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Here’s why Waze and other Israeli tech companies are keen on Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Most people think of Waze as a GPS navigation system.

But the Tel Aviv-based tech firm, now owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., is trying to be much more — such as when it partnered with the city of Tampa and the state a few years ago for its Connected Citizens Program, a two-way data exchange for government officials to implement transportation and mobility policies based on traffic data.

Tampa Bay — with its growing infrastructure and startup needs — is an ideal place for Waze to find new, creative partnerships for using its technology, company executives said.

"There’s a lot of innovation in new companies here," Aron Di Castro, the company’s head of global business development, told a group of 500 Wednesday morning at a tech networking conference in Tampa.

"The need for infrastructure directly applies to Tampa’s Waze but also to the need for startups and the economy. This is going to increase the challenges this area is going to face for mobility and structure."

The second-annual Innovation Fusion event at the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center was organized by the Tampa-based Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, which provides a launch pad for Israeli tech companies to operate in the bay area. Wednesday’s meeting featured eight Israeli companies looking to establish headquarters and investors in the U.S. and hire locals in the Tampa Bay area.

RELATED COVERAGE: Jeff Vinik invests in Israeli-Tampa Company that makes radiation protection wear

In addition to Di Castro, Danny Brigido, customer solutions site manager in Miami for Israel-based website development company Wix.com, also gave a keynote address.

Brigido graduated from the University of Tampa in 2001 and lived here until 2008. This week was his first time returning to the area.

"It makes me very happy to know that fellow students from UT and USF can look forward to a bright career here in Tampa," he said in an interview with the Times. "If we have businesses staying here and we have a city that has the infrastructure that can maintain the structure here, it would give these new companies a pool of qualified individuals."

The state presented FIBA with a $750,000 economy opportunity grant during the event. FIBA and Florida Funders also announced a new joint venture to help potential investors identify Israeli companies of interest.

FIBA Executive Director of Marketing Rakefet Bachur said that the organization hopes to build relationships in the upcoming months similar to last year’s event which prompted a $6 million investment in military technology company StemRad that included Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

RELATED COVERAGE: Jeff Vinik invests in Israeli-Tampa Company that makes radiation protection wear

The eight startup companies featured were BetterCare, ECOncrete, Nucleon, UC-CareMedical Systems, WiseShelf, Say, GlobeKeeper and Intervyo.

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Contact Hannah Denham at hdenham@tampabay.com. Follow @hannah_denham1.

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