Jeff Katz and Noah Siegel have spent a lot of time in both Israel and Oregon, and they are of the opinion that the two places have more in common than one might imagine. Think renewable power, apparel design and specialty agriculture — not to mention Intel, which has been operating in Israel since 1974.
But in spite of those shared interests and others, “Most Israelis see Oregon as fly-over country — both business and personal,” says Katz. The 40-year-old software entrepreneur wants to change that by building the Oregon-Israeli Business Alliance into “the go-to organization for anything happening between the two places.” The newly formed nonprofit has about 50 active members, which may not seem like a lot until you consider some of the names on the roster, such as Intel Capital’s director of strategic investments Stephen Saltzman, Sinotech president Michael Bloom and Tripwire COO Dan Schoenbaum.
Siegel, the 38-year-old director of international affairs for Portland Mayor Sam Adams, describes Israel as a “startup nation” with an entrepreneurial spirit that can prove infectious. Siegel served with the U.S. State Department in Tel Aviv before settling in Oregon, and he credits Israel with developing a can-do business culture where action trumps formality. “It’s inspiring stuff and we want to bring a piece of the action to Oregon,” he says.
Katz and Siegel had not yet formed a board of directors when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked them for assistance in planning his visit to Israel in October 2010. They have since ramped up their networking in Israel as well as Oregon, hoping to spur investment, technology sharing and joint venture projects. A recent event in Portland introduced business and political leaders to a representative from the Israeli consulate in San Francisco.
They haven’t announced any deals yet, but they predict swift progress. “If word gets out that there’s a new hotspot, Israelis will flock here,” says Siegel.