Incubator CEO fled law career for high tech

Esther Barak-Landes left a promising law career to found Nielsen's incubator.

Esther Barak-Landes (48) is one of the few women at the top of Israel's venture capital industry. Six months ago, she became the first CEO of an Israeli high tech incubator, Nielsen Innovate, established by global research company Nielsen Holdings NV (NYSE: NLSN), which has more than $5 billion in annual revenue. Nielsen Innovate has NIS 100 million. Nielsen's partners in the incubator are Igal Ahouvi, Ron Lauder, and his associates former Citigroup and Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons, and former Estee Lauder chairman and CEO Fred Langhammer.

"The connection with Nielsen was established when I met Nielsen EVP Itzhak Fisher. The meeting was for a completely different business matter, but the subject of technology incubators came up. That is how the partnership was formed," Barak-Landes told "Globes" in an exclusive interview.

"I am the first woman in Israel to set up an incubator with a foreign company. This was something new on the Israeli scene. The logic was that Israel has a lot of innovation and many entrepreneurs. Just last year, 900 new companies were founded, of which 600 raised money. The whole world is now very interested in our model. I get calls every week, and organizations interested in the program visit us. It's no small thing."

I had guts

Barak-Landes's career began in law, in the footsteps of her father, former President of the Supreme Court Judge Emeritus Aharon Barak, and her mother, National Labor Court Vice President Elisheva Barak. After completing law school and an internship at the Supreme Court, she joined the firm Kantor Elhanani Tal & Co. Advocates, where she handled major deals. Nine years later, she decided to go into high tech, and joined the start-up CashU Ltd.

"Globes": Why did you decide to leave the firm?>

Barak-Landes: "I felt that this was not me, to fight in the courts. I wanted to stop fighting and start making win-win deals. I also wanted to be on the side of the decision-makers, to be a big part of the enterprise, and not just on the side of the consultant.

"When I left the law in favor of high tech, I felt a great sense of relief. I suddenly felt how nice it was to go to meetings without people looking at me and thinking of my family. It slowly dawned on me, and it seemed like a great weight was lifted from me. I suddenly created a completely independent niche. Suddenly, my successes were measured without any connection to my family background."

Why high tech?

"As a lawyer, I was always drawn to legal aspects. High tech fascinated me because it sets the future. I entered it completely by chance. A friend had just received an offer that she had to refuse, told the entrepreneurs to call me, and they offered me a job at their start-up. It was brave of them to add a lawyer with no technology experience to their journey. I also had the courage to see the transition as a kind of adventure. My years there were a gift. They had good people who gave me an opportunity, I learned from the shop floor how to build a start-up.

After three years, I went to study for an MBA, where I met my next partners in the Israel Angels club, where we located ventures and showed them to angel investors. Igal Ahouvi was one of these investors, and I ultimately found myself working with him in his company Partam Hi-Tech. that was in 2006, and I invested in ventures under Ahouvi's hat and his resources."

What did you learn from him?

"He is a man who goes into the small details, deals thoroughly with every number and figure, but still goes with his gut. He is a people man with a broad and deep business perspective, but also intuitive. He gave me a base to learn about the industry, to play in the world of high tech. When the economic crisis erupted, we slowed investments and focused on managing the portfolio. In 2010, we resumed investments and also began to think about the incubator model."

Partam has had handsome exits. Why go out and found a new fund?

"After years of investing in Israeli technology companies, there was no room for doubt. It was necessary to establish an investment fund that could located the best ventures and take them by the hand to potential customers, rather than sending them off to knock on the doors of the world's big corporations. It's impossible to sit in Israel and develop and build companies in a bubble, and then start looking for customers two years later. I felt this difficulty during the seven years that I worked with Ahouvi, when we invested in early-stage companies. I had a vision that I needed a place where companies would work together, and I knew that with my wish to help develop companies, and my abilities to find the right ties, I'd reach a place where I felt better."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on April 9, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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