitor Visa such as being prevented from opening business bank accounts and not being able to stay in the country for longer than 90 days at a time before having to hop over to Jordan for a new visa, something which is normally required to established operations in Israel.
Anya Eldan, Head of the Startup Division described to Geektime the program as a way for startups to, “develop their businesses with the advice of some of the countries best innovators while also giving foreign entrepreneurs the chance to give back to the enterprises accommodating them.”
Similar programs have yielded impressive outcomes in other nations, with 13 countries currently having implemented an entrepreneur-centric visa. In Ireland, the result of issuing just 20 foreign entrepreneur visas was the creation of 220 jobs and 6 million euros in investment. The efforts of the Startup Chile program also boast outstanding returns, having attracted a wide range entrepreneurs from across Latin America with a claimed $100 million of private capital raised.
Israel’s already robust startup infrastructure and track record make it well placed to be able to deliver on such a program and offer for the first time deep and firsthand insights into the workings of the local startup scene. While this initiative should be met with some initial and frankly pragmatic skepticism, it is reassuring to an extent that the government is listening to the needs of the tech community and is making efforts to address the issues. It also greatly facilitates opportunities for companies to contribute to the host economy through their activities. The program will open for applications in early 2017 when the screening process for support entities is finalized.