The Conexx Gala, formerly the America Israel Business Connector’s Eagle Star Awards, will be held Wednesday, May 3, at the Twelve Atlantic Station.

Conexx will hand out five awards at the gala to recognize people and companies that have stood out in strengthening business ties between Israel and the Southeast.

Read about the winners except for the Israeli Company of the Year, Tosaf, which refused to speak to the AJT without getting to review and approve the article in advance, a violation of standard journalistic practices.

Deal of the Year: NICE Systems, Nexidia

From its days in the Georgia Tech incubator to its $135 million acquisition in 2016, Nexidia came a long way.

The company was created in the 1990s to convert and archive cassette tapes of speeches delivered by U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and donated to the Georgia Tech library.

Founder Mark Clements, who studied speech recognition for 25 years, and Peter Cardillo, a Georgia Tech grad student, worked to build software that recognized individual speech sounds.

Nexidia thrived in the field of speech analytics. It provided software and service expertise to help companies synthesize data into tools to improve operations.

Meanwhile, NICE was established 30 years ago in Israel by several former Israel Defense Forces colleagues. Unlike most startups, NICE went public and grew exponentially.

NICE Systems, a global provider of software solutions with $1 billion in revenue, recognized Nexidia’s innovation and bought the company in 2016.

Conexx is recognizing the NICE purchase of Nexidia as the Deal of the Year.

“It is because of the amazing technology and quality of people who comprise Nexidia that we are excited about this new relationship,” said Erik Snider, based in NICE’s Hoboken office. He stressed the importance of incorporating Nexidia’s employees.

Speech analytics software is used in call centers when consumers hear, “The following call may be recorded for training purposes.”

For example, the information exchanged during a call regarding a smartphone purchase is recorded, analyzed and reported to the company. The data identify issues with products, qualify loyal customers and relay important feedback to the company in real time.

“Nexidia is the most robust analytic engine on the market. Its performance of analytics is more accurate, scalable, quicker, and allows clients the capability to support and manage analytics from the cloud,” Snider said.

NICE CEO Barak Eilam said: “The acquisition of Nexidia is part and parcel of our strategy to enhance our analytics offering. It is an important step in our mission to deliver the power of customer data and insight beyond the contact center.”

U.S. Company of the Year: Southern Co.

Michael Britt credits Conexx for helping Southern Co. find ways to break into the Israeli market.

“There is incredible innovation that goes on throughout Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, where energy and water technology is quickly advancing. There’s more going on there than anywhere else in the world,” said Britt, vice president of the Southern Co. Energy Innovation Center.

For Southern, a gas and electric utility company with 9 million customers in the Southeast, advances in renewable solar, wind and biomass energy are front and center.

Britt said the heart of utility companies is providing solutions for customers. Sometimes a solution is at hand and can be enhanced by technology, while other times a problem must be solved.

Conexx connected Southern with companies such as GenCell, a provider of innovative fuel cell power backup solutions.

“One complicated factor is that we are generating a product at the time it is expected. We are moving at the speed of light to provide power at the instant you flip a switch,” Britt said.

Getting affordable and reliable power to customers in an instant requires new approaches. If Southern can store and deliver power with the aid of GenCell, it does not have to match power generation and demand at all times.

Trendsetters like Israeli sensor software leader Mobileye bring innovation to customers in an aging demographic.

As customers grow older, Britt said, they want to stay in their homes longer with autonomy and dignity. Statistics show that 1 billion people worldwide will be over age 65 by 2030. To make aging in place possible, Southern is researching the ways in which unobtrusive technology in the home can help.

Sensors tracking movement inside a home would identify each person by gait and determine whether it is a senior citizen, a caregiver or a regular visitor. This information is transmitted to caregivers and adult children for peace of mind.

Southern Co. research and development team members and executives have visited Israel on missions with Conexx to look at water solutions. Israel is the world leader in desalination, water recycling and other water technologies.

In addition to energy storage and sensors, Southern is working with Israel on water use and indoor agriculture. The idea is that if the company can cater to baby boomers, it can cater to millennials interested in organic and sustainable food.

“Conexx has been a great partner on so many different fronts,” Britt said. “From our joint efforts with Smart Cities to introducing us to Start-Up Nation, we are very proud to work with Conexx and receive this award.”

Community Partner: AJT

Labor lawyer Benjamin Fink excitedly joined the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce (now Conexx) in the 1990s when he moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University law school, marrying his love for Israel and his love for law.

“It used to be all about getting deals done and creating opportunities. Now it is about connecting American and Israeli companies in unique ways,” the Conexx board chairman said.

When Conexx traveled to Israel last fall with 30 people, most of whom had never been to Israel, business leaders came away with a positive view of the country, which they shared with friends, family and co-workers. Such firsthand experiences, Fink said, counter even the most negative impressions of Israel.

For its coverage of that mission and Israeli businesses and its promotion of Conexx’s work, the Atlanta Jewish Times is Conexx’s Community Partner of the Year.

“Michael Morris has taken a product that was incredibly niche and brought it to a new level of professionalism. There’s a broader range of opinions with a lot more knowledge and perspective on things. Content is appealing to a wider audience,” Conexx President Guy Tessler said. “The Atlanta Jewish Times is an important resource to the community.”

In the past year, the cooperation between the business connector and Jewish Atlanta’s community newspaper included not only coverage of events, such as last spring’s Conexx awards celebration and its co-sponsored fall conference on financial technology, but also participation by AJT Associate Editor David R. Cohen on Conexx’s November mission to Israel.

AJT Publisher Michael Morris said, “For 25 years, the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce has been connecting Israeli companies and Southeastern U.S. companies for business and economic growth on both sides of the ocean. For 25 years, the Atlanta Jewish Times has been reporting, sharing and encouraging their work.

“Today, Conexx and the AJT come together to praise what has occurred, celebrate this year’s accomplishments, and secure a vision for future work and engagement.”

Tom Glaser Leadership Award: Nathan Deal

Because of his longtime support of Israel Bonds and efforts to connect innovation and industry partnerships between Israel and Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal will receive the Tom Glaser Leadership Award from Conexx.

The governor promotes strong cultural, academic and economic ties with Israel. In March, Georgia purchased $10 million in Israel Bonds.

“The Atlanta Jewish community is especially vibrant, and its members are active in the business community, state and local government and in cultural events and initiatives,” the governor’s office said.

The governor’s last trip to Israel, in 2014, included meeting with such top political figures as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He visited historic and religious sites and met with business leaders and other stakeholders.

Soon after Deal’s trip to Kibbutz Sdot Yam, manufacturer Caesarstone announced its expansion in Bryan County (southwest of Savannah). The company opened a facility in Georgia, joining more than 40 Israeli companies already operating in the state, including Amdocs, Verint, Given Imaging, PCI (Blades), Alpha Omega and Baran Telecommunications.

The Georgia Ports Authority has a partnership with two Israeli ports, and the intermodal facility in Savannah is critical to Israeli businesses such as Caesarstone.

The Port of Savannah handled 28 percent of Israel’s container trade via East Coast ports during the 2016 fiscal year.

In 2015, Georgia exports to Israel totaled $180.5 million. Israel is the 41st-largest export market for Georgia.

Georgia leads the nation in the export of the following goods to Israel: gas turbines, carpets and other textile floor coverings, kaolin, marble and building stones.

Also in 2015, Georgia imports from Israel totaled $437.7 million. Israel ranks 28th among Georgia’s importer nations. Top imports from Israel include plastics, medical equipment, aircraft and spacecraft, sports equipment, and heavy machinery.

Two direct, weekly container services run between the Port of Savannah and Israel: ZIM’s Container Service Atlantic (last year’s recipient for Conexx’s Israeli Business of the Year) and MSC’s Indus Express.

Georgia.gov reports that the University System of Georgia offers three study abroad programs to Israel in business and dance. More than 50 Israeli students were enrolled in USG schools during the 2015-16 school year, and 58 students studied in Israel.

University System of Georgia institutions have 17 visiting scholars from Israeli universities. Emory University provides exchange programs with Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In addition, cybersecurity and tech industries in Israel and Georgia have increased collaboration and partnerships.

Three Israeli cities serve as sister cities to Atlanta and Sandy Springs: Ra’anana, Yokneam-Megiddo and the Western Galilee Cluster. After establishing these relationships, Israel has seen tourism from Georgia increase.

The governor said he values Georgia’s partnerships with Israeli leaders, companies and institutions and his relationships within the state’s Jewish community. He is committed to strengthening and fostering these bonds.


What: Conexx Gala

Where: Twelve Atlantic Station, 361 17th St., Midtown

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 3

Tickets: $125 for admission, $165 for admission and one $50 raffle ticket; www.conexxgala.com