With great fanfare, former Israeli spy chief launches $18M cyber security venture

Not every day does Eric Schmidt invest in an Israeli startup. The reason? The former head of Israel’s elite intelligence unit, 8200, started Team8, a cyber security venture

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By now, it’s become a cliché that several dozen of Israel’s most successful startup entrepreneurs got their chops in the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit.

But when the former head of the unit for ten years, Nadav Zafrir, starts his own company and announces it has received an $18 million investment, you can’t help thinking that this had better be good.

And from the sounds of it, it is good: Not every day does Eric Schmidt invest in an Israeli startup. And not everyone has Bell Labs as their primary research collaborator.

Zafrir’s new venture, Team8, is a cross between a startup, a venture capital firm and an accelerator. It plans to build 4-6 new cyber security companies in the next 4-6 years.

Team8 has received an $18 million A-round investment from Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Investments, Marker LLC, Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), and Innovation Endeavors.

The company has a research department, headed by Asaf Mischari, with technology, finance and academic experts. Their job is to find vectors where the effort organizations are expending to protect themselves keeps rising while the efforts expended by hackers or criminals goes down. As soon as they pinpoint a problem in urgent need of a solution, they will appoint an entrepreneur and team to build a company around it.

These companies will then move to a dedicated accelerator space in Tel Aviv where they will collaborate with Bell Labs researchers working at a cloud and security facility near Tel Aviv.

“Global cyber security threats are only becoming more targeted, frequent, and destructive in nature, so we’re fortunate to be partnering with Team8, who is at the forefront of new cutting-edge cyber security innovation,” said Eric Schmidt, founding partner of Innovation Endeavors and executive chairman of Google, in a statement. “Team8 is a great example of how Israel has some of the best talent in the world to confront these challenges through its ability to develop advanced and creative solutions for this rapidly evolving landscape.”

“With the escalation of cyber conflicts, the world needs inter-disciplinary teams of the very best talent to formulate new approaches to security,” said Team8 Co-Founder Nadav Zafrir. “Over the past year, Team8 has developed a unique model to tackle the toughest problems, inventing disruptive technologies that are commercialized through the creation of new startup companies.”

The first Team8 company, still in stealth mode, is led by Check Point veteran Ofer Israeli and focuses on mitigating targeted attacks and advanced persistent threats (APTs). Team8 and its companies are currently recruiting exceptional talent. Team8 also invites outstanding entrepreneurs to join forces in building new cyber security companies.

Team8 talks to Geektime

In an interview with Geektime, Zafrir says that in the past, CEOs of companies compared their level of cyber security to that of other companies. But incidents like the cyber attack on Sony lead companies to want to be as protected as humanly possible, not just in comparison to Paramount or Disney.

“CEOs of large companies need to think like leaders of small countries,” he said.

Zafrir told Geektime the advantage of his business model is that you won’t have lone wolf CEOs. Rather, the teams of the 4-6 companies will continue to collaborate and exchange ideas, similar to the way teams work in the IDF. In addition, the CEOs won’t have to perpetually chase funding, as Team8 will raise it for them.