Tel Aviv, Israel: Like all dreamers, Israeli entrepreneur Harel Cohen had an idea to change the world—well, to be precise, India.
“It’s one of the world’s biggest countries, it will be the world’s biggest economy in 40 years,” said Cohen, 37, an amiable, strongly-built former Israeli army officer.
“But with 22 languages and 10 scripts, India doesn’t have enough Indian-language keyboards.”
An email and a flight to India in 2004 got him into the door of Vijendra Shukla, head of language technology at the government-run Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing in Noida and a pioneer in the development of Indian-language software.
Cohen is now the CEO of FTK Technologies, which has a simple but smart way of programming keyboards for different languages: fit a webcam on a laptop to intuitively track the users’ fingers and create a “virtual” keyboard on screen, which mirrors the keystrokes of the real keyboard.
Uplinking: Eliot Abraham, director for technical marketing in Gilat Satallite Network System, Israel.
At the click of a mouse, it can switch from Kannada to Urdu or eight other languages. Indian words that took two minutes to type, now take 20 seconds.
It was December 2005 when, like hundreds of high-tech entrepreneurs who populate the technology hubs around Tel Aviv, Israel’s throbbing business capital, Cohen flew to New York.
Within hours he sold his idea to a private investor.
“I don’t think he’s ever been to India,” said Cohen of his investor.
“He said, ‘it’s bound to be good, there’s one billion people there.’” It was as easy as that.
People such as Cohen are packing the flights to India and fuelling a spiralling, but largely unknown, trade beyond diamonds and secretive defence buys—India is now Israel’s biggest arms customer, with $5 billion (Rs19,850 crore) in purchases, officially, since 2001— to infotech, security systems, drip irrigation, even TV shows.
Annual trade is expected to touch $5 billion, a 46% rise since 2006. “We’ve been around for 24 years, but only recently have we become sexy,” said deputy chairperson of the Israel-India Chamber of Commerce Anat Bernstein-Reich over lunch in downtown Tel Aviv.
Bernstein-Reich has an office and an Indian partner, Alfred Arambhan, in Sherly Rajan village in Mumbai’s trendy western suburb of Bandra. A mother of three, she advises Israelis on conducting and developing business in India and her firm, A&G Partners, has interests that range from investment banking to Bollywood.
Israelis want to profit from India’s great leap forward, while Indians seek opportunities in one of the world’s high-tech hubs.
Over the last year, Mumbai’s Mansaria group has bought over Israel’s largest tyre manufacturer; Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd has bought a stake in Israel’s largest pharma companyl Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd from Jalgaon in Maharashtra has bought into a drip-irrigation company, a field in which Israel is a world leader.
In another high-tech hub in the town of Petah Tikva—in the late 19th century the first Jewish immigrants fought malaria and began life here in what was then Palestine—associate vice-president Giora Reish said his firm, Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd, is bidding for one of India’s largest telephone expansions, a tender issued this month by state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to link 14,000 villages.
“If they want to do it fast, satellite is the best, especially for remote villages,” said Reish. His colleague, Eliot Abraham, director for technical marketing, explained, in a distinctly South Mumbai accent, how Gilat is now the biggest supplier in India of what is called very small aperture satellite technology for everything from cellular networks to the National Stock Exchange.
Abraham’s accent is soon explained. He is an alumni of the elite south Mumbai school, Bombay Scottish. “Aamir Khan was my classmate,” said Abraham with a grin.
Abraham emigrated to Israel when he was 19. There are 70,000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel today and that aids the overall awareness about the subcontinent.
Traditional Israeli interest in Indian culture is high: About 40,000 young Israelis stream into India, mainly after two years of compulsory military service and given that India has never witnessed anti-semitism, entrepreneurs also see culture as a business opportunity.
Three years ago, a top Israeli producer told Bernstein-Reich he wanted to do an Indian stage show, with all the extravagance of Bollywood. After talking to almost every Mumbai producer, they signed a deal with Subroto Roy, head of the Sahara Group.
Today, with a $5 million investment from Sahara and Israeli investors, 60 dancers and 20 musicians—many sourced through Zee TV’s talent-hunt show?Sa?Re?Ga Ma Pa , roam the world. Bharati, as the show is called, is heading next month to eastern Europe.
“It’s a baby I’m proud of,” said Bernstein-Reich. “It brings the beauty of India to the world.” And, of course, the profits don’t hurt. (Hindustan Times)