French boost for Israeli cybersecurity startups

Toot Shani and Philippe Bouaziz

Philippe Bouaziz's 365x is a startup accelerator with a French touch.

Serial entrepreneur Philippe Bouaziz was known in Paris for his wildly successful French integrator ProdWare, which went on to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Several years ago, Bouaziz moved to Israel and launched 365x, an incubator for startups. Or is it?

"No, 365x is NOT an incubator," he cuts in sharply to correct me, as we sit and talk in his office, which is very spacious, and sparse by French standards.

The office sits in the shadow of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, and its plain-Jane looks belie the power of the man and the company. Just as Bouaziz was an international Frenchman; now he is an international Israeli.

"We do scale-up and we are an accelerator," he states precisely, "We're a growth ecosystem for startups, to help them become real enterprises. We help them scale up their product development and we accelerate their fit to market, with more clients, partners and re-sellers. And please, we are only B to B, no B to C in this office."

365x does business with companies all over the world. More than 100 Israeli startups a year go through this French-style system, in which they face a square, rational screening process that focuses on facts and figures, not personalities or feelings, thereby eliminating the tendency to favor family and friends (and army buddies).

"Europe is a fantastic opportunity for Israeli start-ups," Bouaziz continues, "especially because, as their focus has always been the United States, opportunities in Europe have not been fully taken advantage of."

He notes the classic scenario of product development leading to an exit strategy, often an acquisition by an American company. This is not the goal of 365x. "We are changing the exit strategy in Israel to one of business development of the technology and the product," he says. "The real profits are there, not in an exit."

365x works with eight selected Israeli cybersecurity startups, and they do not have clients in France…yet. That is about to change. Bouaziz has brought French cyber insider Dominique Bourra in as a mentor.

But just as the ecosystem director is a French Israeli, so Bourra has dual insider status. As the "chef d’orchestre" of the annual cybersecurity forum in Paris, in conjunction with the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce, he has a track record of bringing elite Israeli cybersecurity companies to France, but also, very importantly, matching them with large French industrial and service concerns, and with the military. Recently, the reach of the forum has extended to the United States, as both startups and major groups from California and the East Coast have been present in Paris.

This dual insider status on the French and Israeli sides of the Mediterranean is what Bouaziz and Bourra have in common. And while the structure may be French-style, the decision-making is quick, Israeli style.

"We don’t want great technology not to do business," comments 365x managing partner Toot Shani. "The word in Hebrew is tachless, which means, no bullshitting around, get to the point and do it." She notes that the start-ups with which they choose to work already have clients. "Dominique Bourra will open doors in France and perhaps elsewhere for technology companies that are already working."

But cybersecurity is a risky business.

"This is a not a stable field," Bourra notes. "There are new threats and breakthrough technologies to meet them every day. And CISOs, chief information security officers, of French companies listed on the CAC 40, the Paris stock exchange, and others, cannot possibly stay on top of all the technology, and the new waves in Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum physics."

As the insider with dozens of large French corporations, Bourra is not helping to choose the startups, but he can bring fresh business to them and to the accelerator. And, as he is quick to mention, certain of these start-ups will then participate in his forum in Paris in 2020.

Several start-up guys are present at this meeting in Tel Aviv. Avi Bartov, head of GammaSec, has developed a virtual hacker tool for detection and prevention for SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises), especially in synergy with the insurance market, because he came from that field. He has clients in Canada, but none in France, though he is of French origin.

"In insurance, as in other fields, there is no silver bullet," he comments. "If you are clean today, that doesn’t mean you will be clean tomorrow. 365x has brought me some business, but France could be one of the doors to Europe for me," he adds.

The buzz word for these cyber tools is "honey pot trap," an Israeli specialty. What does this mean? Dominique Bourra explains with a quick smile: "

"It's about trapping the hackers, so that their feet get stuck in a digital maze, a honey pot. That is the defensive part. The Israelis take the malware and use the hacker as a guinea pig. This is called the hack-back. This is where defense might become offense. And if this sounds controversial, it is."

Next comes David Mail, founder of Blaick, proposing RWAF technology (reverse web application firewall), which is artificial intelligence powered. Mail has both. Born and raised in Russia, he does business there, in Ukraine and in Estonia. "I was charmed by the French connection of 365x," he says.

Then another team shows up, called Sabres Security. Shay Bracha and Ami Emmanuel Ahnine, are buddies from high school. Ami is a young retired lieutenant colonel, second in command of LOTEM C4I, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intel. He trained members of the elite IDF cyber units.

His old pal Shay came from the pharmaceutical industry, but they are looking beyond that vertical system.

Ami explains that 65% of requests on B2B websites come from bots…robots. "We provide MDP, multi-dimensional protection, a name we invented, as well as the technology behind it," he says. More proprietary technology.

He continues, "Most products are WAF, web application firewall, and are replaced by CISOs every few years. But also to detect bots, we do RASP technology - run-time application self-protection." Their tool is an adaptation of technology that takes advantage of information from inside the running software.

When Dominique Bourra describes his annual cybersecurity forum in Paris, and how the guest speaker in 2018 was Nadav Zafrir, founder of the legendary IDF Unit 8200, and then Israel Barak, the founder of the IDF red team in 2019, Shay and Ami from Sabres are suddenly very interested in working with him. That means within the structure of 365x, but also participating in the forum in Paris.

Dominique goes a step further. French companies generally do business in francophone West African countries, their former colonies. He has developed an ecosystem in Rwanda, the most stable country in East Africa. He has also put together an incubator for cybersecurity and disruptive technologies called Unit 250 (pronounced two five O), based in Kigali.

Rwanda is Israel’s strongest supporter in Africa. Its president, General Paul Kagame, trained in the United States, has taken the country from francophone to anglophone, (though his former foreign affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, is now head of the International Francophone Organization, the OIF, a mega francophone insider nomination). Following the horrible genocide that resulted in one million mostly Tutsi deaths there in 1994, Kagame has built a stable, thriving, corruption-free economy.

Ami and Shay need to hear no more. They are interested in doing more with 365x, in participating in the cybersecurity forum in Paris, a not-so-small investment for a start-up, and in opening the doors to East Africa. "Take us to Rwanda," they tell Dominique.

A few hours earlier, Philippe Bouaziz had said pretty much the same thing…well, not "take me to Rwanda", but he did give a green light to future exploration there.

All the people involved here - Philippe Bouaziz and Toot Shani at 365x, Dominique Bourra, the dual cyber insider, and the Israeli start-up guys - are enthusiastic about product development and business acceleration within the synergy that is shaping up here today.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 23, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Toot Shani and Philippe Bouaziz
Toot Shani and Philippe Bouaziz
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