The Connector 

Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv may be next-door neighbors alphabetically, but they are separated by some 7,405 miles geographically. But thanks to Yasmin Lukatz, these two centers of innovation have never been closer. Lukatz is the Founder and Executive Director of Israel Collaboration Network (ICON), a Palo Alto-based nonprofit she established in 2014 to help connect entrepreneurial Israeli startups with Bay Area angel investors and venture capitalists.

ICON is just the latest chapter in Lukatz’s inspiring journey. After finishing high school, she worked as an operations room officer in a search-and-rescue helicopter squadron for the Israeli air force. Equally high-flying academically, Lukatz went on to earn a degree in law, accounting, and economics from Tel Aviv University before obtaining an MBA at Stanford.

Lukatz, a Bay Area resident for 15 years, says, “ICON represents a community, a home-away-from-home for Israelis, and a warm place to be for others. We are a ‘pay it forward’ organization. In other words, people aren’t asked to pay for any of our services. Instead, they are requested to help others within the community.”

Speakers who have participated at ICON events read like a Who’s Who of high tech, and include YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, LinkedIn head Jeff Weiner, and Whats-App founder Jan Koum. Noam Bardin, CEO of the traffic app Waze that originated in Israel before being bought by Google, has also attended ICON gatherings.

ICON’s efforts at pairing Israel’s celebrated “Start-up Nation” ingenuity with Silicon Valley’s resources and infrastructure have yielded several impressive achievements. Lukatz explains, “We were the local entry point for Zohar Alon from Dome 9. He recently sold his startup to Checkpoint and credits us with some of his success. And Oudi Antebi sold his startup Redkix to Facebook, a deal which resulted from two meetings with Facebook executives at ICON events.”

The organization is funded through grants, sponsorships, and donations. These provide for a varied slate of programming that also includes a popular boot camp for Israeli startups in Silicon Valley and monthly meetings hosted for Israeli women in technology.

Looking ahead, next month ICON is organizing a conference in Israel where Silicon Valley mentors will be in attendance. September sees the return of its special Innovation Week in Palo Alto. For her part, Lukatz just joined the cast of Israel’s Shark Tank. Summing up, she says, “I feel really lucky to be able to lead this amazing community at ICON.”

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