Tech Roundup / Cisco Pledges to Boost Israeli Arabs in High-tech

Cisco also planning fiber-optic venture in Israel, Cortica ends a successful fundraising effort and Pitango eyes the baby startups.

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Last week the story was the Presidential Conference, featuring celebrations for the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres. Mazal tov! Great names from around the world converged in Jerusalem in honor of the occasion, from Bill Clinton to Tony Blair to Barbra Streisand. But Peres is not only a dove striving for decades to bring peace to the strife-wracked Middle East. Less commonly known is that he's also a hawk for technology. One of the honored guests at the gala was none other than Cisco Systems chieftain John Chambers, which leads us to last week's tech roundup:

Cisco pledges $15 million to the employment of Israeli Arabs in high-tech: The pledge was made following CEO John Chambers' series of meetings with top Israeli officials during the Presidential Conference last week – including with Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Chambers also disclosed that Cisco is looking to recruit about 100 strategic workers in Israel to build a cutting-edge cyber R&D lab in the country.

Cisco getting into bed with the Israel Electric Corporation: Now at the other end of the spectrum, Cisco Systems has agreed to put $140 million into the IEC's venture to expand from merely providing electricity, with arguably dubious efficiency, into providing a nationwide fiber-optic network to the home for telecommunications. The total investment in the fiber-optic venture is projected at nearly $1.4 billion, ergo Cisco is putting up 10%. The American company is expected to supply much of the equipment.

Cortica raises $6.4 million: As last week rolled to a close, the Israeli startup Cortica announced completion of a $6.4 million financing round led by Li Ka-Shing. It was far from the Hong Kong entrepreneur's first dive into Israeli technology: He'd also been the controlling shareholder of mobile operator Partner Communications for yonks until selling it to Ilan Ben-Dov. Another backer is Russian company Cortica, which was founded in 2007, was founded by (wait for it) – two neuro-scientists from the Technion, Josh Zeevi and Karina Odinaev. It is developing technology to help computers identify core concepts in images and videos. Say you're viewing a video of a cat doing something cute (which seems to be what Internet was invented to do); this technology can say, "Aha, a cat" and add a layer of ads for kitty litter. Before this round Cortica had raised $11 million.

Pitango embracing infants: Pitango, the biggest venture capital fund in Israel, is expanding its embrace to include the youngest of technology companies, not just seed but pre-seed (what Israelis like to call "an idea in a briefcase"). The fund is fast-tracking its investments in such cub companies, for which it has earmarked a total of $10 million to put into 15 to 20 startups. It's a good deal for them because if the ideas progress from briefcase to prototype, Pitango has deep pockets that can help them down the line.

Cisco Systems chief John Chambers.Credit: Bloomberg

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