Israel is marking its 73rd Independence Day and, after more than a year of COVID-19, it’s a good time to take stock of the valuable technology advancements and improvements Israel has contributed to industries worldwide. This young country continues to take a leading role in supplying needed innovation and responsive solutions that can transform our lives.
“We’re a very young country. But we have so much to give to the world,” Shelly Hod Moyal, founding partner and co-CEO of iAngels, tells NoCamels.
“We are a country with people who think out of the box, we are a country with people who are bold, who express their opinions, and who are determined to succeed and are not afraid of failure. These are things well-embedded in our DNA and culture,” says Dov Moran, one of the local scene’s most prominent high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and investors.
Israel’s name as an innovation nation is feted.
There are few sectors where local entrepreneurs have failed to offer updates. Israeli companies are actively innovating in the fields of cybersecurity, homeland security, healthcare, finance, insurance, printing, mobility, navigation, agriculture, water, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, information and communication, IoT, food, hardware, sensors, space, and beyond.
“Because we’re a small country, we need to think big from Day One,” says Hod Moyal, who co-founded her venture capital firm and investment platform in 2014 with Mor Assia. The Israeli economy is not big enough, it’s not interesting enough. And so Israeli entrepreneurs are [always thinking] how they’re going to create something that’s applicable to the world. This perspective and drive create something that’s very unique.”
Israeli innovation “touches upon almost every aspect of the world,” says Efrat Duvdevani, director-general of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. “On the global level, we believe that innovation should serve as Tikkun Olam, to make the world a better place. If we can bring clean water and clean air to people who need it, if we can have startups that treat people in medical dire straits or tackle the problem of world hunger, then this is exactly the innovation that we should work on and what we are showcasing in our innovation center as a representation of the Israeli innovation story.”
The local tech community is famed for its talents in so many different sectors.
“Technology is our natural resource. It’s our core competency. And there’s a lot of entrepreneurship here,” says Hod Moyal.
Lior Handelsman, founder of SolarEdge, one of the top inverter suppliers in the world, and today a general partner at Grove Ventures adds that the innovation culture’s agility is a boon, too.
“It’s about adapting to changes and adopting new ideas. Having the flexibility to adapt to changes in the market,” says Handelsman.
If ever there was a year to put this flexibility to the test year, the year 2020 forced an accelerated change in every sector due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Moran says that Israel “did very well during COVID-19,” noting the country’s ability to turn crises into opportunity.
“When you are in trouble, you are examined for how agile you are, how bold you are and how you comply with the problems. Israelis will always be very good in environments in which a situation does not go as planned. During their mandatory army service, Israelis learn that nothing works as expected. You have to be prepared for the unexpected,” says Moran, managing partner at Grove Ventures, which is devoted to early-stage investments.
Local companies and startups attracted $5.374 billion in funding between January and March 2021, double that of the same period one year prior. Of that, $1.5 billion in funding went straight into the cybersecurity sector.
Today’s companies are not necessarily looking for a quick exit. More companies are building themselves into large companies, and over a dozen firms achieved unicorn status – privately-held companies valued at $1 billion or more – during the pandemic.
“We excel when things don’t go according to the plan. You can see the level of investments that we are getting in the last months,” says Moran. “Israeli companies are adapting to the situation, improving their positions and becoming stronger than before.”
Healthcare, AI, and chips
Technologies are playing an important role in keeping our lives functional during this global health pandemic. Telehealth, and healthcare in general, has seen substantial improvements and innovations.
Assia, of iAngels, says local startups have seen “huge growth” this past year in the health tech field. She cites Binah.ai, a portfolio company in her crowdfunding angel investing network, as an example of growing during COVID-19.
Binah.ai offers video-based monitoring solutions as part of the remote healthcare field.
“Essentially, it helps people understand what [ailment] they have without the need to go to hospital and this eliminates additional risks in light of everything that’s going on in the world,” she says. “There’s a lot going on in the digital health scene in Israel. This is definitely something that can be highlighted as a strong contribution of innovation to the world.”
COVID-19 reiterated to the global community the importance of digital readiness and knowhow.
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From remote working to virtual learning to telemedicine, our New Normal demands accurate digital interaction.
According to the 2020 State of AI and Machine Learning report, COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on AI and “nearly 50 percent of companies have accelerated their AI strategies.”
The pandemic boosted Israel to continue to build its AI authority. Israel is number three in the world for AI solutions, according to Asgard’s Global Artificial Intelligence Landscape report, which highlights the close connection between the Israeli military and the digital sector as one of the reasons the AI is so good here.
Handelsman, of Grove Ventures, says the country’s deep technology companies, high-level research and hardware expertise are also key.
“There is a very large ecosystem of AI research in the academic world, and in the high-tech industry, and everybody is contributing to the AI industry. One thing that Israel has, which is quite unique in AI, is the combination between AI and hardware,” Handelsman tells NoCamels.
Handelsman says companies in Israel are “upping the game with new data center performance, new data analytics performance and AI at the edge.”
“Today, it’s all about technology and data. And that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we’re able to give to the world,” says Hod Moyal.
The pandemic also accelerated the demand for semiconductor chips – another Israeli strength.
This week, Nvidia unveiled its new data processing unit (DPU), the BlueField-3, developed by teams from Mellanox (which Nvidia acquired last year for $7 billion). The made-in-Israel system-on-a-Chip is being hyped to soon deliver software-defined networking, security, storage, and cybersecurity acceleration capabilities for data centers.
“Israel is very good in designing chips,” says Moran, one of the guys to change the flash data storage market with his company M-Systems (acquired by SanDisk for $1.6 billion). “Microsoft, Google and Facebook are talking about establishing design centers of semiconductors in Israel.”
“Israel is cutting-edge. Startups that we invest in innovate in a way that no other teams in the world are able to innovate,” says Hod Moyal.
Lital Kiperman Vaknin, head of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Peres Center said though the Israeli population is small, “we have managed to bring a lot of innovation to the world.”
Birthday wishes for Israel on its 73rd Independence Day
NoCamels asked the six innovation specialists interviewed here what they would like to wish Israel for its 73rd birthday.
Here are their answers:
“I wish this country would continue to progress towards a more rational and stable government that looks toward improvement, to a better world based on our deep technology innovation and exceptional local entrepreneurs,” says Dov Moran of Grove Ventures.
“I wish Israel what I am wishing my children, we would love everybody to be healthy and we’d like everybody to be driven by good values. To have a feeling of, of security, and a feeling that we have a sense of what we’re doing here and the value of doing good,” says Efrat Duvdevani of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
“I’m personally very passionate about bringing Israel to the world, having Israel continue to contribute to the world and create life-changing technologies,” says Shelly Hod Moyal of iAngels. “My wish is that Israel be a beacon unto the nations. We’re building bridges to the rest of the world, bridges of collaboration and globalization, where there’s real teamwork.”
“I wish the Israeli high-tech sector to reach the next phase of maturity, to build within the high-tech industry,” says Lior Handelsman of Grove Ventures. “Great technology that we can sell and market globally that can improve something for the customer and is not just a tech solution.”
“I wish that we will be able to rise from the complicated day-to-day issues that we have here and see the greater picture and harness our great capabilities to continue making our world a better place. I truly believe that we can, that we have the ability, and we already proved it,” says Lital Kiperman Vaknin of the Peres Center.
“Something that everybody has been talking about recently is the number of unicorns and how many companies have successfully built big businesses that have a global impact and that are coming out of Israel,” says Mor Assia of iAngels. “What I’d like to see for Israel this year, is to get a Guinness Book of Records for companies that are successful in obtaining that milestone and not just merely from a product perspective, but companies that are built to last, companies that are revenue-generating, that are strong businesses, and that have a global impact. And yes, also enjoy global recognition in terms of enterprise value. I wish for Israel to be this really unique place in the world where unicorns are built and run free.”
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com