One might think that economic collaboration between two countries is usually initiated by embassies and ministries. During closed-door meetings in palaces, or in quiet offices secured by bodyguards and automated systems.
That was probably once true.
However, a much more informal and grass roots form of collaboration has emerged in the current era of startups and private initiative. Today, projects are born through personal connections, during conferences or casual meetings. Individuals with innovative ideas often end up having more impact than top managers. This is the case for the Ambassadors of the “French Tech” (a project launched by current French President Emmanuel Macron in 2013). Their international profile is a driving force for linking France and the rest of the world: thanks to their initiative, high tech incubators, startups and partnerships are created within flourishing Israeli and French high-tech milieu. Large companies lead this process, poised to detect innovation abroad and absorb technological gems that may become tomorrow’s unicorns- Startup companies which take off and pass the 1 billion valuation threshold.
French Tech Israel ambassadors, drivers of private initiative
Interacting through one-to-one connections is particularly appropriate for Israel, a country where interpersonal relations form easily and with few social barriers or protocols to overcome. In Israel, pitching your project to sneaker-dressed CEO of a big company in a café is absolutely possible. French Tech and its Israeli branch are redefining bilateral relations, supported by Board Members and Ambassadors — all volunteers.
As a Foreign Trade Advisor since 2015 and French Tech Israel Ambassador, Stéphane Chouchan advises startups launched by French or Francophile entrepreneurs. He first arrived in Israel over 20 years ago, with French diplomas and education. With a graduation project at the CNRS (France’s National Center for Scientific Research), a military service in France and a first engineer position in signal processing, he was perfectly positioned to build a stable career in France.
Instead, at a time when Israel faced a shortage of engineers in the mid-1990s, Stéphane Chouchan responded, somewhat by chance, to an offer for employment in a microelectronics company in Israel. Following a series of interviews, he found himself to be seriously moving over the Mediterranean. Stéphane Chouchan arrived in 2004 at STMicroelectronics, first in Marketing and then as Country Manager for Israel. He also tracks topics related to innovation in the SEIN region (South, East, Israel & Nordic region). One of his missions is to use his experience of the Israeli market to promote technological and commercial cooperation between Israel and Europe.
Accelerators and French Tech projects to build bridges between France and Israel
Today, Stéphane’s profile and know-how within STMicroelectronics, a large European group enable him to build bridges between Israel and France: “We had already acquired in 2012 the Israeli company bTendo, which has become one of our R&D centers. I launched the ST-Up accelerator in January 2018 in Israel to help Israeli startups realize their innovative hardware projects faster, and grow faster, in a long-term partnership. Technical innovation is a priority for our group and I am convinced that Israel has a role to play”, explains Stéphane Chouchan.
The 18 months STMicroelectronics accelerator program offers, for 3 to 5 mature semiconductors startups at a time, the opportunity to become a privileged partner of the European group. Selected startups have an access to the group’s R&D teams and resources (design, production, marketing and sales). The main objective is to help them develop their project and grow faster than they would have alone. Located in southern Tel-Aviv’s Wework offices, the accelerator possesses cutting edge equipment required by up and coming R&D teams (3-D printers, etc.).
Collaboration with the Start-up Nation makes for great Innovation
Large companies are now aware that innovation is the new goldmine to pursue. “STMicroelectronics is the only European leader in the semiconductor industry to have a sales office in Israel, an R&D center and now an accelerator,” according to Stéphane Chouchan. “Our President Emmanuel Macron arrived with a very strong positive message, “France is back “. But today’s challenge is about going further by implementing long-term relationships”. This is all the meaning of the launch of this accelerator, which follows a trend of initiatives, such as French Tech.
Combining Israeli innovation with European groups’ know-how
This is a win-win situation: many young Israeli companies need large hardware groups to develop their products more quickly and gain a foothold in international markets, while stable groups are on the lookout for new technologies and business models offered by young innovative structures.
Among other success stories, it is worth mentioning the strategic partnership between STMicroelectronics and Mobileye (recently acquired by Intel for a record $15.3 billion). In this exemplary partnership that has lasted for more than 15 years, it is the large group that has adapted its hardware platform to Mobileye’s algorithm and made its idea compatible with the technical constraints of the automotive industry. A fusion of expertise that augurs well for collaboration. Applications are open.