On Monday night, the 36th Israeli government was sworn in to term -- and at the top, taking the reins as the 13th Israeli Prime Minister (for the next two years at least) is Naftali Bennett. Unlike past examples of Prime Ministers who took the role after a long-standing military career or experience in the public sector, Bennett has gone from high-tech to high office.
The first and biggest startup exit
Although Bennett doesn’t come with a military background in intelligence or computing, he was still able to find a place in the high-tech sphere -- founding his first company in 1999 named Cyota, along with co-founder Michal Tsur PhD (later would go on to found Kaltura), Ben Enosh, and Lior Golan.
The four built a data-security company, which developed algorithms for credit card transaction authentication and approval. The Cyota solution was highly adopted for online transaction security by banks and credit card companies from around the world.
Then, in 2005, the coveted exit arrived, when Cyota, Bennett -- the CEO -- and his partners were acquired by RSA for $145 million. The founders made their money and at the head of the company, which became RSA Israel, stood Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk - the General Manager of Microsoft Israel R&D. Bennett shares an amusing anecdote -- the product developed by his company actually prevented a charge he made after his credit details fell into the wrong hands.
The second exit
After cashing in on the Cyota acquisition by RSA, Bennett began advising startups -- until in 2009 he took the CEO chair at Soluto -- which developed a remote control mobile and desktop dashboard for private and commercial customers.
Bennett remained at the company, which was founded by Tomer Dvir and Ishay Green, and won the 2009 TechCrunch Disrupt challenge, for only a few months until he moved on. Nevertheless, his stake in the company made him a hefty profit, when the company was acquired in 2013 by Asurion.
The new Israeli PM made a few million dollars more after Soluto was acquired by the American firm for $100 million; it also marked the first year that the former Soluto CEO entered the political arena.
The exit that has yet to come
After benefiting big time from the Soluto acquisition, it was recently reported that Bennett is about to hit the jackpot again. Israel’s new PM had invested in the past in Israeli FinTech Unicorn, Payoneer, which is nearing a SPAC merger into NASDAQ.
Bennet, who according to reports invested a couple hundred thousand shekels in what was back then a small FinTech startup, is definitely going to enjoy his stake in the company as it enters the public market at a $3.3 billion valuation. The expected SPAC journey will be completed with the merger between the Israeli FinTech giant and FTAC OLYMPUS. Estimates put Bennett’s profits in the millions of dollars.
Bringing the startup vibe into politics
Bennett pulled from the spirit of the Israeli ecosystem during his first political role as Minister of Economy -- helping establish a national authority for research, development, and innovation. Bennett wanted the authority to be able to make investments in local startups, authorize grants, raise capital from Israel and around the world, establish investment funds, and offer state-backed loans.
Bennett’s initiative never really grew any roots, and was pushed back. However, during his next term, the move passed, leading to the birth of the Israel Innovation Authority. Fulfilling Bennett’s vision of a state backed entity to support startups financially, connect between ecosystems, and more.