Editor’s Note: 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.
Jason E. Klein is an early stage investor and founder of On Grid Ventures. He is Chairman of Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater New York and the former CEO of Times Mirror Magazines and Newspaper National Network.
What is your connection to Judaism?
My dad was raised in his Yiddish-speaking family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He remembers his dad reading the Forverts, though my Yiddish is limited to the usual handful of colorful phrases. As a new parent, I joined a strong conservative congregation in Westchester after returning from my first trip to Israel. My two kids, now adults, have been to Israel twice since. In addition to my spiritual connection, I find myself drawn now to the exceptional Israel/NY tech launching ground for new ventures.
What’s your favorite new “big idea” coming from the Israel-US tech ecosystem?
The technological sophistication of the Israeli-born startups I see often far surpasses what it typically launched on the U.S. East Coast. The IDF and Universities are cutting edge in so many areas, and the entrepreneurial culture is quick to find new solutions ranging from agriculture to navigation to programmatic digital advertising. I’m a big fan of CUPS, the virtual coffee chain which was profiled in the Forward last month that started in Tel Aviv and migrated to New York. I use it regularly to find interesting coffee shops a few blocks from wherever I am. I also use Waze all the time to avoid traffic, and still marvel at how this global leader in crowdsourced, real time traffic movement data expanded from a country the size of New Jersey. Tmura, a combination of a venture capital fund and a non-profit which channels small early shares in Israeli startups to worthy causes, is also a favorite.
What is your connection with this big idea?
I invest in early stage companies via On Grid Ventures LLC, with a focus on “Geo-Disruptive” companies that use digital location as one element of an industry-transforming solution. Israel continues to produce these kinds of companies, building on its success with Waze as well as world-class technology stemming from defense programs in drones and missile defense. I’m Chairman of Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater New York, now the largest group of angel investors in the NY area with 300 investor members, and led the first outside round of investment in CUPS when it came to New York in 2014. I’m also active in a subgroup of the New York Angels which focuses on Israeli startups.
Israel as the “Start-up Nation:” Will this continue or is it a passing thing?
There are no guarantees, but as someone who sees early tech companies from around the world, the roots of Startup-up nation are deep, and I look forward to a continued steady flow of the highest quality emerging companies from Israel. Their entrepreneurial DNA cuts across age groups, their science is world-class, and companies focus on international markets from the start. There is ready capital available to fund the very best startups from proven entrepreneurs. But beyond that, there are ample resources for first time entrepreneurs — including government incentives, private incubators, angel investors and focused early stage VC funds.
Why is this interview different from any other interview?
With Passover almost upon us, and the title of this series, I was only expecting four questions, and you managed to get one more in.
This story "Angel Investing in the Promised Land: An Early Stage Investor On The Future of the Startup Nation" was written by Jason E. Klein.