Blank-check firm ION begins search for Israeli tech unicorn

(Reuters) – ION Acquisition Corp 1 IACA_u.N made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday after raising $225 million in an initial public offering (IPO), the only current blank-check acquisition company focusing on the Middle East region.

The IPO, which was larger than ION had originally planned, is the latest in a string of listings by special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), with almost $50 billion raised so far in the United States.

ION shares closed up 4.7% at $10.47.

A SPAC uses capital raised through an initial public offering to buy a private company, usually within two years.

With a specific geography and industry focus, ION Chief Executive Gilad Shany said he wants to target Israeli tech companies at over $1 billion valuation and bridge the gap between local entrepreneurs and the U.S. capital market.

Other regional focus SPACs recently launched include Bridgetown Holdings Ltd backed by billionaires Peter Thiel and Richard Li, which is hunting for technology, finances and media companies in Southeast Asia.

“The IPO process has become cumbersome, expensive and complicated for some of these companies when they’re still relatively new,” Shany said in an interview.

“We believe SPAC will become even more attractive because it gives certainty of cash and certain pricing.”

Shany, a native of Israel and founder of tech-focused ION Crossover Partners venture fund, said his SPAC can stand out in competition with U.S. equivalents in a pandemic era. His previous investments include freelancer marketplace Fiverr International Ltd FVRR.N and telemedicine firm American Well Corp AMWL.N, which have both gone public in New York.

“Perceived being here, being local and working with companies for many years in building that trust is a huge factor for us to capitalize on the opportunities on SPACs,” said Shany. He also left open the possibility that his portfolio companies could merge with his SPAC.

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