More than 400 CEOs, entrepreneurs, VCs and other members of Israel’s booming AI ecosystem crammed Tuesday night into one of Tel Aviv’s hottest night venues to mark the announcement of a deal by NVIDIA to acquire Mellanox, the nation’s second-largest acquisition.
Highlighted by intros from the two companies’ leaders at the seaside club, attendees also celebrated the vibrancy of Israel’s AI and startup scene. An estimated 1,200 fledgling companies go into business each year in this country of nearly 9 million — a ratio of one for every 1,400 people, according to Forbes magazine. By comparison, France has 0.11 startup for every 1,400 people and Germany has about half that number.
NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang has spent the past two days together with Mellanox President and CEO Eyal Waldman, sprinting through Israel’s high-tech area and speaking with Mellanox’s 2,000 Israel-based employees and others. He has repeatedly praised the nation’s technical expertise and the resolve and ingenuity of its workforce.
“One of the things I’ve learned about Israeli companies is that everyone wants you,” he said, alluding to the strong foreign investment that continues to flow into Israel’s high-tech scene. “I don’t know of any big company that doesn’t want to be in Israel today.”
In a move aimed at doubling down on its data center business, NVIDIA announced plans two weeks ago to pay $6.9 billion to acquire Mellanox, a leader in high-speed interconnect technology that helps tightly tie together data centers. The proposed union, still subject to regulatory approvals, will make NVIDIA, which intends to retain the Mellanox brand, one of the world’s most important companies in high performance computing.
“I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am that we’ll be a large company in Israel,” Huang said, noting that Israel will become the second-largest employee base for NVIDIA, which has about 14,000 employees, nearly half of them in the U.S.
Waldman, whose company celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, told the entrepreneurs that the combined company is committed to being the world’s best at “creating building blocks for whatever you do, whether in the data center, the cloud or autonomous cars.”
Following the CEO’s introductions, five top figures from the startup community gave presentations, demonstrating how they are applying AI to solve a wave of problems.
They include leading entrepreneurs from Nucleai, which uses AI to help diagnose cancer with greater precision; Deep Instinct, which focuses on the application of AI for cybersecurity; Cognata, a young leader in simulating autonomous driving to help train neural networks to control cars more safely; and Excelero, focused on software-defined block storage. Also speaking was Yossi Keshet, an AI researcher at Bar-Ilan University focused on improving automatic speech recognition, speech indexing and acoustic scene analysis.
Looking out over the packed house as he concluded his remarks, Huang noted that Waldman had recently taught him a word that aptly described the evening’s event – “sababa,” he said, using an Arabic word adopted into modern Hebrew, which means “cool.”
Featured image credit: Gady Munz Pikiwiki Israel, some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.