Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 8

QA
T

al Cohen has spent a quarter-century working as a research scientist and professor of engineering and computer science at
Georgia Tech. He co-founded a company
that provides consumer behavior intelligence to major corporations. He served
as vice chairman of an organization that
promotes American and Israeli business
collaborations.
These days, he's playing matchmaker.
In 2015, Cohen, 55, co-founded Drive
TLV, a Tel Aviv-based business incubator that collaborates with select mobility
startups and introduces them to global
partners, such as Volvo Cars, Honda, Cox
Automotive, Hertz and Aptiv. The Israeli
business has a sister venture-capital arm,
Next Gear Ventures, that in some cases
invests in the startups.
Deputy Mobility Editor Pete Bigelow
caught up with Cohen to discuss the
suddenly uncertain state of startups and
venture capital. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF
THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS AND
A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT
ENTREPRENEURS? WHAT ARE
YOU ADVISING COMPANIES?
A: Entrepreneurs are, by definition, about
responding to needs. So this phenomenon we see now is a once-in-a-century
kind of thing, hopefully, and I think they're
asking themselves about what's happening and asking how they might take their
technology and turn it into something of
value. I have this discussion daily the past
8

shift * april 2020

WITH TAL COHEN

Israeli exec plays matchmaker
for mobility startups, large companies

few days or weeks. The real leap is going
to happen when they are brave enough
to take more distance from their current
ideas and make a focused leap into where
the industry is going to be when we come
out of this bubble.

Q: WHY WAS THERE A NEED
FOR AN INCUBATOR THAT LINKS
STARTUPS WITH GLOBAL
COMPANIES IN THE AUTOMOTIVE
REALM?
A: You have two different entities that
want to work with each other, but they
don't speak the same language or do the
same dance. Drive is basically an institute

Q: WHAT'S THE ROLE OF NEXT
GEAR VENTURES?
A: Drive is an entity that is about commercialization. We finished raising the
[Next Gear] fund a year ago and probably
have $30 million that's cherry-picking the
startups from Drive based on those interactions and how well they work with partners and understand it very closely.

Q: WHY FOCUS ON MOBILITYRELATED COMPANIES?
A: Mobility is on the verge of a revolution. Or going through one already.
You know all the acronyms with CASE
or ACES (Autonomous, Connected,
Electric, Shared). You combine them and
you create a void in AI or sensors for the
autonomous side, in data mining and connectivity, storage. There's such a wide
variety of needs, and they're all over the
place. So there's this great pressure that
brings entrepreneurs into this area.

Q: YOU'VE BEEN A FOUNDER.
NOW YOU'RE ON THE OTHER SIDE.
DO YOU MISS IT?
A: When you identify a big opportunity,
to make that dance happen. It's taking
an elephant and a mouse and making
that dance happen. You have nimble,
small-budget organizations that have fantastic advantages on one side and very
large, robust execution machines that are
composed of very talented people on the
other. But their structure is effective in
the execution of mass manufacturing, not
adopting to new technology on the fly.

you almost visualize the path ahead. You
almost can visualize the particular acute
need and you have the urge to move the
thing forward yourself. But honestly, I'm
enjoying working with many founders and
seeing how their business is. We're helping
them create value, business relationships
and helping with the first round of funding all the way to an exit. It's rewarding.
It's combining my research, education and
entrepreneurship all in one package. ■



Shift Magazine - April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Shift Magazine - April 2020

Shift Magazine - April 2020
From the Editor
Did You Know?
Into the Unknown
Q &A
The Coasts With the Most
And the Honorees Are ...
Trategic Startups
Last Mile
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Intro
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Shift Magazine - April 2020
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Cover2
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 3
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - From the Editor
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Did You Know?
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Into the Unknown
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 7
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Q &A
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 9
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - The Coasts With the Most
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 11
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - And the Honorees Are ...
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 13
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 14
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 15
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 16
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 17
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 18
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 19
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - 20
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Trategic Startups
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Last Mile
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Cover3
Shift Magazine - April 2020 - Cover4
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