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Bring the innovation to Tampa

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  • | 11:00 a.m. September 23, 2016
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Some Tampa area business and civic leaders are looking far outside the United States — to Israel — to lure tech startups to town, with $1 million in seed money.

The funds, from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, will go toward build-out and company relocation incentives for the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator. The Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation launched the program in late August. Dr. Vicki Rabenou, trained in obstetrics and gynecology and a onetime official in Israel's Ministry of Economy, was named president and CEO of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator.

The goal of the program, says Rabenou, is to compliment Tampa's burgeoning tech startup scene with some new faces and energy, and also help Israeli companies grow in Florida and the United States. “Israel is in a very unique situation,” Rabenou tells Coffee Talk. “It's surrounded by enemies yet it has one of the best startup communities in the world.”

Rabenou recently left for Israel to scout out companies that might want to move to Tampa. Florida-Israel Business Accelerator officials will then vet the companies and select six to 10 per cohort, which lasts four months.

Once the companies are in the program, the accelerator will provide industry expertise through structured programming, one-on-one consulting sessions, access to industry experts and exposure to potential investors.

The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator also recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to collaborate on technology products. For that program, some of the participants in the companies will work with government officials on products and services that fill technology capability shortfalls at SOCOM. That includes software and cyber-security.

“Many Israeli startups have been founded by entrepreneurs with military backgrounds,” Rabenou says in a statement on the SOCOM agreement. “To be able to work with SOCOM will be a tremendous draw for them and to create innovations with such a profound impact is even more appealing.”

The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator is the first accelerator program of its kind created by a Jewish Community Center or Jewish Federation in North America, according to a statement.

“We think this is relevant and timely,” says Tampa Jewish Community Centers Executive Director Jack Ross, who co-founded the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator. “It's a great way for Tampa to see the innovation of Israel.”


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