What Judaism Means To The Co-founder Of Nielsen Ventures

In this series —Why Is This Interview Different From All Other Interviews — we will introduce you to pioneering Jewish leaders across a variety of industries.

Bruce Haymes is currently the managing director and co-founder of Nielsen Ventures at The Nielsen Company (NYSE: NLSN). He is the primary officer responsible for Nielsen Innovate, Nielsen’s seed investing incubation program, which was launched in Israel in 2013. Nielsen Innovate is Nielsen’s early stage investing program and currently holds investments and hosts more than 18 startups.

Bruce has also served as the president of Coleytown Media Advisors, a media and telecommunications advisory boutique that has advised major private equity and hedge funds on investments and strategic transactions.

What is your connection to Judaism?

It might sound overly dramatic, but recognizing my Judaism as an adult saved my sanity. About 10 years ago, after pretty much abandoning my Jewish heritage (deciding with my wife that our three boys would not be bar mitzvah’d), I started encountering those introspective questions that we tend to have in our 40’s: “What’s my purpose?,” “What are my values?,” “Why have certain things happened to me and not to others?” I took an Introduction to Kabbalah class with Chabad of Westport, Connecticut, and a few weeks later I took my first trip to Israel with a Chabad men’s group. Previously I had no interest in Israel or Judaism, but I must say, that when I arrived in Ben Gurion Airport, and I walked down the tunnel to immigration past the wall of Jerusalem stone, I felt like I was home. Like no where I had ever traveled previously — I felt home. It was magical. The Kabbalah class and Israel merged in importance.

After that, my sense of Jewish heritage, Jewish ethics and a permanent attachment to Israel have woven its way through my business life. I launched a high tech investment initiative with my company, Nielsen, that had me directing investments in Israeli high tech, and creating a partnership with the Office of Israel’s Chief Scientist to launch a technological incubator (hamama) in Caesarea. The Chief Scientist’s Office felt that they were taking a risk working with a multinational corporation on the 8 year concession that we had won, and I remember the director of the program put his arm around me and said, “we are going to award the concession to Nielsen, but I want your commitment that you will come here to Israel to help make it successful at least 4 times per year.” Little did he know that I would be there regardless of this commitment.

As we invested in more companies (now close to 20), I invited them to come set up commercial operations in our offices in New York City. Our incubator grew to become a unique family of young Israeli entrepreneurs, an outstanding team of local program leaders and a small group of Americans interested in seeing them all achieve success. Our “family” has created more than 130 jobs in Israel over the past 4 years.

In my personal life, I enrolled my oldest son in Hebrew school and we prepared for a bar mitzvah. The first of 3 was in the USA, but my middle son Jesse’s bar mitzvah was in Israel - on a trip where I was joined by 20 of my relatives, most of whom had never been to Israel. And occasionally I would attend Shabbat services back at my home in Westport.

I’ve learned much from my study Judaism, but the core teachings that have resounded strongly with me are (a) living in the moment, (b) avoiding the judgment of others, and (c) an intractable connection to Israel.

What’s your favorite new tech idea coming from the Israeli/USA tech ecosystem?

As a general theme, I have found that machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) applications have weaved their way into virtually every startup that I see coming from Israel now. And it does not matter whether the core underpinnings of machine learning, deep learning or AI were invented in Israel (although many of these concepts were developed and improved there), but that the tight knit Israeli tech community recognized that these technologies have applicability in every vertical. So while I may be most focused on data science, marketing, retail and ad-tech, these technologies are showing up in biotech, medtech, transportation, nutrition, fitness, fintech, cyber and virtually every other hot tech vertical coming out of Israel.

What is your connection with this big idea?

My employer, Nielsen, is a 100 year old data company. We provide the data that fuels marketing and advertising spend, and enables decision making in some of the largest industries in the world. For close to a century, that work - collecting that data and organizing it in ways that enable our clients to make million dollar spending decisions, was done manually. The machine learning and AI solutions that we are collaborating with in Israel will enable us to introduce our clients to decision making processes that are based on analysis of millions of data points within a second or two. Most of these insights would be unachievable with hundreds of people working for a month. Now we will be offering insights in a fraction of a second. While human subjectivity will always be a component of our advice, machine learning will place greater analytics power in the hands of our clients who will be able to manipulate our data in new ways, to discover new insights and make smarter decisions at a lower cost and more rapidly than we could have ever imagined.

Does this represent Tikkun Olam?

Maybe the answer to everything lies in the data that is already out there. Billions of people, billions of transactions, billions of organs, cells, diseases. Maybe the data exists to solve every problem or query ever asked by mankind. Machine learning represents the beginning of a man-made tool to provide rationale and insights to any data set without human intervention. Why has this cancer occurred? Why is this country poorer than this one? What is the source of climate change and how can we slow it down? The data points are all there but there has never been a way to make sense of it in a way that can provide these answers. There’s been too much data. So yes, even something as technical as machine learning or artificial intelligence — while these things may be helpful for my business or fun when we are belting out commands to Siri or Alexa, they are also capable of healing the world. Taking the infinite data that exists in the universe to answer the most vexing questions we have ever had, in order to improve our world.

Why is this interview different from any other interview?

It prompted me to connect my day to business activities to my spiritual views and values. Thank you for that!

This story "What Judaism Means To The Co-founder Of Nielsen Ventures" was written by Bruce Haymes.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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