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For Israelis, Singapore is Gateway to ‘dream’ Markets, Like Indonesia

October 31, 2005
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A talking children’s book, a box that send an alert to parents if their teenage child starts driving recklessly, a passport photo that conceals important data — these are a few of the inventions Israeli entrepreneurs showed recently at an international exhibition in Singapore. But the attraction of Global Entrepolis isn’t just that it allows Israeli inventors to meet potential investors who could help develop and sell their products. Singapore also is a regional hub for sizable markets like Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

The most populous Muslim country in the world with more than 220 million people, Indonesia often is perceived as the Israelis’ dream market.

Malaysia also does not allow trade with Israel, but Malaysian businessmen at Global Entrepolis showed interest in Israeli technology.

During the past seven years, the Singapore-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation has helped 50 companies from Israel do business with Singaporean companies.

“Very often the Israelis are disappointed with the Singaporean side’s technological capabilities, but what the Singaporeans give is mainly the market access to adjacent Indonesia and Malaysia,” said Shirley Refuah-Hasson of the foundation. “We try to make the Israelis understand it would be very difficult for them to reach those market without regional partners.”

There also are cultural hurdles to contend with.

“Most Singaporeans do not understand the difference between Jewish and Israeli. The image of the Jews here is that they are smart but very shrewd, so many people are afraid to be associated with them,” said the foundation’s William Koo. “I tell them that I’ve been to Israel and that there’s no reason to be afraid.”

The Israeli Trade Ministry’s Tnufa project helps entrepreneurs develop archetypes of their products and eventually get to exhibitions like Global Entrepolis, which was held in late September.

In the Israeli booth, attendees were able to see an invention called “Protector,” which can locate a car in motion, send an SMS alert to the phone of the car’s driver or owner with the vehicle’s location and serve as the car’s black box in case of accidents.

“There was a businessman who asked me to come tomorrow to Malaysia to meet his partners, but I can’t do it with my Israeli passport,” said Erez Koren, of the company — also called Protector — that developed the product. “But we will find a way to do it through a third party. The fact that there are no diplomatic relations will not stop us.”

The talking children’s book, which was developed in Kibbutz Barkai, allows kids to touch words and hear them in a different language. It also received a lot of attention in Singapore.

“There was interest by businessmen who export to China in products that help young children learn English,” said William Krukowski of Edu-Barkai.

Concealogram — another Israeli company with an international name — exhibited its technology that can encrypt a hidden image within a visible image. The invention could be used in passport photos: It allows the authorities to encrypt invisible data in a photo, such as name, age and nationality.

If someone uses the photo in a forged passport, or uses a new photo without the encryption, the immigration clerk would be alerted that the details don’t match.

“There are numerous problems in the marketing process of a new invention. Many times we have to be tough with inventors who do not understand they are bad marketing people,” said Jacob Fisher, Tnufa’s director.

According to Fisher, some 20 percent of the inventions that pile up on his table eventually make it to market.

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