By BERNIE BELLAN A number of months back I was introduced, by a mutual friend in the investment industry, whose name is Mark Francis, to the president of the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC for short): Oded Orgil.
Mark Francis, I should note, has been very active in promoting investment opportunities for Canadians looking to invest in Israeli companies. When he told me about Orgil and the CICC I said to Mark that I’d be very interested in learning more about an organization which, I admit, had not really crossed my radar prior to Mark’s telling me about it.
Subsequently, I spoke with Orgil and said to him that I would be interested in writing about the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce, but before I would do that I wanted to learn quite a bit more about what it is the organization does.
Over the past year - since the pandemic took hold, I’ve been invited several times to sit in on Zoom sessions hosted by the CICC, in which representatives of Israeli companies would speak about their companies to various Canadian audiences.
For instance, not too long ago I watched a Zoom session in which Israeli company representatives presented themselves to British Columbia government and business representatives. I admit much of the session was highly technical – as one would expect within forums such as these, and it was difficult to gauge the level of interest among the participants, but if truth be told, the pandemic has actually made it easier in some respects for individuals of diverse backgrounds to be brought together than was probably the situation prior to the widespread use of Zoom and other communication tools that have now become commonplace.
As the number of emails I was receiving from Oded Orgil informing me of new upcoming Zoom sessions continued to arrive with regularity, I decided to contact him again and ask him if he had time to be interviewed about his role at the CICC and how he had arrived at his present position.
As one might expect, Orgil is quite busy, since not only is he handling his responsibilities as president of the CICC, he is also involved in capital markets as a founder and president of 5X Capital Management Inc., a Toronto-based firm involved in wealth management, alternative investing, and source funding for growing businesses.
President of the CICC since 2010, Orgil had an extensive background in the financial sector prior to his becoming president. Born in Israel, he came to Canada with his parents in 1969 when he was two and a half years old.
“We lived in London, Ontario for five years, Sarnia for four years, then we moved to Alberta,” Orgil told me. “My dad was in the oil industry. We lived in Calgary for a couple of years and Edmonton as well for five years.
“I came back here (to Toronto) and took my undergraduate degree at York, then law school at (University of) Western (Ontario).
“I actually played college football,” Orgil added. “That was my first love.”
“I practiced law for two years before getting into the financial services sector, initially as an adviser, subsequently in a variety of senior management roles with a number of national, as well as independent firms. I was CEO of a boutique firm from 2015-17, and then I moved out on my own.
Then his wife said to him, Oded says: “ ‘You’ve got five children. It’s time you got off a plane and get to know them a little bit.’ So I’ve now got a small shop here in Toronto (the aforementioned 5X Capital Maangement Inc.). We’re involved in a variety of different capital markets – helping clients manage and raise money. ”
“I’ve always been going back to Israel with my family,” Orgil added, “at least once a year.”
“I was very fortunate,” he noted. I played for the Israeli national hockey team for seven years. My son will hopefully play and I’m hoping my daughter will as well. We’re trying to create a women’s (hockey) program in Israel.”
When I spoke with Orgil I said to him that I really hadn’t heard of the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce until Mark Francis told me about the organization. I asked him to give me some background information about the Chamber. When, for instance, did it get started?
Orgil explained that the CICC has had a number of incarnations over the years.
“Most recently it was restarted in 2006/07 by Leslie Dan, who started Novopharm (a generic drug company), which was bought by Teva” (the largest generic pharmaceutical company in Israel, and one of the largest in the world, with sales over $1 billion last year).
Together with another individual by the name of David Rubin (who was a partner in the well-known Toronto-based law firm, Gowlings and who is now retired, but is still Vice Chair with the CICC), Dan and Rubin restarted the CICC as a not-for-profit, and “reincorporated it” in 2006/07.
“The chamber had been around in the past in different forms,” Orgil explained, “but it had fallen on hard times.”
“I’ve been around since 2009,” Orgil said. “I came in as vice-president and became president in 2010, working with a great group of officers.”
Orgil admitted that “up until last year, we ended up often being the ‘Toronto Israel Chamber of Commerce’. The chamber did a lot of live events (prior to Covid) – at least once a month, often up to 24 in a year.
“We would hold these in a variety of different locations - often in downtown Toronto law firms, which are very generous - or people donated halls. Sometimes these would just be meetings of the executive – around 10-15 people, but often they would be very large meetings of around 100 people,” Orgil noted.
At that point in the interview I asked Orgil who would be at these meetings? “Was it just Canadians?” I asked.
“The overall purpose of the CICC is to promote bilateral trade between Canada and Israel,” Orgil answered. “We’re a networking organization. Our membership base consists of executives, professionals, and a lot of business owners – small, medium, and large, throughout Canada. Our events would encompass interesting people that were talking about doing business with Israel, anybody from Israeli political figures to businesspeople.”
I wondered “whether there’s ever been some kind of Winnipeg presence for the CICC?”
“In the time that I’ve been involved,” Orgil said, “we’ve reached out to other communities, including, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and Montreal, but I don’t know whether we’ve had any sort of reach out to Winnipeg – despite the strong Jewish community there…and a good business community.”
He added though, that “we’ve had people interested, but it was hard because sometimes we would have people participating in a conference call, but we didn’t have funds to go out there and host an event.
“We also had a challenge articulating what is our value proposition – where we fit into everything, between the UJA, between the government organizations, etc.”
I asked Orgil how many members there are in the CICC at the present moment and whether there is a cost to join.
He said that there are approximately 1200 members (none of whom are in Winnipeg presently, he noted – something, he said, he’d very much like to change), but that the membership has been growing considerably in the past year.
As far as membership fees go, there is a fee to join - $500, but Orgil emphasized that whereas the organization used to call upon members to consider paying for a membership as “tsedakah”, now it’s for value that members will receive, in terms of access to other members and what he described as a very large “marketplace”.
At that point I mentioned to Orgil that our local Member of Parliament, Jim Carr - when he had been Minister for International Trade Diversification in the Trudeau cabinet, had been quite active in promoting trade between Canada and Israel, and that Carr was especially proud of the newly enhanced Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which was finalized in 2019.
Orgil said he had met Carr about two years ago when Carr spoke at an event sponsored by the CICC in “one of the shuls here” and that Orgil was well aware of all the work Carr had put into bolstering trade ties between Canada and Israel.
I said to Orgil that Mark Francis had introduced me to representatives of several Israeli companies looking to raise capital in Canada. One of the interesting observations that I heard repeatedly from those Israelis is that it’s much easier to raise capital in Canada than in the US. I asked Orgil whether he also attempts to make Israeli businesspeople aware of that?
Orgil answered that “For many years I talked to Israeli companies about ‘Why don’t you raise capital in Canada?’ Up until about five years ago, Bernie, many Israeli companies, entrepreneurs, would say: ‘I’ve been to New York 50 times, I’ve even been to Niagara Falls, but I’ve never bothered coming to Canada.
“They really didn’t know about our capital markets. I think what really changed the attitude of a lot of Israelis was cannabis. Here in Canada you were able to take (cannabis) companies public – unlike in the States.
“You’re probably aware that they (Israelis) have been on the forefront on the medical cannabis side for over 20 years. As a result there was some crossover – the idea of exporting medical cannabis, so Israeli companies started to come here, they started to recognize that they could raise relatively small amounts – a million, two, five, and have very legitimate public companies here in Canada.
“Often companies would be listed here and that could be a segue to going into the US, getting listed on the NASDAQ, or in Frankfurt.
“Now a lot of Israeli companies, in areas such as Cannibas, AI, Food tech, Cyber security but especially on the biotech side, like to come here, because Canadian companies don’t raise a lot of money for biotech, but they can get listed here – relatively easily, then get cross listed in the US or in Frankfurt.
“In many ways, we’re very culturally similar. We’re clean, they know the language, and have proximity to the US.
“In the last five years we’ve had Israeli companies coming here, not just looking for venture capital – which we’re not great at in Canada, quite frankly, but Israeli companies that are more mature – maybe they’ll never get to be a $1 billion company, but they’re very healthy, $80 million companies.
“We see ourselves helping those companies coming to Canada and now, with the Abraham Accords, we see Canadian companies beginning to wedge themselves – that Israel can be a conduit to Arab countries, also obtain access to African countries, to India.”
I asked Orgil whether the ties that the CICC had been attempting to encourage between Israelis and Canadians was strictly on “a business to business level” or whether there was governmental involvement as well?
He said that “in the past we’ve always had a very amicable relationship with the (Israeli) consulate here. We have stepped that up. They (the Consulate staff) are always amenable to working with us.
“The other area in which we’ve stepped up is working with some of the municipalities, including Toronto. We recently had an event – which you saw, with the BC government. We’re looking to do something similar with the Ontario government in two weeks. We’re hoping to get the Quebec government… Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. I lived in Alberta. I love the Prairies. There are a lot of things we can do. It’s incrementally growing.”
I commented that, after observing part of the session the CICC held with representatives from the BC government, it seemed that the purpose was to increase investment both from Israeli companies investing in BC and BC companies investing in Israel.
Orgil said, “There has been a free trade agreement between Canada and Israel since 1998 and it was refreshed a year and a half ago. At different times though, the magnitude of that has somehow been capped, so that event (the BC one) is just to open the doors again, to allow companies to recognize that there are opportunities, that Israel is open for business, that BC is open for business, and helping businesses in both countries recognize what these opportunities are.”
I asked Orgil: “I’m well aware that Israeli companies have been coming here at an increasing rate in recent years to look for capital (as word that it’s easier to raise capital in Canada than in the US has filtered down to many Israeli companies). What can I do for you specifically to help the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce?”
Orgil answered, “What you can do is let people know there is a Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce, so that we can continue to build up our data base. We see ourselves as a hub.”
“I’m looking to outreach. I’ve already found someone in Alberta. I’ve made some connections in BC. We’ll have to find someone in Saskatoon and Regina who wants to help, to build out – and the same thing in Winnipeg.”
I asked Orgil how someone can join the CICC?
Orgil said, “That’s a great question. Too often our membership base looks too much like me – old, white male, and Jewish.” (Hey, if he’s old at 54 – and he looks like he could step back on to a hockey rink at any time, where does that leave me at 67?)
“Number one, we are not a Jewish organization, we’re a Chamber of Commerce. Our objective is to promote bilateral trade between Canada and Israel and create value for our members.
“My goal over the next year is we want more women, we want more young people, we want more non-Jews, we want more people of colour. We want to create a vibrant organization, we want to create an organization that looks like our demographic in Canada.
“As well, we want to show Canadians that Israel is a vibrant market, that there’s a great opportunity to do business there, that it’s a conduit for other locations. In the end, there are far more similarities between Canada and Israel than there are differences.”
For more information about the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce, including information about how to join, go to: www.canadaisraelchamber.com