Oded Hermoni
Oded Hermoni

‘J-Angels’ lift up Israeli expats in Silicon Valley

When Oded Hermoni arrived in Silicon Valley seven years ago from Israel, he quickly discovered that various groups of expats had their own groups supporting tech entrepreneurship. But he found no such group for Israeli Americans.

Sure, there are organizations such as the California Israel Chamber of Commerce and the Israel Collaboration Network that help Israeli tech startups connect with U.S. venture capital firms and navigate Silicon Valley’s high-tech ecosystem.

But Hermoni, a former journalist who became chief executive officer of Israel’s High Tech Industry Association, felt the need for a group that supported Israelis already living and working in the Bay Area and that cultivated collaboration between Israeli Americans and U.S. Jews. That led him to join with Jim Koshland, a private investor and a partner in the DLA Piper law firm, to create J-Angels in 2015.

“We are not trying to bring Israelis to Silicon Valley,” Hermoni said. “There is a big Israeli community here that is all in tech, so we want to build a bridge for them. We are bringing people together.”

But J-Angels goes beyond merely fostering connections. Its members have invested individually in several local startups, and about six months ago J-Angels created its own venture capital fund to provide early funding for those companies.

J-Angels now consists of more than 150 investors and advisers from high-tech fields — about 60 percent Jewish American and 40 percent Israeli American, Hermoni said. Some 50 companies each month seek to make a presentation to the group.

A tech start-up pitches his company at a recent J-Angels meeting.
A tech entrepreneur pitches his company at a recent J-Angels meeting.
Laura Lauder
Laura Lauder

Those companies generally have a valuation of about $5 million to $10 million, said Laura Lauder, who serves on the steering and investment committees that decide which companies the fund will support. Hermoni said the J-Angels fund launched last spring so far has invested $100,000 to $500,000 in each of five companies.

Three or four startups are invited each month to present their business plans to the group, and J-Angels members offer advice and give feedback — always in English, not Hebrew. If enough members are interested, J-Angels examines whether to invest as a group — and individuals are also free to make an investment.

Hermoni said members have invested in 16 companies after those firms had made presentations at J-Angels events.

“What attracts those companies to us is the fact that we have access to the best entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley,” Hermoni said. “They want that advice and our people want to give that advice. The checks don’t make the difference. It’s about the people who write the checks.”

The group also has a couple of social events each year, and Koshland said building community is one of the attractions, and strengths, of J-Angels. That’s especially important to Israeli Americans, he said, since many of them are secular and don’t attend synagogue where they would meet American Jews.

“It was a unique way to create community between American and Israeli Jews,” Koshland said of the group. “It isn’t just all angel investors and lawyers. It’s a more mixed group of people than most angel groups.”

It’s a more mixed group of people than most angel groups.

One of those is Lauder, a Silicon Valley venture philanthropist who hopes the development of J-Angels can include a focus on charitable contributions. Lauder joked that she got involved because “Oded and Jim needed a Jewish mother to help take care of the social side.”

She added: “I do believe that we will include philanthropy in our future. Now that we have a fund of about $2 million, if and when there are returns in the fund, we may vote to make some distributions to charities.”

Zack Bodner
Zack Bodner

Zack Bodner, chief executive officer of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, was invited by J-Angels to discuss Jewish community events and ended up joining the group.

“I’m involved as just an individual investor,” he said. “I’d never been part of an investment club before. I’m not an experienced investor. But it’s a great learning experience, and I started to invest myself.”

Hermoni, whose day job is as a partner in the private investing firm Rhodium, was a journalist for Haaretz in Israel, covering business and technology, before joining the high tech world himself.

An at-large board member of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Hermoni is proud of the bonds his group has helped develop between American Jews and expat Israelis. But the central goal of his group remains investing success. He notes that the 23 companies they have invested in have raised more than $120 million since.

“It’s a capitalist kibbutz,” he explained. “We are all here to make money.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster is J.'s senior writer. He can be reached at rob@jweekly.com.