Cisco & Tel Aviv: Investing in One of the World’s Hottest Startup Ecosystems

I love Tel Aviv for many reasons. The amazing people. The food. The nightlife. There is a lot to love.

But what’s most exciting about Tel Aviv? The startup market. Here, the entrepreneurial energy is intense and visionary and productive. Everybody here knows everybody, everybody’s dipping into each other’s network for talent. People are sharing ideas, and they’re backing each other up, which is unique for a hyper-competitive market.

And it’s an ecosystem gaining in recognition. Recently, Tel Aviv was named one of the world’s  “Heavyweight” tech hubs by CB Insights – right up there with Silicon Valley, New York, London, Boston, and Los Angeles. The city also boasts the highest number of startups per capita in the world and is known as a favorite of corporate VCs, with its reputation for cutting-edge security and enterprise software startups.

In my role leading portfolio development for Cisco Investments, I’ve been to Tel Aviv many times. But every time I’ve walked away thinking the same thing: this is a place unlike anywhere else.


Cisco’s history of investing in Israel

Of course, Cisco isn’t just dipping its feet in the Tel Aviv waters. We actively invested in promising efforts by collaboration, data center, and security innovators for more than two decades. Israel is getting mainstream recognition now, but those in the business have always viewed it as a special place with an incredible appetite for innovation.

Today, we have a dozen active Israeli startups in our portfolio. Two of the most successful are Illusive and Ctera.

A network security service employing deception technology to reduce cyberattack risks, Illusive, offers a unique solution in the security space, and I visited with Illusive’s CEO Ofer Israeli at their offices on my latest trip. Over the last couple years, they’ve expanded the scope of their services. Recently, they released Attack Surface Manager, which blankets a network with deceptions to detect attacks and, with this new release, prevent them. They’re doing amazing work keeping our assets and people out of harm’s way. 

The data center is also a very important piece of our portfolio, and we have a significant investment in Ctera, which offers enterprise file services from edge to cloud. 

Ctera has seen significant growth, and we came into the discussion celebrating our accomplishments integrating into Cisco’s architecture. And so, the conversation with Liran Eshel, their CEO, was more celebratory – focused on how we can accelerate new opportunities together.

They were proud parents in some ways, calling out some of the big logos they’ve pulled down, some of the big deals that they’re driving. It’s always nice to see that. It’s great to hear that both as an investor, but also for us on the portfolio development side, because a big part of their success is our ability to bring them into architectures, validated designs, and product integrations. 


Bringing Cisco customers to Tel Aviv

One of the great advantages of Cisco Investments is the potential to connect Cisco customers with our portfolio companies — and this is always a win-win.

During this trip, we brought the CISO of a top five global financial organization to meet with four cybersecurity startups to learn about new, emerging technology to combat fraud. This type of access to top enterprise customers is unique. It’s a connection we’re obviously delighted to make and a terrific opportunity for the teams to get access to C-level execs looking for validated, emerging technologies. It also reflects our unparalleled ability to bring Cisco customers into one of the hottest startup scenes in the world at a moment’s notice. Not every tech company has a corporate venture group that can sustain a focus on the kind of opportunity Tel Aviv offers.


Tel Aviv and Cisco Investments: A great relationship

Today, I’m in San Francisco. In a few months, I’ll be back in Tel Aviv. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that there’s no magic formula for innovation. But the relentless pursuit of it in Tel Aviv can create its own unique momentum. As technologists and investors, nurturing that pursuit is a responsibility we take very seriously. 


About the author:

Hitesh leads the Cisco Investments Portfolio Development team whose primary goal is to deliver differentiated value to the portfolio companies by leveraging Cisco’s business enablement infrastructure. This includes participation in channel partner programs as well as showcases at major Cisco events, such as Cisco Live and Cisco Partner Summit. Hitesh also has responsibility for other functions supporting portfolio development including marketing and relationships with VCs, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders, both within Cisco and across the industry. Hitesh is a Cisco veteran and joined Cisco Investments from Cisco’s Software Sales group where he was responsible for Global Software business development. Hitesh was previously the acting GM of Cisco’s $1B+ Collaboration product line and, prior to that, held leadership roles in sales with focus on security, data center, and collaboration in verticals such as financials, healthcare, technology, and retail.

Hitesh holds an MBA degree from Santa Clara University, an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas, and a BS in electronics and telecommunications from the University of Mumbai.

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