The Battle Over Israel’s Next High-tech Czar Begins

After the head of the government agency that supports high tech stepped down, some fear the next CEO might be politicised and that a government official will be appointed in his stead

Amitai Ziv
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Search for the next CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority starts after current CEO Aharon Aharon, pictured, resigns
Search for the next CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority starts after current CEO Aharon Aharon, pictured, resigns Credit: Megged Gozani
Amitai Ziv

The search committee for the next CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority has started work, following current CEO Aharon Aharon’s resignation. 

The Innovation Authority, previously known as the Chief Scientist’s Office, is the government agency that supports high tech. It assists startups via incubators, innovation labs and a host of other programs. It was also recently responsible for a program to encourage institutional investors to invest in high tech.

The authority’s budget is usually around 1.8 billion shekels ($520 million) a year. But this year, due to the coronavirus crisis, it was increased to two billion shekels.

The authority was established in its current form in 2016 and has been headed ever since by Aharon, who came from the tech world. Now, however, the industry is worried that the choice of the next CEO might be politicized, and even that Aharon’s successor might be a government official, which could undermine the authority’s image.

“The intention is to conclude the appointment process as quickly as possible,” a source familiar with the process said. “We’re looking for powerful, dominant candidates who will take the authority to the next stage of its development.

“The model of a CEO from inside the industry is a successful one, which in my view should be continued, since such a CEO can bring an understanding of the current technological and business trends in the market,” he added. “You have to remember that the CEO of the Innovation Authority is also the government’s adviser on technology, and it’s clear that right now, that’s important.”

Officially, the appointment process hasn’t yet begun, but speculation about the likely candidates has already been lively. Two people mentioned in the industry as likely candidates are Shmuel Eden and David Perlmutter, both of whom come from Intel. The latter also ran for Knesset on MK Orli Levi-Abekassis’ Gesher ticket.

Another person mentioned is Uri Gabai, co-general manager of the Start-Up Nation Central organization. Many other senior figures from the industry are also considering throwing their hats in the ring, including partners in venture capital funds.

The Economy Ministry, however, is apparently trying to push Ziva Eiger, who has spent the last six years as head of the ministry’s industrial cooperation authority.

The committee’s first job is to decide what the minimal requirements for the job should be. Once it does that, it will invite people to apply. The committee members are the authority’s chairman, Ami Appelbaum; Roey Fisher, the Economy Ministry’s deputy director general for human resources; Hagit Shani, the deputy accountant general; and Assaf Wasserzug, the deputy head of the Finance Ministry’s budget department.

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