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One Mic Stand: Gal Inbar of 412X972

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand

412×972 leverages synergies between the Pittsburgh and Israel business ecosystems and identifies specific opportunities through scouting, business development, and other programs to create benefits to both communities. Gal Inbar gives us all of the details of this unique program.




You're listening to the TechVibe Radio One Mic Stand. This is Jonathan Kersting, with the Pittsburgh Technology Council, bringing you what I think are some of the coolest stories happening in the Pittsburgh region. And today's story is just I think, really remarkable. I just love seeing these types of things happen. building connections that we're talking about today. We're talking to Gal Inbar, from 412X972 Pittsburgh, Israel innovation. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. I love what you guys are up to you're building this very big bridge between Pittsburgh and Israel. I think it's really rad.

Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me. And, yes, this is something that we've been working on. For the Jewish Federation of greater Pittsburgh has started dreaming this thing several years ago. And about a little more than a year ago, I joined the team. And we are developing bridges between Israel and Pittsburgh, our business bridges.

Absolutely, probably jump into the conversation. Tell me a bit about Gal, what is your What is your past experience and what got you interested in being part of this for one, two by nine, seven to set up.

So I, in terms of my background, I'm an industrial engineer, I have a bachelor and master's degrees in industrial engineering and also an MBA. And along the year, I did a lot of roles in many types of organizations. The longest thing I've done is that I was called the CFO for about two decades. And I did the turnaround threes really middle market, industrial businesses. Before that time, I was involved with several startups, I did the business development for a software company. And then later I co founded a hardware company in served as a marketing manager. And about six years ago, after I had enough with, with the turnaround business, which is a bit stressful, I would say, just a tiny bit so so I decided to lay low and and do some consulting, but I'm relatively hyperactive, as you may notice them. And after about two to three days, sitting at home and waiting for for, for things two to three of me, I hopped on a plane and flew to Boston, and knocked on the door of the company back then was the largest, or the leading company in the world in collaborative robotics, rethink robotics, and convince them that I should be their Israeli distributor. And when I came back to Israel, I brought in a partner and we started the distribution business and before the business of collaborative robotics. And, and so I did mostly bet and also continue doing some consulting for the last few years, and about a year and a half ago, I decided to sell to sell my equity in the robotics business to my partner, and I was looking for the next challenge. And approximate and, and I in terms of things I've done, it could could have been anything, right? And a very good very good friend of mine told me Listen, there's a bunch of people from Pittsburgh, they're good people and you would fit the thing that there seems to

love it. So I'm kind of an improviser in some aspects of my of my personality. So that's explored as I explored many other opportunities, I looked into this opportunity as well. And I fell in love with the people and and, but I heard their story and they were looking to develop some kind of Chamber of Commerce. And frankly, I've worked I spoke with seven chambers of commerce the last two years and all the all my career has been a business person seeking how to optimize value and make profit and so on. And it always felt to me that the trades that you need to do to run are such a chamber of commerce is more to know how to schmooze with a philanthropist and and to to lead delegations and make conferences, which are things that I might be able to do but but it's not my like core competence, that's

not human.

But I told them, Listen, I'm willing to help you with something but it must be a for profit, something and we must calibrate the needs of the customers, the people that we want to serve with the income of the business because when these two will align, either we could generate a lot of value and then ask for a small chunk of it. Or if we cannot generate a lot of value, then there isn't a real reason for this thing to work and let the philanthropic money go for the people who really really need it. The I'm speaking pre COVID comments about last spring, more discussion. Right,

absolutely. So this is why I'm so excited to talk to you because you have I think, is the perfect mindset for this type of position. And you understand what it means to make a business to turn a business around the importance of developing new connections and finding new intersections. And you go into this saying that I want to do something that adds value. And it's not just about like, you know, let's just do something and see if we can raise some money around it or something like that. So no, like you are, you're in this for impact. And for results is what it seems like to me. And I just think that is just super exciting. And in bringing this this business, in mindset with a complete understanding of tech is just so important. So I mean, obviously, what did you know about Pittsburgh before you took this thing on knowing that your job is getting connect some of the cool Pittsburgh tech companies with opportunities over in Israel and taking Israel and knowing what's going on there and saying, here's what's happening in Pittsburgh, so it must be a you're a fast study, right?

So, one, when I was looking at different opportunities, and doors, other opportunities on the table for me, and some of them were way more lucrative, I looked at different things. And I said, this is going to be so much fun doing this thing. I would need to learn so many technologies, and meet so many interesting people. So who cares about the rest of the thing? I'm craving and craving for this adrenalin for better, complex, complex challenges to overcome. Okay, so so to your question, it's a, it's very, it's very challenging, but it's very interesting to learn, to learn about new ideas, new technologies, new concepts and to find their match on on the other geography and, and when we started that, doing this thing, we were not sure how how it's going to operate. And along the past year, we crystallized the services that we provide into two services, one we call business development. And this is mainly helping companies find our sales opportunities on the other on the other locale. And the second thing is mostly for middle market and corporate that beach ball is is scouting services in Pittsburgh, we so that all the companies have someone on the sea level, which is an innovation officer, most of those innovation officers don't call themselves innovation officers, sometimes they called to sometimes they are CEOs, business, they have various names. But these are people who understand that if the company will not continuously innovate, it would lose its competition against the bigger coastal companies who, who are closer to talent finest suppliers, whatever. So. So I'm working with these with these organizations. These organizations currently bring their innovations either from the local ecosystem, or from the eastern West Coast. And once I started dialogue with these companies, I can understand what what they are seeking and bring them new and different opportunities from Israel.

Very, very cool stuff. Tell us a little bit about what's going on in Israel's ecos tech ecosystem. I know there's some exciting stuff happening over in Israel and they have got a great environment and are building awesome companies. And I think that there's some great opportunities for sales and partnership across innovation like all over the place.

Israeli Israelis are great with coming up with innovative ideas. They are less talented in in performing a great sales and especially in like concluding or perfecting beautiful products. And and one of the biggest challenges that Israeli companies find when they are trying to enter the US is usually they go and try to knock on the Googles and the Microsoft's door okay, but they are they so far did I don't know they did to sales to do to middle sized Israeli companies. And in those fortune 500 companies are like not 100 times bigger, but the thousand times bigger than anything, they approach them. It's too big on them. Right. And also, there's the mentality of the coastal people, which are usually called they're very precise and strict and although everybody in the states think they are early adopters, I find Pittsburghers for example, truly early adopters understanding that they can that if if they are willing to take something which is not fully baked it might not work for works perfectly but they're willing to test it in order to develop some competitive edge. And and one of the wonderful things that I find in Pittsburgh is the mentality of people is much warmer, people are more open people are more relaxed, cool. And and it's not that the Israeli and peaceable culture have a perfect fit, but it's much easier to generate a conversation, build a dialogue and build it And long term relation, a win win for Israelis, with digital companies, both Israelis who don't have yet any any presence in the states and ones that do have presence in the States. But, you know, when an Israeli company enters the state, they come up with two or three people one in New York, one in Boston, one in the West Coast. This work is usually not on their sales map. So not

exactly right. Not knowing if there is good opportunity here, but looking at some of this bigger locales.

So few of the wonderful, wonderful people that I was introduced to the wonderful board that sits in in for one two by 972. Andy Rubin is the chair Ilana diamond, David Kelvin, Jeff Finkelstein, and Brian English from from the Federation. They are all a well networked and they are all helping me to come up with the right access to the right people when when we are trying to do some matchmaking.

Very, very cool. So if I'm like a Pittsburgh tech company, and I'm interested in kind of looking into the Israel market, what kind of what kind of tech are they looking for over there is there are certain categories that are really standing out over others.

So, so far, I haven't met any pittsburgher intrapreneur, who woke up in the morning and said, Well, I'm going to conquer the world. And the fifth step would be through selling doing. So the challenge, the challenge is first to make them to make them realize that Israel is an opportunity. And the first thing that that if Pittsburghers are early adopters, that Israelis are super duper early adopters, Israelis are willing to take whatever you bring and play with it. And they would give you honest feedback and give you feature requests and suggestions and so on. And once you calibrate the product to the Israeli market, the Israeli market is working under the European Union standards mostly so so if you if you can sell it in Israel, so it means that you can sell it also to the EU. My personal network is very good in Israel. And in many cases, I can come in connect the companies to sales opportunities, which in terms of upside, that they currently cannot access them in the state, for example, startup that we are working with, in Pittsburgh, in any seeking seeking power generation partners, I reached out to these rarely, Electric Company, which is practically a monopoly that serves 10 million people in Israel or 7 million people in Israel. And and they are interested and they are willing to test this to find a similar thing in in in Pittsburgh is to wait to wait the next two, three years you come you come in Israel and say, Listen, I have this wonderful startup from the States with this innovative technology, then everybody in Israel assumes Well, these these are like great players, let's bring them in. Also, some companies in Israel can serve as distributors. And these distributors can become become a foothold in terms of email like Europe, Middle East and Africa in terms of sales potential. And a lot of tech companies are once they have their first international distributor or the first international, our strategic customer, they understand how easy it is. And they can generate more and investors when they see a two companies one that sells only locally and the other one already has, like at least the infrastructure to sell globally. It feels differently.

Yeah, I know who's more interesting to invest in at that point, we have some international sales already being set up. And I really want to encourage everybody who's listening to this and like if they're interested in learning more is to connect with you to start learning about these opportunities because I think they're so broad and there's so many and they're so deep that I think you really need to talk with these people like individually so they can really you can really learn more about the potential of each particular note Pittsburgh company that could that would be interested in entering new through through Israel as far as that goes i think is exciting because what a cool market to get into and to have someone like you almost be like a concierge to bridge that gap. Which is just so hard to do. Because I mean, I don't know how you would do without someone like you in order to kind of make that happen. So that's why I think that this 412 by 972 initiative is just such an important thing. And we need more of these like we need we need to bring these out all over the place. But I just think Israel is such a cool place. I've heard so much about what's going on tech wise there that it seems like this is a great place I mean with the E standards. So it does become that nice launching pad, launching pad and you can help them get on that launching pad and make stuff happen gal really cool.

We also identified Several other needs that that we can serve. One of the things that we realized is that in the robotics area in Pittsburgh, although Pittsburgh is generating a lot of robotics, talent through universities, most of that talent getting is getting sucked by the big autonomous vehicle, a company that came to town. And and when I spoke with several robotics companies in town, they all said they need talent. And in Israel, there is excess talent. in robotics, a lot of people who, who studied robotics are minor in their studies with the university and doing other things because there aren't enough jobs in robotics in Israel,

send them over here. Even virtually.

One of the thing is, so in terms of our portfolio, we have we brought in companies who can provide subcontracting services in, in robotics in IoT hardware design, in battery, design in user user interface, design, with technical documentation, development, all kinds of, of technical expertise, who sometimes you have in your team, but you know, that you're you, you can take a great member of your team and spend them on doing things that that you can easily outsource to Israel. And we have some companies already from Pittsburgh, who are in very advanced discussions about subcontracting and, or, or doing projects together with such as really company by but by the way, there's also a wonderful program, which two companies, one from Pittsburgh and one from New Zealand just apply to it's called the bird foundation. It's a foundation that they will be not working for the past 30 years. And it supports, it gives grants of up to $1 million for joint r&d of Israeli and big small companies. And so if if a peaceful company is seeking such an Israeli partner for r&d, again, they they are welcome to reach out to me and I can I would be more than happy to find them several potential matches and to help them due diligence and find the word partner that both will help them get the grant and we help them duel smart and effective r&d for the knee.

That is very cool. That is a very unique program.

So Cal Tell me about

the idea of Are there any is really investors that were interested in doing deal flow or in our deal flow and doing deals over in Pittsburgh?

So one of the things I try I tried to not not to promise anyone is a funding because our funding is always scarce, both in Israel and ending Pittsburgh. A lot of the money that the that is being invested in Israel is coming from the states are coming from other countries and are like, dedicated for, for Israeli companies. And and on the other hand, Israeli companies are reaching out to me and tell they are asking me, can you fix me? Can you fix me in a principle based investor? I'm telling people listen, if you're failing to raise money in Israel, in New York, and in the West Coast, do you think that you should be trying to be hydrated the scarce resources. But on the other hand, one of the things I see is that when, when good people are getting connected to good people, it doesn't matter if it's this way or that way. And people on the other locale, see the effectiveness of the technology, then they open up and they consider making investments. So when people are reaching out to me, the first thing I'm always focusing it is on finding a real business opportunity. If I find you a real business opportunity and you you show how you can generate value and create create profit out of it. investor would flock and and and would be interested in.

Absolutely, absolutely. So to wrap up the conversation, the whole COVID thing has just been tough on everybody. And obviously you're just starting this thing up trying to you know, get in front of people shake hands and connect folks, all of a sudden a year you were all kind of stuck at home doing everything virtually, how's that impacted you being able to get this thing up and running and start building these very valuable connections.

So So on one hand, this is very challenging, because usually a first conversation with a person like the the first meeting is is something that you would expect or we are used to, you know, to drink the coffee to go for for lunch to, to do to make the to make the acquaintance in in, in a physical way. And and the word worries At the beginning, this thing is going to stop it these processes, right, and especially the beginning that, let's say, the first two months, it really stopped a lot of new processes. But we are very wonderful creatures in our ability to adapt. And and first you see, you see the people, people understand that this is the new norm. So you need to learn how to communicate via these, these communication tools. And one of the wonderful things with people are not sure that everybody realizes is that, you know, when I started and people were asking me, how do you how do you divide your time? So I would definitely listen, I'm spending six to eight weeks in Israel, and then two weeks in Pittsburgh, and they were telling me isn't it's true to be Gambit. So I told them, Listen, there's this thing called zoom, and we can communicate, and people will, some people would know, but but it was, like people weren't knew that there's this thing. And maybe they did it once or twice, but it wasn't like a phone or like

an everyday thing like it is now.

And most of the people I'm communicating with, has at least a salt and pepper hair in this day, like the people who are at their, let's say, late 40s 50s 60s 70s 80s, these people weren't zooming at all the precursor. And suddenly, everybody got to zoom. So in some sense, some of my relations with each work would develop like every two months, I would get another step because I flew in and had another dinner or another cup of coffee. And after three cups of coffee, you start doing business. And suddenly people figured they can, they can have a zoom coffee with me every three weeks. to to to develop. And and i think i think that faraway places like Israel and Pittsburgh, which are not at the center of the hub, this COVID thing is actually a push them towards the center. Because one of the things that if you think about it, you have you have the customer, you have a customer in I don't know in Ohio, and and yesterday, yesterday, if you were located in in Pittsburgh, in New York, or in New York or in Israel, and that customer would call you up and say listen, I have a problem. So the guy from New York or the guy from Pittsburgh would fly the next day to see what's the problem and to deal with it. And the Israeli guy would take probably a week, and he would he would manage to to get and this this is a friction that creates a problem. By the way, if the customer is located in New York, then the New York based company would get to him in half a day and the Pittsburgh and these rarely would be a too late. Now everybody, everybody our 10 minutes, zoom away from everything. Exactly. So so so. And in terms of cost structure, our companies have not yet realized how much money this thing save, think when you bring in someone to to implement a new piece of technology, and then train your company. And you have people flying in from all over the world from all over the continent to go through the training. And you need to pay their travel, you need to pay their hotel, their food, their everything, and the people who are flying in. And so and if you if you you check in terms of next time, the person who deployed the things stayed for two days. And the people who flew in are set on a training of three, four hours. And it cost you tons of tons of money. And tomorrow or today. People get a do remote a remote deployment. Worst case scenario, they find some technician, local technician that does the installation with a remote, remote support, right. And then you open 10 webinars at 10 different times and everybody registered to the webinar that he's most comfortable to him. So nobody's workflow is is damaged. And nobody flies anywhere. So you save all that time and money that was wasted.

I can see COVID is not going to keep you down and I love your energy. I love your mission. I love your background and what you guys are doing to connect Pittsburgh with Israel and Israel to Pittsburgh, I think is some amazing work. And at the tech Council, we wouldn't be as supportive that as possible. We're going to get the word out for you. So in the liner notes, we'll put your contact information so that people want to link up with you they can do that. Because I think this is an amazing opportunity even with COVID going on that there's some great opportunities to start building new business, new innovation, new connections, and now you can make that happen like you're just that that that go between building this really awesome bridge for one to buy 972 We call organization gal. You are the best.

Thank you so much for hosting me.

Absolutely. Now you'd be good

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