Israelis worked hard at Vivatech. 100,000 visitors from 125 countries.

By Brett Kline.

Paris:  There seemed to be non-stop pitch sessions by young start-up entrepreneurs taking place at the Israel pavilion of the third annual Vivatechnology show in Paris last week, some more unusual and some more practical than others, but all in the right place.

The Israelis, with 11 start-ups based at the pavilion and 20 others at labs throughout the hall, were but a small part of the three-day show. Organized by French advertising giant PublicisGroupe and its very dynamic, longtime leading figure Maurice Lévy, along with press Groupe Les Echos, the show had a declared focus on Africa this year.  Of course, how that translates is tough to determine, but at the opening, Lévy was joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The message was clear.

Levy does not do things halfway, and seems to be always in motion.  It is easy to see how he put together an advertising empire, and why people respect and like him so.  With his trademark wide smile, on the move between the Publicis VIP lounge and the Israeli pavilion, he was straight-up on Africa.  

“I wanted people to see that African countries are not simply about abundant natural resources,” he told me.  “They also have talent…people, some of whom are launching start-ups, and investors here at the show were able to make contact with them.”  Rwanda, Nigeria and and Morocco all had country pavilions in the hall.

And Moroccan Industry ministry advisor Marouane Benabdallah and founder of Outlierz Ventures founder Kenza Lahlou did meet an Israeli investment firm representative who visited the kingdom’s pavilion.  “There are some 1000 start-ups in Morocco,” noted Benabdallah, who in turn visited the Israeli stand.

“We are demolishing the barriers between Africa and Israel,” commented Maurice Levy with his big smile.  Let’s say that fortunately, those barriers ain’t what they used to be, but they certainly can be brought down a few notches lower!!

Back to the Israelis.  Among the more unique start-ups…Watch and Give, pitched by 25-year-old Jeremie Abihssira, in Israel for a year and a half, but in fact born and raised in Tahiti, of all places.  His phone app links advertisers with associations and causes, and by watching the adverts for free, viewers are actually funding the said association, a type of augmented reality piece of software.

Jeremie explained two times the technology behind the concept of “donation divided by scan”, and when I didn’t get it either in French or English, he laughed.  He has the easy laugh of someone not born and raised in mainland France, or in Israel for that matter.

“You know, we watch about 500 advertisements a day in one form or another,” he noted during his pitch, “and for millenials the figure is twice as high, so Watch and Give is trying to make some sense of this.”  That much I understood…and like, because it almost sounds political.

Surely not for that reason, Jeremie and Watch and Give won the Vivatech “shopping center as value creator” challenge, “ hosted by the Klépierre commercial real estate group.  You might say, so what, but the group has 150 shopping centers throughout Europe, is worth 23 billion euros and trades on the Paris CAC40 exchange.

The prize?  Augmented reality code scans will be put in the Val d’Europe center outside Paris, in a pilot program. “You better believe I am thrilled,” said Jeremie.  “This is exciting.”

He is launching a crowd-funding campaign next week.  When he and partners strike gold, hopefully he will remain an easy-going South Pacific island guy (with Moroccan-Jewish origins, as his name indicates…his ancestor was a saint known as the Baba Salé)!

On a different note, Hertziliya-based Eyesight has already won awards for embedded computer vision for the automotive industry.

“80% of fatal crashes are due to driver distractions, mostly the phone,” explained team member Inbal Toren during her pitch, “so this software is very practical.”

Another reason for crashes?  Drivers nodding out at the wheel.  Using in-cabin sensing solutions, the Eyesight software measures drowsiness.  Toren said it might be mandatory by 2020 for vehicle manufacturers. Then I took my leave as a man from Renault sat down with her.

Other start-ups present included Brandguard, Breezometer, Datorama, deskforce, emaze, Glassbox, Pzartech, syte, Techsee and White Raven.

Also present was Israeli high tech godfather, Yossi Vardi, at the pavilion for hours, working with young entrepreneurs, and presenting the pitch sessions.  What does he tell them?

“I don’t tell them anything,” he told me.  “I just listen.”

After some encouragement from Vardi, Jeremie Abihssira performed a Tahitian Haka dance for the crowd, complete with indigenous Maoré chanting, similar to a New Zealand rugby pre-match rally.  It was spectacular.

Vardi appeared to have a soft spot for the young man and his start-up.  Could it be because funding associations in need, especially in developing countries, indicates something of a progressive social or political consciousness taking shape in this 25-year-old mind?

Jeremie himself commented, “you know, I never thought of that.”

Vardi knows many things about politics but refused to say anything.  He told me only 8% of Israelis are involved in tech start-ups.

However small, it is a well-educated, mobile middle-class sector of the Israeli population.  Should they be more involved in the unattractive, seemingly stagnant world of Israeli-Palestinian politics, in the same way that Israeli academics and figures in the arts have attempted to be (and perhaps to the same extent that, with a few notable exceptions, most high-tech movers and shakers in the United States are definitely not Republicans or fans of Donald Trump)?

Is this the proper venue to ask such questions? Most would say, not at all.  But, for example, preserving the environment and dealing with climate change have motivated many tech figures, and the Paris climate accord is a functioning agreement within the framework of the United Nations, in spite of resistance in Washington.  So why not an active link-up between high tech genius and structures, and other progressive, sensitive political issues, including peace in the Middle East.

It was Charles de Gaulle who said, “politics are too serious a matter to be left to politicians.” 

Yossi Vardi refused to say anything about this subject on the record.  Off the record was another matter. He did comment, “In Israel, nothing is right on the right, and nothing is left of the left.”

The pavilion saw another important visitor: Mounir Madjoubi, French secretary of state for digital affairs and innovation…yes, this is an official position.  In a short speech, he noted, “the French-Israeli high tech relationship is made up of the two leading students in the class.”

He has visited Israel more than once, and has praised its innovation eco-system.

Back to Vivatech.  According to an in-house press release, 100,000 visitors from 125 countries attended this third edition, with 9,000 startups,1,900 investors, and 1,900 journalists.

Maurice Levy commented, “the success is beyond all our expectations.”

The show has helped put Paris at the center of the digital planet.

By Brett Kline

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