If you had to rank all of the places around the world which have earned themselves a nickname pre-fixed by the word “Silicon”, Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” would possibly not feature in the top 3 either for size, scale, or investment, but there’s no question the area is home to some impressively innovative start-ups, and that the sector is growing quickly.
Tel Aviv has a population of around 400,000 and some 700 start-ups call it home, although around 50% are these are foreign owned, according to Bloomberg. Last year Venture Capitalists invested nearly $1bn into Israeli companies, according to the National Venture Capital Association, a 41% increase on the previous year, with the most notable exit to date being Waze, a mapping service used by millions of Israelis, acquired by Google last year for an estimated £1.1bn.
IPO’s are rare amongst Israeli companies as they are usually bought out before they reach full scale, as was the case with Intucell, bought by Cisco Systems for $475m in January of this year, and Ventor Technologies, acquired for $325m by Medtronics Inc. back in 2009.
Wikipedia reports that Israel is home to around 70 Venture Capital firms, 14 of which are international with Israeli offices. In 2011, 20 Venture Capital firms raised $796m, nearly 3 times as much as two years previously when just $256m was raised.
Every week, Israeli Innovation newsblog No Camels sends out a newsletter profiling some of the most exciting developments on the start-up scene, such as Professor Hossam Haick’s SNIFFPHONE, which uses nanotechnology sensors to analyse particles on a person’s breath and is able to accurately detect certain kinds of disease, including cancer and the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases.
Haick has won a $6.8m grant from the European Commission to continue his studies showing a scientific connection between disease and a person’s breath. The idea is not new and was first suggested by Hippocrates of ancient Greece, before, in 1971, the “father of molecular biology”, Linus Pauling demonstrated that human breath contains at least 200 different volatile organic compounds, a figure which has subsequently been revised to more than 1,000.
Haick’s SNIFFPHONE apparently works with 90% accuracy and can detect malignant and benign tumours as well as 20 other diseases including Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Haick has discovered many diseases carry a distinctive “fingerprint” that can be detected on the breath, an essential part of the detection process. Haick, who is a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms in France and has been listed as one of the “World’s Top 35 Young Scientists”, believes that his discoveries can help prevent the onset of diseases and make healthcare more affordable and accessible for people all over the world.
Another Israeli start-up, SkySaver, have created an emergency backpack designed to help residents escape from high rise buildings. Inside the bag is a cable cord which can be attached to a pre-installed anchor located near a window, enabling somebody trapped in building during a fire, for example, to buckle the cord around their waist and between their legs and “rappel” down the side of the building. The idea was apparently conceived post 9/11 with the idea of allowing individuals to take personal responsibility for their rescue. The backpack is compact and easy to travel with, with cable lengths ranging from 25 metres to 80 metres, which covers more than 20 floors. There are plans to develop a kit for elderly people, toddlers, and even pets.
Another featured start-up from this week’s newsletter is Valiber, a “smart spoon” which can measure the levels of sweetness in drinks and foods. Known as the “swizzle”, the sensor links to a mobile app that indicates how sweet a particular dish or drink is. 1 “Val” is equal to 3.4 grams and the team believe this is the point at which people can taste sweetness; a can of Coke contains 34 Vals, and an orange juice 27 Vals.
Valiber are building two separate devices, one for individuals, priced at £29, and one for baristas and professional drinks makers, which retails at $99. The company have already raised a seed round of $100,000 and are hoping raise a further $400k by the end of the year.
Wired magazine included 10 Israeli companies in its recently published list of the top 100 European start-ups (despite the fact that Israel is technically in Asia), with Editor Oliver Franklin-Wallis declaring that “Tel Aviv is where the money is”, after Israeli exits and IPO’s topped $15bn in 2015. The future looks pretty bright for “Silicon Wadi”.