Interview with Gilad Carni, Founder of UAE Innovation Israel

in Monthly Report

Now that the first excitement has settled, the real business is coming.”

Gilad Carni heads the UAE Israel Innovation Office. He is a successful founder many times over and has invested in Israeli start-ups for years as an Angel Investor, one of which was the first Israeli start-up to be sold to Google. With his company “Innovation Israel”, he shows the world what Israeli technology can do. Over the years, he has networked with hundreds of business people, brokered business relationships, and brought delegations from abroad closer to the Israeli start-up DNA. We talked to him about the opportunities for economic relations with the United Arab Emirates …

The interview was conducted by Katharina Höftmann Ciobotaru. 


Israel Between the Lines (BTL): The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is seen as a great opportunity for economic cooperation. The deal is worth billions of dollars. Is that realistic?

Gilad Carni: Let’s just say, this sum is definitely realistic and the agreement changes everything, but we are now out of the first honeymoon. In the beginning, many Israelis thought they would sit on the plane for three hours, get huge sums of money for a half-hour pitch and then enjoy themselves in Dubai – that did not materialize. There is no “quick money” there either. The entrepreneurs there invest very strategically and thoughtfully, they know what they are doing. But now that the first excitement has settled, the real business is coming.

BTL: Which ones are they?

Gilad Carni: For the first time, there are many opportunities for already established Israeli companies that were not previously represented in the region, or only through complicated detours with European companies. The UAE is above all the gateway to a much larger market: countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Asia, and other countries with which Israel has no official relations to date. With settlements in Dubai or joint ventures with companies from the UAE, all these markets can now be reached more easily and cheaply. This will allow even smaller Israeli companies to serve this barely developed market. The interest is huge and exists in many areas.

BTL: Can you give us examples of pre-completed deals?

Gilad Carni: I can’t talk in detail about deals we have completed. But we have, for example, helped an Israeli company in the field of agricultural technology to sell sensors in the Emirate city of Fujairah, where they want to grow rice in the desert. 

We have also been involved in exporting dates to an Asian country with which Israel has no official relations. The container was repackaged at the port of Dubai and provided with new papers.

BTL: What Israeli developments can the UAE particularly benefit from?

Gilad Carni: During the pandemic, the UAE began to consider that the Emirates are so dependent on imports, so they are interested in our solutions to take better care of themselves. Overall, interest in many areas is huge, including cybersecurity, fintech, and AI. We must not forget that the UAE itself is very highly developed, but we can definitely offer them many solutions.

BTL: How can Israel benefit from trade with the UAE?

Gilad Carni: Israeli entrepreneurs are actually always developing for the market outside of Israel. Here in the country itself, purchasing power is so low that it is hardly interesting. Israelis know about the quality of their human capital, but otherwise, they traditionally concentrate on the United States; also because the business culture there is similar. 

Relations with the UAE are particularly exciting because they are opening up new markets, and are less likely to attract capital. That’s enough for Israeli entrepreneurs. While in the past the VCs interviewed the entrepreneurs, today it is the other way around. There are a lot of options for Israeli entrepreneurs to come up with the money, all major international VCs are interested in Israel, we have several companies like Coca-Cola or Barclay that are in Israel looking for exciting investments.

A Different Kind of Business Culture

BTL: You addressed the business culture in the US, so how do the Israelis cope with the Arab business culture?

Gilad Carni: This was a surprise for many Israelis for the first time. Here in Israel you can do business quickly and focus on the hard facts. In the UAE, the sales processes are very different. You do not make a deal in one day. Since you stay at least a week, you are invited home, to get to know the family, and then it’s about really building a relationship with each other. 80% percent of the conversations have nothing to do with business. This is only unusual for Israelis.

BTL: Are there any other obstacles that Israeli entrepreneurs need to overcome in doing business in the UAE?

Gilad Carni: Politics is not an issue if you will. We maintain top-level management contacts with people from Syria, Lebanon, and other countries with which Israel is at war. Sometimes they do not want PR, but behind closed doors, Israelis and their technologies are highly recognized and respected. After the last war, there was a little radio silence, but nothing drastic, and it will happen again. In the end, business is more important. By the way, we have been doing business in the region for many years, but after the agreement, which also came as a great surprise to us, we can finally open it. Since the phone does not stand still with us, I receive tag requests via LinkedIn every day. There is still a lot possible.

BTL: Can you share an example?

Gilad Carni: A railway line from the port of Haifa to the port of Dubai. This is not a spinning mill at all. This would make Europe, via Israel, much better connected to the Asian market.

The Jewish Mother is the Special Start-up DNA of Israel

BTL:  You have been working for years to network Israeli entrepreneurs with the world. What are they looking for, and what does this Israeli start-up DNA look like?

Gilad Carni: When we meditate in the UAE, we naturally see that the product or service works and already sells itself elsewhere. As an investor, I have increasingly seen the entrepreneurs themselves. A journey brings many changes, and you have to be carved from a very special wood: dynamic and fearless. This is something very Israeli. I always say that Jewish mothers make us so special. Israelis do not accept no, have no fear, take risks, and at minimum, want to change the world.

For further information, visit UAE Israel Innovation

Based in the startup city of Tel Aviv, Zo Flamenbaum is a writer and social entrepreneur who dedicates her time to mission-driven projects that empower connection between the many diverse layers of our world. In 2014, she founded School of Shine as a value-based educational space for women who are tired of the ‘default life’ and crave personal freedom through self-expression for more purposeful living.

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