Economic Development

YBI Forms Partnership with Israel’s Junction Accelerator

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Business Incubator is working with two Israeli startups to help them gain a foothold in the U.S. market and anticipates many more collaborations through a formal partnership to be announced today.

YBI is now part of The Junction, an Israel-based business accelerator. The Junction is affiliated with F2 Capital, a venture capital fund whose managing partners include venture capitalist and Youngstown native Barak Rabinowitz.

YBI will work with companies chosen through The Junction to locate in the United States, and ideally in the Mahoning Valley, said Barb Ewing, incubator CEO.

One of the two firms with which it has begun working is PrintCB, a startup developing next-generation materials for printer electronics, “one of the fastest-growing trends in electronics manufacturing,” said Sagi Daren, founder of PrintCB.

“Israelis are leading the world in so many areas in terms of technology, both on the software side and the additive manufacturing side,” and the Junction and F2 represent “an acclaimed program” that is among the “elite group of entrepreneurs” there, Ewing said. Other partners in the Junction are tech giants Hewlett-Packard and SAP.

Ewing met with Rabinowitz as a member of a local delegation led by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation that traveled to Israel in January.

Rabinowitz was born in 1978, and lived in Liberty Township. As he grew up, he saw empty steel mills and factories and young people leaving never to return.

“It was depressing,” he said. “When I met Barb and heard what YBI was doing, and the scale and scope of it, I was extremely excited. It makes perfect sense to me.”

The relationship with YBI provides Junction companies with “a soft landings program, an opportunity for them to gently ease their way into the U.S. market because there’s a place and personnel in place to help them do that,” Ewing said.

“You cannot launch a successful company in Israel that addresses only the Israeli market. You have to go into Asia or North America or Europe,” she continued. “There’s just no way to scale a company within the geographic boundary that is Israel, and obviously they don’t have friendly relations with their neighbors.”

Every six months, the Junction issues a call for applications for one of five slots in its business accelerator program. Some 250 companies are winnowed to 20, those 20 invited to a two-day session with the founders of the Junction. Of those 20 companies, the five are selected to work with the Junction. Each receives an initial investment of $100,000.

“We’ll have access to all that deal flow for trying to identify companies that are ready to launch into the U.S. market,” Ewing said.

Additive manufacturing is a core area of the Junction.

“We identified additive manufacturing as a big opportunity in general,” Rabinowitz said. “Then it was a question of where do we create opportunities to connect innovative startups with real businesses with real needs with existing customers.”

Rabinowitz’s personal connection to Youngstown made the opportunity to work with YBI even better, he added. “All these things came together,” he said.

As important as the traditionally cited arguments to locate in the Valley are — access to larger markets and the low cost of living – equally or more important are YBI’s history and experience, “and this clustering we’ve created for additive manufacturing and how it touches other clusters,” Ewing said.

Working with YBI helped PrintCB reach out to companies in the Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland region that have become its initial customers and development partners, Daren said. The company has developed a copper-based ink “that has the power to disrupt this space with higher-performance materials at reduced cost,” he explained, which should ultimately affect manufacturing in the automotive, consumer electronics and other industries. The incubator also is helping to identify investors.

“We found a great ecosystem in this area, with hard-working people who understand what we are doing and are keen to try it,” he said. “Also, there are many large manufacturing corporations based in this area, which makes it very attractive.”

Another partner is working toward “killer applications” in additive manufacturing, Rabinowitz said, that aligns with YBI’s additive manufacturing network.

“I don’t think we fully understand the value proposition that we have between YBI’s experience, the lab, the cluster. We’re just now learning how to tell that story in a way that’s meaningful,” Ewing said. “When you have Israeli companies that grow up in a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship recognize that you’ve got something special and unique, you need to pay attention and take advantage.”

Pictured at top: Entrepreneurs working at The Junction business accelerator in Israel.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.