Todd Dollinger Interviewed in DealStreetAsia

Israeli businesses are international from the start: Todd Dollinger, Trendlines

Trendlines Chairman and CEO Todd Dollinger

Trendlines Chairman and CEO Todd Dollinger: “Our [approach] is based on innovation and our core competency is innovation management. … We’re looking to build strong relationships with entrepreneurs, investors and parties.”

By Shiwen Yep, DealStreetAsia (25 July 2016)

Israel-based Trendlines Group, a seed-stage incubator that focuses on medical and agricultural technology, has operated as a business trust in Singapore.

It is similar to business development companies of the US that have emerged as a financing alternative for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Following its recent investment roadshow in Singapore and Hong Kong, Todd Dollinger, co-CEO of Trendlines Group, spoke to  DEALSTREETASIA, about the role of agtech and medtech in their business model, its value to investors and the international nature of Israeli startup ventures. Edited excerpts:

How do you see Trendlines operating amidst the current market turbulence and through the 2016-2020 period? What’s the strategy for investments in the Middle East, given the relative stability of neighbours like Lebanon and Jordan?

Israel, like Singapore, is an island – in the economic and political sense and not literally. Sadly, our opportunities in the near abroad (i.e., Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), our neighbouring counties, and in our region, the Middle East, are minimal. The thing about starting a business in Israel is that you think internationally and you go to three places: the US, Europe and China. Trade between China and Israel is growing and Chinese investment in Israeli firms is a significant indicator of this. The US has often been a focal point for trade and technologies. Germany is certainly one of the most, if not the most important in Europe, considering the history.

***

Trendlines maintains a unique model for an incubator firm, compared to the traditional VC approach. What do you make of firms like Rocket Internet and their approach?

Its interesting, if what I read is truly representative. Their approach to business is the opposite of ours. They’re famous for copying technologies that exist and looking to exit them very quickly. Ours is based on innovation and our core competency is innovation management. They’re incredible aggressive in their relationships with others; we’re looking to build strong relationships with entrepreneurs, investors and parties.

In the context of an Israeli pivot towards Asia, do you see the major markets such as China, Russia and India driving more Israeli VCs to invest abroad?

Key successful Israeli VCs are investing more time abroad. I would also note that we’re not a VC. Our business models are very different, though we have some things in common with a VC. We’re just a regular corporation that seeks to make a profit for its shareholders. That financial difference is very important. A venture fund is there for a finite period, while we’re an evergreen company. If we deem it appropriate to stay with a portfolio firm for a long time, then we’ll do that. Venture firms have to liquidate at a certain point, always with an eye on the clock.

With the rise of the cannabis business sector in Israel, do you see Trendlines exploring investments in that space? And given the Singapore governments stance against drugs, do you see this creating regulatory complications and negative marketing for Trendlines in the future?

Cannabis is becoming a very important business in Israel. And cannabis, as related to our agriculture business, also relates to medicine. We’re sensitive to the regulations in Singapore and have no interest in doing anything that will not be well-received here, given that we are guests. We will most assuredly continue to investigate and invest in cannabis-related technologies in Israel, where there is substantial infrastructure and depth of knowledge about cannabis and its medical applications. But if we were looking at such an opportunity in Singapore, we would consult with our friends as to how it would be received. We are opening an incubator here – our Singapore staff will spend months training in Israel and adapting it to Singapore.

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In grappling with the Green Revolution and growing global food demand, what’s your take on the Blue Revolution and the associated aquaculture ventures?

Aquaculture is surely one of the most important areas to look at when dealing with agtech, with fish, we have the ability to provide protein to a population at phenomenally lower costs and reduced environmental impact than with cattle or pigs. Aquaculture not in the sea but on land means that we can provide that protein in the neighbourhood, with the tech coming in today (e.g., Biofishency). This ability to farm fish with tremendous densities so that you can have a fish farm in Singapore or Chicago, provides phenomenal opportunity in terms of the continuing technical development and efficiencies. We have numerous investments in aquaculture and will continue to invest aggressively.

Read the full interview on DealStreetAsia.

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