Venture Capitalist Elie Wurtman Says Israel is Fundamentally Repairing the World
By Joseph Wolkin
Organizations throughout the world are trying to get ahead by utilizing new, exciting technology. The Abraham Accords have enabled Israeli firms to work with their Gulf Arab neighbors to spread light among the nations amid a crisis. The technology is helping people rebound from the tragic losses of 2020, and light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.
Elie Wurtman is the co-founder of PICO Venture Partners, an Israeli venture capitalist firm based in Jerusalem that is defining the future of technology. PICO focuses on disrupting the norm of existing markets and industries, searching for entrepreneurs who want to better the world.
Wurtman began his career as a company builder in 1993, helping three organizations launch IPOs. From there, he moved to become a venture capitalist and has since led Vroom and other startup firms. He also runs the Bat Shlomo Vineyards in Northern Israel and serves as a Middle East Leadership Initiative of the Aspen Institute fellow, where he tirelessly works to create a productive, peaceful society.
In a conversation with Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) IsraelCast host Steven Shalowitz, Wurtman explains how Israeli companies used the pandemic to not only stay afloat, but to push the world economy into the future. He also elaborated on why his high-tech spirit set himself apart from the pack as a Zionist pioneer by “fundamentally repairing the world.”
“Israel has really become one of the centers of innovation globally,” Wurtman said. “Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specifically, have become focal points for creativity, startups, and innovation. PICO has a front-row seat for some of the most exciting entrepreneurs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic actually boosted business for Wurtman’s firm, he explained to Shalowitz. Technology as a whole, is upgrading business processes and pushing consumer experiences forward.
Overall, Wurtman believes the pandemic pushed technology startups forward by roughly five to 10 years. He notes that companies are now willing to adopt digital and remote technology with remarkable speed, something they wouldn’t have done without the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing with our growth rates is business plans we had for one or two years down the road are happening in one or two months,” Wurtman said. “In March, I thought this crisis of epic proportions would wipe out businesses we work with. Now, we’re talking about triple-digit growth.”
Shalowitz compares the growth in these businesses to the technology that emerged from wars in the past, with Wurtman adding that extreme situations test society’s ability to adapt accordingly at a rapid pace. Further, Israel itself needed to do exactly that in 1948, when it was attacked immediately upon being declared a state.
“If you think about [David] Ben-Gurion mandating [the solar-powered hot weather heater] for every home, it’s because of the extreme conditions of war,” Wurtman said.
Now living in the Jewish state’s capital, Wurtman grew up in Philadelphia before making aliyah (immigration to Israel) at the age of 8. The Israel he moved to is now a much different land, one thriving and fulfilling the Zionist dream of “being a light unto nations.”
Wurtman believes we are currently on the third stage of Zionism. The first was the agricultural phase, which helped Israel settle as a society, followed by the military’s ability to defend the land. Now, we’re at the point where Israel is economically independent, thriving each day.
“It’s through this lens that I’ve built my career to help Israel improve the quality of life,” he said.
Wurtman also said that for those thinking about making aliyah, speaking English at a native level will help them settle in. Additionally, it will help people get jobs upon arrival, such as translating products, innovating new ideas, and more.
He believes his English-speaking ability is what helped him leap ahead as a communicator.
“I don’t have a degree in business or technology,” Wurtman said. “But I do have a gift of language and narrative.”
As Israel begins to thrive off the Abraham Accords, which have normalized relations with several Gulf states, Wurtman believes there is a new reality coming. The goal is to build relationships from state-to-state with children growing up in a region of lasting peace.
“To me, it must go deeper,” he said. “We must use our experience in Israel in creating a knowledge-based economy and an entrepreneurial ecosystem to help those countries that would like to be part of this ecosystem. We can use our experience to be mentors and guides in moving them to a knowledge-based economy. It will be a two-way relationship, engaging through youth and education.”