- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

15 minutes with … Daniel Epstein

Daniel Epstein, head of the U.S.-Israel Business Exchange, has been using his silver tongue over the last year to pull together Greater Washington's newest entrepreneurial network, the one that hopes to link area business leaders with Israel's booming technology sector.
The business group, U.S.-IBEX began a year ago as part of the Embassy of Israel in Washington, where Mr. Epstein was an economics officer in charge of facilitating commercial relationships between the two countries. To his chagrin, Mr. Epstein found himself relatively alone when he joined the embassy in 1997, without a network of contacts in the private sector.
So, U.S.-IBEX was born during a series of strategy sessions in late 1999 and early this year. Founded by a steering committee of 20, the group blossomed as Israeli-American business in the region expanded rapidly, to over 200 member companies today.
As a result, the group declared its independence as of Oct. 1, when it officially left the embassy, with Mr. Epstein as president. It will soon move into new digs in Northern Virginia, where U.S.-IBEX can flourish amid start-ups and established players.
For Mr. Epstein, 30, the change will plant him firmly in Washington after stints in Europe and the Middle East. Born in the United Kingdom, Mr. Epstein emigrated to Israel in 1995 out of "idealism," exercising the right of all Jews under the Law of Return to become citizens of the Jewish state. "Israel is a young country for young people," he says.
He served in the army, and went to work for the Bank of Israel. But the United States lurked in the background. Mr. Epstein had worked as a congressional intern for Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat, in 1992. "I fell in love with Washington during that period," he says.
When the chance popped up to join the embassy in Washington, Mr. Epstein jumped at the opportunity, but "I don't think I had a vision for where I would be in three years," he says. Like so many others, Mr. Epstein was swept up in the technology and communications revolutions that now seem so natural, but were once only the faintest of ideas.
Question: The events of the past week in Israel do not really remind us of the country's commercial clout. Do you feel that Israeli business is sometimes in the shadow of politics?
Answer: Quite to the contrary. There is so much press these days about the prowess of Israeli technology. Anyone in the business knows about the achievements coming out of Israel. And the nature of the New Economy is that boundaries and distances are much less significant than information, which can be relayed very rapidly. I don't deal with politics. Politics does not touch or affect the work I do.
Q: How did U.S.-IBEX come about?
A: We found that there was an objective need. The technology sector in Israel and the technology sector in [the Washington area] are very similar. They are driven by Internet infrastructure and software, electro-optics, telecommunications and life sciences. But there was a lack of awareness, both in Israel about the opportunities here and here about the opportunities in Israel. And my day-to-day job in the embassy was not a powerful enough mechanism to send that message to both sides. If I were approached by an Israeli company or a U.S. company to help them find a partner, I didn't have tentacles into the business community.
Q: So how do you hope to serve your members?
A: We'll plan executive-level networking events. We're also building a Web-based business-to-business exchange. When it is fully launched and in operation it will be a one-stop resource to connect Israeli and American companies. It will have market information, it will allow companies in a specific sector to identify potential strategic partners, and it will let companies identify merger and acquisition opportunities.
Q: A lot of trade associations aim to build a network for their members. What makes your work any different?
A: We provide a smart network for connecting companies efficiently. At the heart of our network is market information, our database, our members. It's the people we know and the doors we can open. We do not replace consultants. We do not replace experts. But we can connect companies to them.
Q: What is the future of the relationship between Israel and the Washington area?
A: Until now, most Israeli companies set up their operations in Silicon Valley and New York. But they are discovering the mid-Atlantic region. Now, they are realizing that Silicon Valley is too far, and too expensive. New media companies are likely to set up in New York, but the infrastructure companies, more and more, are coming to this area. There is also the U.S. federal government, which represents an enormous market for Israeli companies.
Q: Many Israeli companies leave their research and development teams in Israel while incorporating their companies in the United States. Will that trend continue?
A: I see it continuing for the foreseeable future. Most Israeli companies dream of initial public offerings on Nasdaq. Until the tax system in Israel is made more conducive to business, I don't see that changing. Israeli companies will set up here and hire U.S. executives.
Q: What do you think are the chances that more Israeli companies will come to the District?
A: There could be an interest there. I understand Washington is trying to attract companies with various incentives. I know the mayor is pursuing that. But the key consideration for Israeli companies is going to be that they are near the main area for their fields. Life sciences companies, for example, are going to head for southern Maryland. They also want good schooling for their children, and the perception is that Maryland and Virginia offer that. But as we see a maturing of the Israeli population, I think we could see more companies locate inside the city. But for now, everything is young. People want to be where other people are.
Q: What makes Israel such an entrepreneurial place?
A: Israel was founded with very, very few resources and under very difficult circumstances. So, the Israeli nature very rapidly was to think quickly, to focus on human resources, to improvise and to innovate. As education has enabled Israel to develop, the innovative nature has not changed. It's very similar to America, with its frontier culture.

Self-Portrait

Name: Daniel Epstein
Title: Executive Director, U.S.-Israel Business Exchange
Age: 30
Education: Master's Degree, London School of Economics, 1995
Likes to do for fun: Salsa dancing. "Unfortunately, being a Brit and being Jewish, there's not a lot of Latin blood running through me."
Book I'm currently reading: "The Inextinguishable Symphony" by Martin Goldsmith
How to contact me: dan@usibex.org

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