It’s no secret that the top dogs of the global tech scene are in a battle for Israeli talent. However, behind the heavily reported battle for human resources, lies another ongoing hunt for talent -- Israeli startups. Many tech giants, such as Intel, Microsoft, and IBM, run various accelerator programs in Israel; as a way to increase their exposure to the next wave of Israeli innovation and discover new talent before their other market leading competitors.
Another big name playing the Israeli tech scene is American chip colossus, NVIDIA, which employs a very unique program for startups. We’ll be revealing data, for the first time, showing that NVIDIA’s acquisition of Mellanox was apparently just the first stage of its Israeli startup plan.
The Mellanox executive who's hunting for startups
NVIDIA's accelerator program -- NVIDIA Inception -- has been able to recruit more than 7,500 startups from 90 different countries over the past 5 years. This figure, on average, means that the program has tapped less than 100 companies in each country. Though, as we said, the Israeli tech ecosystem is just different, and more than 270 startups take part in the program, with a quarter of those companies joining in the last six months alone.
As mentioned, NVIDIA is by no means the only giant in Israel to launch programs for startups: Microsoft has AI for Good (or Microsoft For Startups), Facebook has B2C Bootcamp and Intel of course has Intel Ignite -- alongside the many other acceleration programs on the market. They all want the next big startup to come out of their camp.
To achieve these lofty goals, NVIDIA has appointed Arik Kol to Senior Director of NVIDIA Inception in Israel. Kol previously worked at Mellanox, until NVIDIA acquired the Israeli company for nearly $7 billion.
“Although we are thought of as a hardware company, we have changed our face in the last decade,” notes Kol in a Geektime interview. “(The company) invests heavily in the software side to equip developers with dual software/hardware platforms, so that they will be the ones bringing the edge solutions.” However, the NVIDIA program is not exactly the standard accelerator you are probably familiar with, as it is solely a 'virtual' program. Kol explains that participating startups receive access to NVIDIA trained SDKs and models, in addition to mentorship from business and tech experts, similarly to parallel programs. So on the one hand the program is virtual, but on the other hand, it means that it is also not limited in time, enabling each participating startup access at its own pace.
What’s the catch? Do you take equity?
Kol: “We don’t take equity, limit time of participation, or ask for money. Unlike similar programs, we really try not to limit participating startups. There’s no time limit, we don’t hover over their heads with demands… out of a belief that relevant sectors to us provide different solutions, which allow us to move forward as a technological partner.”
Obviously, you’re not just about philanthropy? What’s NVIDIA’s return on investment?
Kol: “We do not look at the short term and when they [the startups] make us money. This is a broader overview. Startups that use our technologies, when they go into production will increase their use of GPUs in the cloud. They will use solutions like Jetson and Data Centers. We are definitely looking here from a business standpoint, but are not looking how we make a quick buck off of these startups.”
On the other hand, you get access to a plethora of young startups, which you could invest in or acquire.
Kol: “Theoretically, yes, this could lead to investments… but we’re looking at a critical mass of startups with which we would like to collaborate with, and not just acquire.”
Kol explains that the company is not satisfied with the 270 companies already participating in the program, and wants to up the stakes a bit: "We believe that in a relatively short period, we will have 1,000 startups in Israel collaborating with NVIDIA.” He defines the goal as "very worthy and reasonable." Among the companies participating in the program you will also find mature companies such as Zebra Medical, Lightricks and Gong.