JERUSALEM (Feb 20): Over 23,000 people from 180 countries arrived at Jerusalem last week for what was supposedly the largest tech startup conference in the world. Initiated by OurCrowd, a global venture investing platform – the annual conference is dedicated to matching Israeli startups with investors.

The venture capitalist is the financier behind prominent companies such Beyond Meat and Uber. As at 2019, it had invested in 38 new portfolio companies, had eight exits and gained over US$500 million ($700 million) in new funding commitments. Overall, it has US$1.4 billion under management, from doctors, lawyers and accredited investors.

However, there was one nagging concern to most attendees: the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak (Covid-19). Just days before the conference, Israel had banned direct travel from mainland China, and issued a travel advisory against visitors from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. This prevented delegations of Asian investors from attending the conference.

With Chinese investment in Israel’s tech sector amounting to some US$325 million in 2018 – their absence was substantial. “We want to send a shout out to all our friends in China and Asia. Our thoughts are with you. This virus will be fought in all of the world,” said Jon Medved, founder and CEO of OurCrowd.

The reality is, the impact of the virus has gone beyond human travel to reshape global supply chains, notes Eytan Buchman Chief Marketing Officer of Freightos, a freight and shipping platform. Already close to 20% of its 8,000 companies are looking for manufacturing suppliers outside China. This is opposed to just 6.6% a year ago.

And the so-called “Startup Nation” already has plans to prevent further spread of the virus. The Israeli government on Feb 3 announced the setup of a Coronavirus vaccine research base to contain the spread of the illness and treat those affected.

Said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “I am making it clear that the State of Israel is currently ahead of the world in many things, even in addressing this issue and we intend to lead in another aspect”.

“It is possible that even on this issue, if we work fast enough, with an appropriate budget and the talented people that we have, that Israel will be ahead of the world here too,” he was quoted as saying in an article on The Jerusalem Post.

This has spurred OurCrowd to provide more early stage investments, particularly to address bigger global pandemics such as the coronavirus and cancer. The fund already has several portfolio companies that can potentially address the strain of the virus. But Medved believes more needs to be done.

“The Coronavirus is a health emergency. It is not about [being] quarantined and [imposing] travel bans. [Rather] how do we stop this in its tracks?” stressed Medved.