A few years ago, when it was just a small startup, Israeli mobile navigation company Waze held a modest booth at Microsoft’s ThinkNext startup expo. Soon after, in 2013, the company was sold to Google for a whopping $1.3 billion. Microsoft’s annual startup showcase has long hosted some of the most promising Israeli startups – those that VCs and international companies should be eyeing.
“We’ve exposed significant startups such as Waze,” Tzahi ‘Zack’ Weisfeld, head of Microsoft Ventures Accelerators, told NoCamels during a press briefing today in Tel Aviv. “StoreDot (which develops a speedy battery charger) has also been doing well since it showcased in last year’s ThinkNext. We always keep our finger on the pulse.”
Software giant Microsoft – which has an R&D center in Israel and has cooperated with 1,000 local startup companies – is holding ThinkNext in Tel Aviv today; this year, 35 startups are presenting their innovations to delegations from global companies. Much like these global conglomerates, Microsoft is looking for novel technologies to either acquire, incorporate in its own products, or simply invest in – mostly through Microsoft Ventures.
Microsoft Ventures operates accelerators in Berlin, London, Beijing and Paris, to name a few, in addition to its Israeli incubator, which opened two years ago in Herzliya. “Everyone raised their eyebrows when Microsoft Ventures opened in Israel,” Weisfeld says. “The world had enough accelerators. Now, it turns out our model works. We have the leading incubation programs in China and in India. Worldwide, 300 companies have graduated from our program and 17 of them made ‘exits.'”
“Israel has an amazing opportunity”
Weisfeld believes Israel is now turning from Startup Nation to Scaleup Nation. So what if there are only a handful of high-tech companies as large as network security company Check Point? “Scale is not just about size; it’s about impact and number of users served,” Weisfeld says. “Look at Whatsapp, a small company with 25 engineers that serves millions of people and was sold for billions of dollars.”
He adds that “we’re looking for companies that can become great. Israel has an amazing opportunity – many companies will get to that big scale stage, they’re all around us.”
On average, startups in Microsoft Ventures Accelerators raise $2.5 million after they graduate from the program – whether or not Microsoft Ventures directly invests in them. But ThinkNext is not limited to startups in Microsoft’s accelerators. Of the 35 companies presenting, Weisfeld (who “doesn’t like the notion of a favorite child”) mentions several promising ones (and emphasizes ThinkNext only presents technologies “we can demo”):
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ThirdEye has been developing a multi-spectral computer vision system. Its device allows you to operate your drone with a pre-defined route and look for suspicious objects. Then, you can decide whether you want an extra automatic inspection or an immediate notification to the handler, who now can control numerous drones single-handedly.
RideOn makes sophisticated augmented reality solutions for outdoor sports, including ski goggles which house a see-through display that projects hands-free AR features for interaction, navigation and fun on to the mountain around the user.
MST‘s AutoLap is an image-guided laparoscope positioning system for laparoscopic surgery. Powered by image analysis software, it enables precise laparoscope positioning without reliance on laparoscope-holding assistants.
As pioneers of the physical web, Von Bismark will soon launch an ecommerce store – The Mall – for the Xbox One. Users will be able to browse, try on and buy their favorite clothing from their favorite brands.
DOV-E has developed a technology enabling mobile connectivity using audio. DOV-E’s main applications are mobile payments and promotions. DOV-E provides connectivity between any mobile device to any speaker.
Photos and videos: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images for Microsoft, RideOn, Waze/Google, Gilad Avidan