Israel has long been acknowledged and admired for its vibrant start-up culture, fostered through government investment and pro-business policies. Further, the national focus on business development provides a regulatory structure that protects business owners from creditors and ensures proper structure for the public – incorporation. To take advantage of the corporate structure, you need to ensure that you follow the proper registration process, and select the right corporate vehicle to fit your emerging business model.
Why should start-ups incorporate?
The most common corporate vehicle in Israel, and especially for start-ups, is a limited liability company. The main reasons for its popularity, and why entrepreneurs should incorporate at an early stage, are:
- The first and foremost reason for any individual to incorporate a company and become a shareholder thereof, is the fact that a company is a separate legal entity from its shareholders. This separation creates a “wall” between the company’s shareholders and its creditors, so that the shareholders and their private property are protected against the company’s creditors and they will not be personally liable for the company’s debts, to the extent allowed under the ‘piercing of the corporate veil’ provisions, according to law (whereby in extreme cases a shareholder can be held personally liable for the company’s debts). In addition, the shareholders cannot be obliged to pay the company’s debts beyond the amount of their investment.
- Any early stage start-up is always seeking investors to invest in their product or idea. In exchange for their investment, the investors expect a form of guarantee in return. When operating under a company, the company can leverage its capital raising without actually giving a substantial consideration in return (such as personal guarantees) by offering the investors consideration in the form of company shares and/or share options.
- One of the main reasons for investors to invest in a start-up is its intellectual property. With incorporation, the IP is owned by the company and not by the founders, and the investors, who are also shareholders of a company, are the owners of the intellectual property too, in proportion to their shareholding percentages. Moreover, in the event one of the company’s founders terminates its engagement with company, the IP shall remain with the company and not with the departing founder.
- A start-up which wishes to expand will search for quality employees to join and can offer them benefits such as options.
- For those start-ups who are or become profitable, the tax rate for companies in Israel is 24% (as of 2017), compared to the individual tax rate, which can be as high as 50%.
How to incorporate
Before you can do business in Israel as a company, you must register your company with both the Registrar of Companies and the Tax Authorities, which fall within the control of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance, respectively.
When registering a company, the following steps must be taken:
- File an application for the company’s incorporation which includes, inter alia, the company’s suggested name, its share capital, its shareholders and their holdings, and its first directors.
- Draft the company’s articles of association, which governs the relationship between the company and its shareholders and between the shareholders and themselves.
- Pay a registration fee of NIS 2,606 (as of today).
The process can feel onerous at times, but each step is important. Besides the importance of operating legally, the paperwork establishes the rules of conduct and governance both in respect of the present and going forward. This is why the incorporation procedure is critical.