When Gulfstream Aerospace was purchased by defense contractor General Dynamics in 1999, the company only had one model in its repertoire.
But the Savannah-based private jet manufacturer was able to capitalize on this “game-changing moment” in its history largely thanks to a partnership launched in 2001 with Israel Aerospace Industries.
“We went from a basically domestic-facing company to a global brand,” said Mark Burns, Gulfstream’s president, while accepting the U.S. Company of the Year Award at the annual gala of Conexx, the American Israel Business Connector. The event was themed around 70 years of Israeli innovation.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and Gulfstream’s partnership with IAI has paid big dividends by adding two new models to its portfolio — first the G200 and later the G280.
Since 2009, about 200 of the 10-passenger jets have been made in Tel Aviv under license and sold around the world. Now, Gulfstream makes a total of six aircraft in various sizes and configurations and employs 10,000 people in Georgia alone.
An Autonomous Future?
To hear speakers at the Conexx annual event tell it, this partnership is indicative of how U.S. and Israel are collaborating to drive the future of transportation, and it’s happening on the ground perhaps even more profoundly than in the air.
Other award winners from the Southeast’s top U.S.-Israel business association include the Clemson University Center for Automotive Research, which sent faculty with Conexx on a mission to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva in 2016.
Located in Greenville, S.C., the only dedicated institute for graduate research in automobiles sits near a massive BMW plant and in a state with more than 400 auto suppliers.
Though it lacks an explicit connection to the Southeast (other than regional offices and sales relationships with auto manufacturers in the area), Israel-based Mobileye took home the Deal of the Year Award for a transaction that has become the envy of entrepreneurs in Israel and beyond.
In 2017 Intel Corp. purchased the company for $15.3 billion, the biggest exit of all time from an Israeli startup — which is saying a lot in a country known as the “Startup Nation.”
During a lengthy acceptance speech that could have passed as a keynote, Gene Gurevich, director government affairs and public policy, explained why Intel made such a massive bet on a company with about 650 employees.
Mobileye makes sensors that will help usher in the age of driverless cars. But even as the company works toward that future Mobileye is already helping improve road safety. Blind-spot detection in Kia, BMW and Nissan vehicles, among others, is enabled by Mobileye sensors.
Despite setbacks on the road to autonomous vehicle adoption, like a fatal accident involving an Uber test car in Arizona or another deadly crash this week involving a Tesla operating in autopilot mode, Mr. Gurevich believes that autonomous technology can help reduce the more than 40,000 annual vehicle fatalities in the U.S. — most of which are caused by human error, he said.
“That is an astonishing and unacceptable number,” he said, and it comes with a monetary cost: $910 billion or 6 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a Boston Consulting Group report.
Beyond saving lives, Mobileye believes that self-driving cars will improve them. Mr. Gurevich pointed to new business models that will be created in delivery and other services, along with fostering new opportunities for the elderly and the disabled to engaged with society.
This seemingly distant future hit home during a recent Israel trip, when he rode in an autonomous car powered with Mobileye technology through the hectic traffic in the old city of Jerusalem — and it handled without a hitch.
“A country without is own vehicle manufacturer is now becoming a leader in vehicle technology,” he said.
Reaching Beyond Atlanta
Other awards hinted at the Conexx’s aim to broaden its based outside Atlanta and Georgia.
The Birmingham Jewish Federation took home the U.S. Community Partner award, while North Carolina-based insurance software firm Sapiens took home the Israeli Company of the Year award.
Randall Foster, an angel investor with Seraph Group and Conexx’s chairman for the coming year, stressed the importance of reaching out to places like Nashville and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. He hopes to grow membership in Conexx by 50 percent in the coming year and establish two chapters outside Atlanta with at least 50 members. Conexx is exploring adding another state to the six where it already works.
Mr. Foster added that Conexx will be working through its charitable foundation, the American-Israel Education Initiative, to undertake a Southeast U.S.-Israel economic study to determine the impact of Israeli investment in the region, a suggestion made years ago by prominent Israeli venture capitalist Jon Medved in an interview with Global Atlanta.
The Tom Glaser Leadership award, named for the founder and former longtime leader of the organization formerly known as the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast, went to Benny Landa, an entrepreneur known as the father of digital printing.
Mr. Landa founded Indigo Digital Press in 1977 and later sold it to HP for $850 million. He’s now working on digital printing presses that use nanotechology rather than the inkjet method to print digital images with more accuracy and speed.
In a video message, Mr. Landa praised Conexx for bringing the two sides together: the American market and Israeli innovation. Israelis, he said, have a “healthy irreverence for authority, for laws, even the laws of nature,” that helps make them innovative. Mr. Landa himself holds 800-plus patents. His Rehovot, Israel-based company, Landa Group, has an office for its digital printing division in Alpharetta.
Another award accepted by video was the Israeli Community Partner award — given to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.