The first six months of 2020 have ceded a world gripped by an unprecedented global health crisis and an economic downturn that has emptied city centers, public spaces, shops, workplaces. By all accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything.
OurCrowd, Israel’s most active venture investor and crowdfunding platform, was among the first to speak out on the massive changes and accelerated tech trends such as remote work, digital learning, and telemedicine. The company has also been vocal about the active role of Israeli entrepreneurs and scientists in advancing cutting-edge research, innovation, and technology to help solve challenges posed by the pandemic.
On Monday, OurCrowd hosted its first virtual Pandemic Innovation Conference dedicated to investing during the pandemic. The confab brought together thousands of top investors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, corporate executives, and government officials from 90 countries around the world.
“We believe that now actually is a very effective time to invest, because not only are financial crises often good entry points into the market, in this case the private market, but in addition, it is a social inflection point,” said Jon Medved, CEO and founder of OurCrowd. “These changes in society, whether it is socially distanced work or learning, or new needs to protect ourselves from cyber hacking, these are the ‘new normal,’ which absolutely indicate a new opportunity to take advantage of big trends. Today we see several companies who are growing in the pandemic, whose revenues are going up, who are acquiring new customers and who are both doing well and doing good.”
Medved tells NoCamels he believes there hasn’t been enough insight into “how rapidly how deeply the world is changing. And so that’s why we’re calling this the Pandemic Conference because it’s about innovating for this pandemic and for the future.”
“Pandemics have been affecting the world and will continue to affect the world. And I think the mistake people make is by saying, this is just one case, which as soon as it’s done, we’re back to normal. There is no more normal,” he says. “The bottom line is that — life has changed already.”
We won’t get back to the way it was before, he explains because “there are so many changes that have happened. Our dependence on Zoom, the growth in video conferencing. It never, never goes backward. It will only go forward from here.”
The conference on Monday sought to create online the powerful experience of the annual OurCrowd Global Investor Summit, which saw over 23,000 people register from 186 countries in February 2020 in Jerusalem, just before the pandemic hit Israel in early March.
During the conference, SaNOtize CEO Dr. Gilly Regev announced that the biotech company’s coronavirus therapy using a patented nitric oxide solution to kill viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections is pursuing clinical trials in the UK. Currently undergoing clinical trials in Canada, Regev said that if approved by regulators, SaNOtize’s technology – supported by Nobel Prize-winning research – will be the only recognized therapy on the market proved to prevent COVID-19 from infecting the upper respiratory system.
Regev was part of a segment called “Tech on the Frontlines,” which featured entrepreneurs, researchers, founders, and medical workers discussing telemedicine, therapeutics, breakthrough technologies, testing, and vaccine development for the novel coronavirus. During the segment, chief clinical and regulatory officer Sigal Kremer-Tal spoke on behalf of MigVax, an affiliate of the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute in Northern Israel, which has successfully developed a vaccine for a deadly coronavirus affecting poultry. The researchers behind MigVax will soon test the new vaccine in humans against the novel coronavirus known as SARS CoV-2.
Before the conference, Kremer-Tal told NoCamels the company was preparing to start its first human clinical trials at the end of the summer or early fall. The scientists expect clinical results by the end of the year, she said.
“To test the vaccine, you need to show safety, first and foremost, and to test the immunogenicity of the vaccine. There’s going to be multiple blood tests that are not routine. So we need to set up the infrastructure and framework for that. It’s just a ton of details,” she tells NoCamels.
In late April, Migvax secured $12 million in an investment round led by OurCrowd. Kramer-Tal said the investment would be used to help the company through Phase I//II of the clinical trial, which tests safety and immunogenicity.
A number of Israeli scientific teams and over 100 groups worldwide are currently working to develop a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19.
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When asked during the conference if a vaccine could be developed as quickly as people hoped, Joseph Jacobson, head of the MIT Molecular Machines Research Group said, “I think we’ve come a tremendous distance from our early vaccine technologies. We’ve got a tremendous number of tools in the tool chest. I think we will be able to be successful both on the vaccine front and on the therapeutic front for COVID.”
The OurCrowd Pandemic Innovation Conference featured speakers such as Ruth Atherton, deputy general counsel and director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Chemi Peres, chairman of the board of directors at The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and Neil Ackerman, head of advanced technologies, Global Supply Chain, Johnson & Johnson.
One of the first speakers was Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah, the free, volunteer-based emergency medical services organization based in Jerusalem, which now has locations around the world. Beer recently recovered from COVID-19 in Miami, having spent some 30 days intubated.
Beer talked of his experience battling the virus, far away from family and friends, and how it felt to come back to Israel to a massive crowd of relatives and thousands of United Hatzalah volunteers.
“I see the land coming closer, the coast, and I couldn’t believe it. I see Israel again. I was sure I was never going to see Israel. I was so emotionally moved,” he said.
He also told NoCamels about how his organization United Hatzalah is adjusting to the current situation.
“We have to make sure that volunteers are taking care of their own safety, especially after what happened to me. I saw how easy it is to get sick. It was a hard moment for all the volunteers to adjust to the new rules. They couldn’t go out to emergencies. It was very hard for them, but they did it bravely,” Beer tells NoCamels
The conference put a spotlight on the OurCrowd Innovation Fund, created to raise $100 million for investment in urgent tech solutions for medical, business, educational, and social needs triggered by global pandemics and other health emergencies.
The pandemic innovation fund, led by managing partners Morris Laster, Morry Blumenfeld, and David Sokolic, will focus on investment sectors such as prevention and containment (vaccines, testing, personal protection), treatment and healing (therapeutics, diagnostics, remote monitoring, digital health), and continuity and disruption mitigation (remote working, distance learning, robotic process automation, cybersecurity).
During the conference, the pair discussed priorities for the fund. “The overall strategy for the fund is to put together a portfolio that includes medical as well as non-medical opportunities,” said Sokolic. “One of the areas where we expect an acceleration is in education. The world has been through a massive experiment in distance learning in the last few weeks. We think this crisis is going to open an opportunity to experiment with new forms of education.”
The conference also featured interviews with startups and entrepreneurs taking on the “new normal.” Tovala, which provides home-cooked gourmet meals using a smart oven, reported a fourfold increase in business since September and a 20 percent increase in orders from existing customers. Techsee, a cognitive visual assistance solution powered by augmented reality and computer-vision artificial intelligence, also reported growing sales.
More than 180 one-on-one investor meetings with startup CEOs were also scheduled, OurCrowd indicated.