Olmert’s Life After Politics: High-Tech

TEL AVIV (AP) -
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert talks on a phone near his bodyguards after an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Thursday. (AP Photo)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert talks on a phone near his bodyguards after an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Thursday. (AP Photo)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined forces Thursday with a leading Kazakh industrialist and an Israeli entrepreneur to launch a new high-tech venture.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Olmert said he will serve as chairman of the advisory board of “Genesis Angels” — a venture capital firm focusing on early stage investment in startup companies. The firm looks toward innovations in robotics, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and other cutting edge technologies.

Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006–2009, refused to speculate about his future political plans, but he said the foray into high-tech meshed with his vision of promoting Israel as a high-tech powerhouse.

“The Israeli relative advantage in high technology is not permanent and guaranteed forever,” Olmert told the AP. “It can change if there will not be enough investments in these areas of research and development.”

Israel has earned a reputation as a “startup nation,” helping pioneer breakthroughs such as wi-fi technology, the computer firewall and instant messaging. The country boasts more than 3,000 high-tech companies and the world’s third-largest presence on the Nasdaq stock market. Major technology companies Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Google Inc. maintain research and development centers in Israel.

Olmert said that while he was in office, Israel invested more in R&D than any other country in the world, relative to its size.

“I think that as a country, we do not invest sufficiently in the relative advantage of Israel,” he added in a swipe at the current government.

Olmert is teaming up with Kenges Rakishev, a Kazakh businessman with interests in infrastructure, petrochemicals, shipbuilding and technology, and Moshe Hogeg, chief executive of the Mobli photo-sharing service. The company’s chief adviser is Yuval Rabin, son of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

“It is clear to everyone that the next layer of technology will be augmented reality, artificial intelligence and robotics,” Hogeg said, but there are few venture firms targeting these areas.

“So we see a huge opportunity to invest in upcoming technologies in a very early stage right now,” he said.

Rakishev, who Forbes says is worth $225 million, said the fund hadn’t yet been launched officially and already has raised “tens of millions” of dollars. The goal was far more ambitious, he said, noting that Toronto-based Forbes & Manhattan is already heavily invested.

He said if the project develops a strong track record, “I think we can go dramatically fast.”