A Chat with Team8, a VC from the Israeli Intelligence Unit

I was fortunate to tune into a conversation with Liran Grinberg the Managing Partner of Team8 Capital, a global cybersecurity VC. He founded Team 8 in 2014 with the former Head of Israeli intelligence unit, 8200, Nadav Zafrir.

Team8’s company-building Foundry model de-risk process to venture investing, which is a process of “co-founding and serial-investing.” This led to serial investing into enterprises such as the creation of Sygnia ($250M exit with x60 return in 3 years) and Claroty, the world’s leader in Industrial Cybersecurity, backed by Rockwell AutomationSiemensSchneider ElectricGeneral MotorsBMW Group and more.

Here are three main advantages to having 8200 as the backbone of Team8.

So what is Unit 8200, and how does it contribute to the success of Team8 Capital?

  1. Level of talent is high. In Israel there is a mandatory service, and Unit 8200 is an elite military Israeli unit. The Team 8 leadership had access to the 1% of the 1%, those who had can new companies or can help build new companies. They were security entrepreneurs, cyber operating partners, and top talent from the largest unit within the military.
  2. Training is high. They start practicing leadership at a young age in the military and in technology. Under Team 8, under the Cyber and Data division, they build products and services to protect from cyber threats for data at scale.
  3. Culture is failure-tolerant and bottom-up. As 18, 19 year olds, they military entrants have their first year, second and third year to experiment with their new ideas each year. The graduates of the 8200 naturally fuel the tech ecosystem and the “startup nation.” 

Another really interesting aspect to the model of Team8 was the venture-building model and the formation of the “Team8 Village,” a critical mass of mass of talent through which a platform- they built out a process for entrepreneurs, engineers, and the investors.

Instead of focusing on commercial innovation, Team8 geared attention to the VC world and the intersection of academia, inventions, and startups and how to enable the backbone of startups to be more influential. As incumbents, enterprises have a lot of resources and access to the markets like understanding of the customers, they are bureaucratic and it is hard for them to innovate. Startups solve very concrete problems. They don’t have much resources or any research capability, and the success rate is very low. So Team8 chose to ask –  how can VCs act as a platform to solve difficult questions?

Team8 helps enterprises digitally transform. The companies or LPs become strategic investors.They don’t often have the muscle power to build something from scratch. So therefore, they passively help build the model to impact the type of problem to invest in the company.

For a gate of four hours, Team8 brings a challenge and companies together with engineers and the leadership. They bring together companies without lack the technical domain expertise from different geographies with a similar problem. For instance, they brought together data scientists and enterprises that 2 entrepreneurs usually would do in the garage. Team8 then conducts technical due diligence to help them grow.

If the problem is big enough, they build the company from scratch. They have 12 companies so far. This whole model – the platform team, village, the process – the investors, and everyone – has de-risked the investing process. 

Liran began working closely with founding teams on the ideation of Team8’s first companies, including Sygnia which was acquired by Temasek for $250M, and Claroty which is backed with $100M in funding, alongside Illusive Networks, Hysolate, Curv and more. Liran then transitioned to build and lead Team8’s Go-to-Market Group across its marketing, business development and market research functions, alongside the formation of a tightknit community of hundreds of C-level executives from the world’s leading enterprises. Combined, the two initiatives have become a powerful and differentiated advantage of Team8 in accelerating the success of its portfolio companies. 

His venture-building model with Israeli’s top talent is not only tackling the world’s greatest cyber security challenges, but also the backbone of the startup nation Israel is today.

Accelerating Tech for a Secure and Sustainable Future

When you think of working in the defense industry, you are right think about the arms – the military equipment, missiles, submarines, helicopters, etc. You’re quite right. So what it mean to be working in sustainable solutions in the world of defense tech?

The idea of working with the private sector for public applications is not new. In the past, most predominant forms of spending were through governmental entities such as DARPA  as R&D directorate and for weapons and military development – the Central Intelligence Agency’s publicly funded venture capital firm – In-Q-Tel or the Defense Innovation Unit.

Their sponsored research today became the technologies in our daily lives – the GPS, the Internet, the microwave, artificial intelligence, were all products from the State investments in technology.

Emerging technologies today have far outpaced the contracting model, where it now needs to move towards venture financing. The types of threats we are facing today including cyber – are outside the security contractor supply chain. The existing model’s ability to keep pace in future warfare is questionable.

The world of defense tech is an interesting one, where it extends beyond the traditional arms to encompass artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computers, cyber, robot, 5G (5th generation), urban air mobility (drones) mobile communication, and aerospace technologies.

At the current Center, we build a hub of: a) challenging technical problems; b) globally shared security challenges c) the intersection of commercial and public sectors, and d) with significant economic upside. We seek to work with venture capitalists accelerating dual-use early-stage technologies by facilitating technology transfer, and forming strategic alliances. 

We work with a network of highly vetted global advisors and partners, enabling us to map technologies to globally shared security challenges. We base our selection on performance, application of technologies to our partner’s mission capacities, and on complete alignment of interest. 

So how can defense tech serve as means for sustainability?

Aerospace and automobiles both rely on high technologies but are both major manufacturing industries relying on advanced materials, electronics, embedded systems, mechanical components, engines, and structures.

The basic idea is the same – you invest into new technologies that are more efficient, faster, smarter but to invest into clean technologies doesn’t also release toxic chemicals or with greater mitigation mechanisms to control GHG emissions.

The battery-powered electric airplanes are, believe it or not, already here. By investing into dual-use (commercial and public) technologies, clean technologies in the commercial sector could be bolstered with public sector investments. Through partnerships and their collaboration with domestic and foreign defense conglomerates, we can accelerate the progress of companies making a material difference in carbon emissions through increased incentives.

The vision is to invest into technologies to help advance the capabilities of the defense sector to have advanced technologies and to develop technologies that will enable the industry to shift from nonrenewable to renewable resources for energy and materials in a significant way – and thus will help to achieve a secure and sustainable future.