‘It’s my Israel, and I love it and believe in it,’ says the woman who develops international trade ties to Israeli companies through Globe Gateway.
By Avigayil Kadesh Many countries across the globe are eager to pursue trade with the “startup nation,” but connecting with the coveted Israeli business scene requires a go-between with cultural and linguistic fluency in the home and target markets. That is why Ilana Kapitolnik gets out of bed every morning. From the time she was pregnant with her first child 25 years ago, Kapitolnik has been introducing Israeli companies to potential trading partners in nations such as Georgia, South Africa, India, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Italy, the Czech Republic and Belarus. “We work in something like 25 countries — we don’t count them anymore,” Kapitolnik says. “We take the hard markets because we know how to work in them.” “We” is Globe Gateway, the company she runs with her husband, Oded. Globe Gateway specializes in facilitating international trade events in Israel and other countries as a platform for promoting collaborations between Israeli and foreign companies. “The goal is to take Israel to the outside world, and if somebody comes to invest in Israeli companies, we are there for them,” she says. Setting the stage for business The company’s annual flagship event, the Israel Gateway foreign trade conference, brings together trade and finance agencies from Israel and abroad, representatives of organizations of international companies, and the diplomatic community. Kapitolnik says Israel Gateway was started at the suggestion of ambassadors from several different countries eager to forge a direct path toward business with Israel. Globe Gateway also takes the show on the road, presenting Israeli companies and ideas in underserved but potentially profitable markets. This is done in cooperation with the Israeli Foreign Affairs and Industry, Trade and Labor ministries; the Israel Export Institute, the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, foreign embassies in Israel and Israeli embassies in foreign countries. “It’s my Israel, and I love it and believe in it,” says Kapitolnik, who counts quite a few Israeli and foreign ambassadors as personal friends. She explains that her husband Oded, as a young industrial designer and architect, was brimming with entrepreneurial ideas to benefit Israeli industry. He did not find the cross-continental liaison mechanism he was looking for, so he created it and asked his wife to partner with him. “I don’t recommend that most people work with their husbands,” Ilana Kapitolnik says with a smile, “but we complete each other. He does all the hard work. He knows every company — what they do and what they need. He’s the real entrepreneur. I am the people person. I do the talking and all the relations with the customers and all the public speaking. I have no fear of the stage.” She is the face of Globe Gateway — and by extension the face of Israeli business in many parts of the world, a role she relishes. Brave or crazy? Born in 1958, Kapitolnik grew up in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. She laughingly describes herself as a “balagan child,” the Hebrew term for chaos. “If my father sees me from ‘upstairs,’ I know he is very proud of me now,” she says. It is thanks to her father’s Romanian birth that she was able to secure the Romanian passport that has smoothed the Kapitolniks’ way for business with Eastern Europe. It is thanks to her military service in Israel’s liaison office with the United Nations that she is able to close contracts in Russian and English. She volunteered “with pleasure” for reserve duty until the age of 27, wed Oded at 28, and became the mother of son Tal, now 25, and daughter Gili, 22. The Kapitolniks set their sights on introducing large and small Israeli businesses – such as Elite, Hogla, Remedia, Tadiran and Gottex — to the Ukraine, Poland and Russia in the early 1990s. Many people questioned their sanity because these were not obvious or easy markets to enter. She recalls that in 1993, Israel’s ambassador to Russia at the time, Lt.-Gen. Haim Bar-Lev, opened Globe Gateway’s first event in Moscow. “The ambassador said he was so proud to have met this brave woman, Mrs. Ilana Kapitolnik, and then he closed the microphone and whispered to me, ‘I don’t know if you are brave or crazy.’” Focusing on the Russian-speaking world Whichever descriptor was most accurate, it clearly worked in her favor. Kapitolnik quickly saw interest growing in Russia and elsewhere. Over 25 years, the company has organized 66 foreign trade events around the globe. It set up a foreign trade portal as a virtual meeting point between potential Israeli and foreign partners. Its slick quarterly trade magazine is sent out to thousands of leading figures in the Israeli economy and global business community.
“The goal is to take Israel to the outside world,” says Kapitolnik
At first, the couple represented a large range of technological and food industries. “After a few years, the world became more focused so we did, too.” These days, their work is mainly pairing Israeli high-tech companies with interested parties in Russian-speaking countries. A recent Georgia Gateway event promoted Israeli businesses offering technology for everything from agriculture and telecom to security, energy and consumer goods. Just a month later, a delegation came from Georgia to follow up. “Usually, building relationships with the countries is a long process, but in this case it was very fast,” says Kapitolnik. She doesn’t know of any other company that does quite what Globe does. “I don’t look out for competition,” she says. “I just do my work.”