from the August 2013 issue

Cisco to build cyber R&D center

CEO of American multinational networking corporation says company will invest $15 million in Israeli venture capital funds, development of new security technologies

Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers, who is visiting Israel as part of the Presidential Conference, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and announced additional investments planned by the company in the country, as well as the recruitment of employees in the field of information security.

According to Chambers, the company plans to establish a development center in Israel that will sponsor research on cyber security and analyze security in the financial, health and industrial sectors in cooperation with startup companies and the academia.

Mega Exit
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He said it would facilitate the growth of a new generation of high-tech companies in Israel and the integration of ultra-Orthodox and minorities in the labor market.

A source in the Israel National Cyber Bureau estimated that Cisco would invest tens of millions of dollars in the new center and will recruit about 100 new employees in the coming year. The company already has 2,000 employees in Israel.

Chambers said that Cisco would also invest $15 million in Israeli venture capital funds and in the development of new security technologies as part of a broader plan to expand its operations in Israel and outside the United States. No country has startups like Israel does and I go where the startups are," Chambers told a news conference.

Israel "will be the first country in the world to go end-to-end digital," he said, noting it will be boosted by an ambitious project to build a super-fast fiber optics network.

A group led by Sweden's Viaeuropa was chsen to build the network along with state-run utility Israel Electric Corp using Cisco's technology.

Cisco said the project, which will cost billions of shekels, is expected to be completed in 7-10 years but Chambers said that he was pushing for full deployment in 18-36 months. Cisco, he said, is financing $140 million of the project.

A Carmiel high-tech firm, a female Haredi CEO leads by example Hanita Fridman says the success of her company proves how many ultra-Orthodox Israelis want to work, if only they have the opportunity

Hanita Fridman (left), along with Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Karmisoft CFO Shimon Korlefsky, during a recent visit by Bennett to Karmisoft's Carmiel offices.

To paraphrase the Passover Haggadah, dayenu - it would have been enough - if Hanita Fridman ran a software development company whose vision was to help the ultra-Orthodox find their place in Israel's workforce. As it turns out, she is all three. Along with a partner, Fridman (whose husband studies full-time in a kollel) runs start-up computer software development company Karmisoft, where more than half of the nearly two dozen employees are Haredi men and women, in the Galilee town of Carmiel.

"Whenever I hear a debate on public policy regarding how to put the Haredim to work, I don't know whether to laugh or cry," she said in an interview. "Of course Haredim want to work. It's just that nobody wants to hire them."

Karmisoft is on top of the latest trends in app development, with employees expert in hot areas like embedded systems, user interface, web apps, and mobile app development. "It's a little strange to fathom," she acknowledged, "seeing the Haredi women who work in our office programming for smartphones, when they themselves use phones that don't even have text messaging capabilities."

Karmisoft's staff has done dozens of creative projects, including a remote control card software project for the military, a quality testing tool for embedded system cards with LCD screens, numerous websites, and dozens of mobile and web apps. "We did, for a European company called Grunveld, a security application for trucks, which uses sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in their path when they are going in reverse," said Fridman. "We did another sensor app for a company called Btline, which gathers data on temperature and humidity in fruit growing areas, and sends the data to a website, where farmers can access it."

Carmiel may seem an improbable place for a Haredi-oriented company to set up shop, but the town actually has a substantial ultra-Orthodox community, attracted by the relatively reasonable house prices. Fridman and her family moved there from a kibbutz near the northern town of Ma'alot about a dozen years ago, when they became newly Orthodox (ba'alei teshuva). Fridman has degrees in computer science, businesses administration, and marketing, and has been working in high-tech for over 20 years. "I consulted with rabbis who told me that it was great that I had a successful career, but that it would be even better if I could do something to help the community." Thus was born the idea for Karmisoft, which Fridman and her partner established in 2010.

Some political and business leaders concerned with the issue of the ultra-Orthodox in the workplace see Fridman's company as a model of what could be. Several weeks ago, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett visited, and this week she met (not for the first time) with industrial mogul Stef Wertheimer, who is very interested in bringing more Haredim to work in his Tefen Industrial Zone in the north.

The public is also misinformed as to the "demands" that the ultra-Orthodox are reputed to make as conditions for working. "Many of the Haredim who work for tech companies in the center of the country are sent to work in departments and even buildings separate from the rest of the employees, but that is usually a management decision. Here in the north we do not have luxuries such as separate departments for anyone, and Haredim and secular people sit, work, and produce in the same room." The same holds true for Internet use; most Haredi authorities understand the need to use the Internet in work settings, she said, though they are are concerned over the Internet's deleterious effect on youth when used at home.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report August 2013

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