Archive For The “Israeli Tech” Category
Some 50,000 Israelis are currently in quarantine with a majority of the rest of the population practicing social distancing, caring for kids out of daycares and schools, and trying to get the hang of the Health Ministry’s changing directives — which include staying home, limiting contact, and being at least two meters away from the next person if they are out.
Hours and days at home have many capitulating to Netflix or mindlessly scrolling social media while attempting to keep children busy.
While museums, clubs, and other recreational establishments have also closed, they’ve made a dedicated effort to stay on the radar, not only to connect with their patrons but also to offer those cooped up at home some options amidst a harsher reality.
NoCamels highlights six of these institutions, programs, apps, and courses and how they’re helping to offer comfort and entertainment and infuse culture into Israel’s new normal.
Google Arts & Culture has partnered with over 500 museums and galleries to feature virtual tours and online exhibits from the most famous museums around the world.
Among prestigious names such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, is The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Google’s platform gives a detailed description of the museum — perhaps best known for housing the Dead Sea Scrolls — and allows viewers to experience virtual reality tours from the museum.
The museum offers one online exhibit called “Questions of Identity,” as part of the platform, featuring historical costumes from the museum’s collection. It also has galleries made up of paintings of Israel, sculptures, ceramics, and more.
NoCamels spoke to Professor Ido Bruno, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the museum, about other virtual projects on the agenda now that most tourists have left the country (Prof. Bruno said they made up 50 percent of the visitors) and residents are staying home.
A newly released Israeli app will notify users if they’ve crossed paths with a person confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus currently raging across the world.
The app, Track Virus, sources data collected by the Israeli Health Ministry which conducts interviews with confirmed patients on their whereabouts and releases the information publicly to help stem the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. The country has 213 confirmed cases as of March 14, according to ministry data, and some 45,000 people are currently in quarantine either because they had traveled abroad or came into contact with someone diagnosed with the disease.
Israel has taken some of the farthest-reaching measures outside of China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, to help curb the rate of infection in the country. Since late January when the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency, Israel has curbed international travel, barring entry to non-citizens from a number of Asian and European countries, and ordering mandatory hospitalized or home quarantines of 14 days for anyone arriving from abroad. The country has also banned social gatherings of more than 10 people and ordered all kindergartens, schools and universities shut, as well as public venues such as malls, restaurants, gym, theaters, among others.
Each confirmed case in Israel is investigated and while the person’s name is not released, their whereabouts – including dates and times – prior to the diagnosis are publicized widely in official government announcements and in the media. This is done to alert others who may have come into contact with them and who are then tested or ordered into 14-day home quarantine.
The new app seeks to simplify this process and minimize the guesswork, as well as limit the anxiety over possible encounters. It works by crosschecking a user’s path with the paths of confirmed coronavirus patients as listed by the Health Ministry. Should a user have been at the same location frequented by a confirmed patient, they will receive a notification letting them know (this works from the moment a user downloads the app, and not retroactively).
The information, the developers stress, is anonymized and is not uploaded to the cloud, and the app does not prompt for any form of identification though users do grant geolocation permissions for their smartphones.
Released late last week, Track Virus is the brainchild of Ori Fadlon, a former social media manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv FC, who partnered with Israeli software development company PandaOS to roll out the app quickly
“We did three-four months’ worth of work – development, design, programming – in a matter of three-four days but the urgency was real and it all happened very quickly,” Fadlon tells NoCamels in a phone interview.
The app currently has over 75,000 downloads and that number is growing fast, he says. It is available in Hebrew and English for Android users and will soon be rolled out on iOS.
“We’re doing this to help people, to save them. It’s for the good of society,” Fadlon explains.
Track Virus partnered with Israel’s United Hatzalah, a volunteer-based emergency medical care organization, to help track information coming in from the Health Ministry.
“As the number of coronavirus patients rises the harder it becomes for the public to keep track of all the different places that they have all been and the updates from the Health Ministry. Additionally, people often have a hard time recalling exactly where they have been and when. The app solves both of these problems,” said United Hatzalah VP of Operations Dov Maisel in a statement.
An Israeli-made AI-powered robot assistant is being used in hundreds of hospitals, medical centers, nursing homes, and corporate buildings in Asia to help minimize human-to-human contact as millions of people take precautions due to the novel coronavirus outbreak worldwide.
Israeli startup Robotemi, the developer of the Temi robot assistant, says the product has already been distributed to hundreds of locations throughout Southeast Asia including China, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The Temi was initially conceived as a companion to senior citizens and busy families and executives and was not specifically intended to help with a virus outbreak but that is exactly what is happening, the Israeli company says.
This article was originally posted by NoCamels.com. See Featured article: Artificial Intelligence.
The Temi, which the company calls the world’s first intelligent personal AI robot, is a mobile, smart-display assistant, featuring human-robot interaction capabilities and characteristics. Standing at three feet tall and featuring a 10-inch tablet for a head and thin, curved body on top of a base, the Temi can roll on four small wheels for as much as eight hours on battery power. It connects over Wi-Fi, LTE, and Bluetooth has a built-in sound system and can be used with Amazon’s Alexa technology. It also has an autonomous navigation system that allows it to move around on its own while avoiding obstacles.
As the novel coronavirus began spreading starting in late December, the Robotemi team, which is headquartered in New York with an R&D lab in Tel Aviv and a manufacturing location in Shenzhen (China), decided to add special features to the robot including a thermometer, a thermal camera, and even a sink attached to the machine where employees can wash their hands.
“In China, there are regulations currently in place where an employee arriving at the office must get his body temperature before continuing his day. Temi is standing at the front door waiting for him,” Goren explained, “There is a thermometer installed on top of the robot. It can measure the employee’s temperature and show the number on its screen.”
This is not only done in places of work, he explained. It can be integrated wherever there is a Temi, like in hotels, stores, and restaurants.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the world, with infections confirmed in over 60 countries, large conferences and events are being canceled and more people are avoiding large crowds and gatherings for fear of contracting the virus. France went as far as banning all indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people over the weekend, and countries across the globe are updating travel restrictions as the US and Australia recorded their first death from the virus. The future of the 2020 summer Olympics in Japan is also in question.
As of March 1, over 2,900 people have died after contracting the virus,
known as 2019-nCoV and which causes COVID-19, and over 85,000 have been infected globally, with a majority in China. South Korea, Italy, and Iran are also recording a growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
Thousands of people are in either hospitalized quarantine or home isolation as international health officials try to get a handle on the spread. In China, authorities locked down major parts of Hubei province – home to over 50 million people – where the outbreak was first recorded in the city of Wuhan.
While global travel restrictions are still being heavily enforced, others are cautiously leaving quarantine and heading back to work — but not without emergency measures in place to reduce the risk of exposure.
“Many businesses and offices already have Temi but now it is being used for specific purposes related to coronavirus,” Goren says.
This article was originally posted by NoCamels.com. See Featured article: Artificial Intelligence.
Tel Aviv-Yafo will be one of the most popular urban destinations in the world by 2030 if everything goes according to the municipality’s long-term tourism strategic plan.
On the heels of a powerful year for tourism in 2019, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality recently unveiled a “Master Plan” detailing the city’s needs to make it a top holiday destination: better branding, an upgraded tourism infrastructure, more accommodation options, and efficient, integrative management.
“The work on the Master Plan included an in-depth examination and analysis of the city from a tourism perspective. We carefully assessed our assets and advantages but were also unwavering in confronting the challenges and flaws,” said Eytan Schwartz, director of media and communications at the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality.
According to the Master Plan document, Tel Aviv said tourists have complained most about the high prices, the traffic jams and the lack of an efficient transportation system, the lack of affordable lodging, and the general uncleanliness of public spaces.
The goal is to focus on improving these aspects and focus on developing the more distinct and unique offerings.
Schwartz said Tel Aviv’s “unique DNA” as a tourist destination “rests on three pillars: the ancient city – Old Jaffa – which is our main attraction; the new city – Tel Aviv – which is characterized by phenomenal urban vitality; and, of course, the beach – with its extraordinary qualities.”
Indeed, for its 20 Destinations for 2020, Forbes magazine hailed Tel Aviv as a place where “ancient history and modern living meet in the bustling beach city along Israel’s Mediterranean coast.”
Of course, Forbes was just one of dozens of travel magazines and media sites the world over to splatter superlatives on Tel Aviv’s vibe and appeal as a tourist destination. The Washington Post chose Tel Aviv to be its first Israeli city included in its local guide series. The BBC’s Good Food magazine chose the city-by-the-sea as one of its top 10 destinations for foodies in 2020. And Google ranked Tel Aviv among its top trending destinations worldwide this year.
In addition to all these accolades, Tel Aviv snagged the spotlight in 2019 when it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, which was the largest international event ever held in the city in its 110 years of existence.
Israel slipped to 6th place in the newest Bloomberg Innovation Index of 2020, dropping one spot from last year’s index where Israel ranked 5th. Prior to 2019, the country ranked 10th for two consecutive years.
Israel maintained its top spot for research and development intensity for the third year in a row in the 2020 index. But it dropped to second place for researcher concentration, where it held the top spot last year. Israel placed fifth for high-tech density and seventh for patent activity. The country ranked in the 15th spot for productivity and 31st for value-added manufacturing.
This article was originally posted by NoCamels.com. See Featured article: Artificial Intelligence.
The Bloomberg Innovation Index ranks the world’s 60 most innovative countries using seven criteria including research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP, productivity, patent activity, concentration of researchers, including postgraduate PhD students, engaged in R&D per one million people, and concentration of high-tech companies.
While dropping to sixth place in the overall survey, Israel overtook Finland which was third in 2019. It was just one spot below Sweden, which was in seventh place last year and in fifth place this year. South Korea, the country that held the top spot in the index for the last six years, was ousted by Germany, who took first place. The US, which had fallen out of the top 10 in 2018, was in the ninth spot this year, dropping from eighth place in 2019.
Singapore came in third, up from 6th place last year, while Switzerland retained fourth place in the rankings.
Israel once again beat South Korea in the R&D intensity category as it did in 2019, which means it took first place in R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP. First place in researcher concentration — or professionals engaged in R&D per population — went to Denmark for the second year in a row. It also took the top spot in 2019.
While Israel made a significant jump in patent activity in 2019, surging from the 19th spot from the previous year, it slipped in its number of patent filings this year to seventh place. In high-tech density, the number of locally domiciled high-tech companies, Israel retained its fifth spot for the third consecutive year. Israel once again improved its tertiary education efficiency ranking, measuring the share of new science and engineering graduates in the labor force and those enrolled in a post-secondary education program. The country took 31st place this year, moving up from 36th in 2019 and 41st in 2018.
Meanwhile, in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2019-2020, published in October, Israel stood firm in 20th place out of 141 countries. It was also in 20th place in the 2018-2019 report, but dropped four places from 16th in the report from 2017-2018.
In that report, Israel also secured the top rank for entrepreneurship and the embrace of disruptive ideas as well as macroeconomic stability (the minimizing of a national economy’s vulnerability to the impact of external shocks, companies’ innovative growth, R&D expenditures, and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
Israel received an overall score of 76.7, while the average score for the 141 economies was 61 points.
The report, first published in 2004, ranks an economy’s competitiveness based on 12 pillars (categories) including innovation capability, business dynamism, market size, health, skills, macroeconomic stability, institutions, and infrastructure, and 103 indicators (subcategories.)
The latest index paints a “gloomy picture” a decade after the world financial crisis with a world economy “locked in a cycle of low or flat productivity growth.” The report’s survey of 13,000 business executives also highlights a “deep uncertainty and lower confidence.”
According to the report, Israel is an innovation hub, ranking 15th on the Innovation capability pillar thanks to a well-developed ecosystem, and up from last year’s 16th place.
For the second year in a row, Israel came in first of 141 countries in R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP under the innovation capability pillar. It also ranked first in the multi-stakeholder collaboration sub-pillar, up from third last year.
“Israel spends the most of any country on R&D (4.3 percent of GDP) and is where entrepreneurial culture is the strongest, the acceptance for entrepreneurial failure the highest, where companies embrace change the most, and where innovative companies grow the fastest,” the WEF report read.
Israel ranked second in the venture capital availability subcategory and “ease of finding skilled employees” as it did last year, coming in only behind the United States in that sub-pillar. Both factors support a “flourishing and innovative private sector”, according to the WEF report.
In the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2019-2020, Singapore knocked the United States out of the top spot as the most competitive country in the world. The United States came in second and Hong Kong ranked third, surging four spots from last year’s report. The Netherlands came in fourth and Switzerland dropped one spot to round out the top five.
Israeli startups and high-tech companies raised a record-breaking $8.3 billion in 522 deals over the course of 2019, according to a new report by IVC Research Center and ZAG-S&W Zysman, Aharoni, Gayer & Co law firm published on Wednesday.
This marked a 30 percent increase compared to 2018 when Israeli companies raised $6.35 billion in 532 deals.
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From 2010-2019, Israeli tech companies raised a total of $39.1 billion, according to the report. Since 2010, capital raising by Israeli tech companies has grown by a whopping 400 percent and the number of deals by 64 percent, the report said. In 2010, Israeli high-tech firms raised $2.1 billion in 319 deals.
VC-backed deals accounted for $6.4 billion in 2019 compared to $4.75 billion in 2018 and $1.13 billion in 2010, which marked “a decade of extensive growth,” according to the report.
“2019 marked a record year, capping a decade of successive increases in capital invested in the Israeli high-tech industry. The final quarter of 2019, and the entire year of 2019, symbolize the clear and consistent trend of the Israeli high-tech industry: tremendous growth and frequent record breaking,” Shmulik Zysman, managing partner and tech industry leader at Zysman, Aharoni, Gayer & Co. (ZAG-S&W), said in a statement.
Zysman said this growth is partly due to the growing foreign capital invested in the Israeli high-tech industry, as well as investments in a wide range of fields, from software and the internet through life sciences to semiconductors.
Still, the phenomenon of “venture capital with less risk” has gone from warning sign to “real, alarming trend” as more and more VCs declined to invest in early-stage companies in favor of late-stage firms, according to Zysman.
In 2019, seed funding rounds for early-stage companies decreased to $148 million, dropping from $169 million in 2018.
Despite the drop, Zysman remains positive. “It’s easy to remain optimistic, however, when in the last year the total capital raised by the Israeli high-tech industry was more than 30 percent higher than in 2018. Another reason for optimism is that we have recently noticed many investors dedicated to investment in early-stage companies. These are positive signs that we hope to see in the coming quarters.”
Later rounds continued to attract large amounts of capital in 2019, accounting for $2.87 billion compared to $1.91 billion in 2018.
Mega rounds, where companies raised more than $50 million, peaked in 2019 with 41 deals that captured 50 percent of the annual capital inflow. There were 20 “mega” deals in 2019. All companies that raised more than $100 million each were in growth stages, and mostly in the software sector, the report said.
Mid-size deals of $10 million to $50 million stood out, according to the report, but the number of smaller deals of up to $1 million decreased to 17 percent. These deals made up 24 percent of the total amount of deals in 2010.
“More Israeli companies in the growth stage aim to become their market’s leader. The continual increase in the amounts invested in mature start-ups is due to new investors, such as Israeli and foreign private equity funds,”
said Guy Holzman, IVC CEO. “Furthermore, IVC noticed a decline in the number of newly established companies. We believe that both trends will continue in 2020.”
The software sector led the pack in 2019 with $4.4 billion raised in 26 deals that were each over $50 million, making up 58 percent of the total amount raised in the sector.
Interest in AI-based companies and cybersecurity firms skyrocketed, according to the report, with AI firms raising $3.7 billion in 199 deals in 2019 and cybersecurity companies raising $1.88 billion. Eighteen deals over $50 million accounted for 55 percent of the total amount of capital raised by AI-based firms.
Fintech companies raised $1.7 billion in 2019, up from $880 million in 2018.
And life sciences companies raised $1.37 billion in 121 deals in 2019, up from $1.18 billion in 102 deals the previous year.
The authors of the report also made predictions for 2020, noting that “barring any dramatic changes,” the Israeli private market will “continue to attract investors” and “allocated capital for large and more established companies will continue to grow.”
The number of first investments is expected to continue to slow down, the report said, and this trend, which was first recognized in 2018 and expanded in 2019, will not change course in the coming year.
AI and cybersecurity companies will also continue to be the most attractive for investors.
The pre-IPO round figures suggest that more companies will explore the IPO option in 2020.
An AI-based patient safety solution developed by Israeli medical tech startup MedAware identified over 10,000 potential medical errors and adverse drug events, with an accuracy rate of over 90 percent, according to a new study co-authored by Harvard researchers.
The study, published last month by the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, analyzed MedAware’s machine learning-enabled clinical decision support platform, designed to prevent medication-related errors, at the outpatient clinics of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals. The system flagged 10,668 potential errors and adverse drug events in retrospect on 373,992 patients.
The study found that 92 percent of warnings generated by MedAware were accurate based on the data available, and 72.7 percent of those warnings were considered “clinically valid.” In addition, 68.2 percent of the warnings would not have been flagged by existing decision support systems, according to the findings.
MedAware said that the implementation of the technology at those hospitals translated to savings of some $1.3 million during the study’s duration. If one takes into account the average number of outpatient visits in the US annually, this translates to a potential cost savings of $800 million and prevention of over 13 million medication errors, MedAware argued.
“This study shows that MedAware’s system performed well in identifying important medication-related errors in the ambulatory setting, and that implementing it could result in substantial cost savings,” said Dr. David Bates, a study co-author, Professor at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Center for Patient Safety Research & Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
“MedAware’s application enables systems to catch errors they didn’t know they had and which would not have been caught using existing systems—these can be very serious and have major consequences,” said Dr. Bates.
Indeed, medical errors are very dangerous. In a widely circulated study published in 2016 by the Maryland-based John Hopkins School of Medicine, researchers argued that medical error was the third-leading cause of death in the United States (after heart disease and cancer). According to the study, more than 250,000 deaths per year in the US are due to medical mistakes. The findings have been disputed and a different study published in 2019 found that the number of deaths per annum due to adverse effects of medical treatment (AEMT) including adverse drug events, medication-related errors, and medical misadventures (accidental treatment or dosage, for example) may be up to 80 times lower.
These errors are also very costly and can amount to over $20 billion per year in wasteful spending in the United States, says Dr. Gidi Stein, a practicing physician who is also CEO and co-founder of MedAware.
Dr. Stein founded MedAware in 2012 with Tuvik Beker, to detect and minimize catatrosphic medication errors and transform patient safety standards through sophisticated tech.
“When you consider that this study took place in two of the safest, most advanced outpatient clinics in the US, and there was still a positive ROI due to errors prevented, you can understand how implementing MedAware’s technology across the healthcare system has the potential to save the healthcare system hundreds of millions of dollars in outpatient settings alone,” Dr. Stein tells NoCamels.
Dr. Ronen Rozenblum, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of business development for the Center for Patient Safety Research & Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital was the lead author of the study. He said that MedAware “offers both measurable improvement in patient safety and significant potential cost savings to hospitals at a time when healthcare systems must find every opportunity to drive efficiencies from a financial perspective.”
“Because it is not rule-based, MedAware represents a paradigm shift in medication-related risk mitigation and an innovative approach to improving patient safety,” added Dr. Bates.
Prescriptions deviating greatly from the spectrum of standard treatment patterns are flagged as potential errors, with high specificity and low alert fatigue. Alerts are displayed at the point of prescribing but also asynchronously, following a change in the patient’s status that might render one of the active medications dangerous to the patient.
Israeli IoT security firm Armis confirmed late Monday that it agreed to be acquired by NY-based Insight Partners at a company valuation of $1.1 billion.
Under the terms of the agreement, Insight will acquire the company for cash with participation from CapitalG, formerly Google Capital, for $100 million and rollover from certain existing stockholders subject to customary conditions and approvals, Armis said.
Insight Partners had participated in a Series C funding round of $65 million for Armis last April, bringing the total capital raised by the company to over $110 million. That round was led by Sequoia Capital. Google is also a previous investor in Armis.
The deal represents the first billion-dollar exit for an Israeli company in 2020.
Following the acquisition, Armis will continue to operate independently and will be fully managed by its two co-founders, Yevgeny Dibrov, CEO, and Nadir Izrael, CTO, and the executive team, the company indicated.
Armis was founded in 2015 by Izrael, Dibrov and Tomer Schwartz (no longer with the company), and is headquartered in Palo Alto, California and Tel Aviv. Armis says its solution eliminates IoT security blind spots, letting enterprises embrace IoT as part of their digital transformation and develop full visibility and control over the IoT devices that operate within their networks. Armis’ security solution analyzes and classifies these devices in order to identify risks or potential cyber attacks. The company’s customers have included Mondelēz, Sysco Foods, Allergan and Samsung Research America.
“Insight is one of the most sophisticated software investors in the sector, and it is due to the depth of their domain expertise that they really understand the enterprise IoT device challenge we are looking to solve, and the size of the market opportunity,” said Dibrov in a company statement.
“We considered growth rounds and strategic offers, but by partnering with Insight we have the best of both worlds – operational support and independence, both of which were important in our decision to take on a scaleup partner this early in our company journey,” he added.
“Armis is one of the most ground-breaking enterprise data-centric security solutions that is actively protecting modern businesses today,” said Jeff Horing, Managing Director at Insight. “We see the huge problem they are solving. Armis has established themselves as the leader in the enterprise IoT security space, and we believe this team and their technology will continue to transform the way unmanaged devices are secured.”
Teddie Wardi, Managing Director at Insight, said: “The strength of Israeli security software is unquestionable, and we are thrilled to be the scaleup partner Armis has selected to continue their explosive growth journey. In a world of unmanaged devices, Armis’ technology is a game-changer,” he said.
Gili Raanan, chairman of Armis and general partner at Sequoia Israel and Cyberstarts said, “Armis is the largest Israeli cybersecurity acquisition of a private company ever and this is an important milestone in the Armis journey, building a substantial stand-alone cybersecurity power-house.
Raanan, Horing, and Wardi will serve on the Armis Board of Directors as part of the acquisition deal.
In 2017, Armis alerted tech giants Google and Amazon of potential cyber breaches in their smart speaker products with vulnerabilities set to affect over 20 million users at the time. Armis researchers had uncovered an exploit over Bluetooth that would allow hackers to take over devices and spread malware. Both companies released security updates for their respective Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa devices.
Cool tech is at the top of gift-giving guides this holiday season.
From TIME Magazine to Mashable, Town and Country to Apple, trendy gadgets and must-have apps are topping pretty much every December gift list. And some of the most popular recommendations are Made in Israel. NoCamels scanned the never-ending gift guides and found that global tech critics and reviewers are hyping blue-and-white robots, wellness gadgets, selfie improvement apps, and even something for Fido for Channukah and Christmas gift ideas.
Here are 9 must-have Israeli gadgets and apps getting love on international gift lists:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And TIME magazine recently published a list featuring the “100 Best Inventions” of 2019 that are making the world “better, smarter, and even a little more fun.”
The Temi robot, a 3-foot-tall personal rolling robot with a 10-inch touchscreen for a head, is one of four of the world’s best inventions in the “home” category on the magazine’s list.
Temi takes multi-tasking to a new level. The Alexa-enabled device can answer questions, order groceries, play music and videos, make calls, control your smart home, follow you around your house (except up or down stairs), and call for medical assistance. It can also serve you drinks.
ElliQ, a tabletop robot companion created by Israeli company Intuition Robotics, can be found on lists dedicated to seniors. Age is not a barrier to enjoying new trendy tech – but finding the right gadget is still important. ElliQ was designed to keep loneliness at bay. It reads out messages, displays photos, and answers video calls. The robot can also make appointments and remind users about their medication regime.
Intuition Robotics was founded in 2015 by Itai Mendelsohn, Dor Skuler, and Roy Amir. In 2017, it raised $20 million, including $14 million from Toyota AI Ventures, the investment arm of the Japanese auto giant. It was named the Best of Innovation Winner in the smart home category at CES 2018. Earlier this month, it was given a special mention in TIME magazine’s Best Innovations of 2019.
Every December, Apple publishes its Best of the Year app lists. Gift-givers seeking to keep their family and friends in the loop, can look at the Top Paid Apps of 2019 for gift ideas.
Topping the Paid Apps of 2019 list is FaceTune, the trendy photo editing app for enhancing and retouching photos. FaceTune is created by Jerusalem-based Lightricks, among the first app developers to prove to App Store users that consumers would pay for and subscribe to apps that offered them incentives. Lightricks is known to help amateur photographers and videographers master professional-style photo editing via its apps.
Dr. Maria Blekher has always had one leg in academia and the other in industry. As the director of the Master’s program in Digital Media and Marketing at Yeshiva University’s Katz School of Science and Health, the academic side is obvious.
The marketing professor, who grew up in Beersheba, is quick to note that much of her academic success also stems from a PhD at Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the completion of a postdoc at New York University, prior to the move to Yeshiva University (YU).
Academic and industry intertwined when Blekher created a course for Yeshiva University called “Business in The Israeli Environment,” teaching students at YU about Israel’s vast high-tech ecosystem and tying in a US-Israeli market connection based on her own experience. Besides studying pro-social and consumer behavior in both Israel and America, she’s worked at Bank Hapoalim and Numonyx, a semiconductor company founded as a joint venture between Intel Corporation, STMicroelectronics NV, and Francisco Partners to develop flash memory products. The company, which had 1, 200 employees in its Kiryat Gat facility in February 2010 was also acquired that month by US chipmaker Micron. In New York, Blekher created an online platform selling Israeli products to the American market as part of a fellowship through an American-Jewish organization called Cojeco (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations.)
The US-Israeli market connection is what prompted her to establish the Yeshiva University Innovation Lab, a “launchpad” for Israeli startups looking to enter the US market.
The Innovation Lab, which first launched in May 2019, just kicked off its second cohort this September. It features a group of 11 Israeli startups in a variety of sectors, including medical devices and AI-powered sensor technology. The three-month program, which connects those startups with YU students and ends in December with a final project, also partners with Gvahim, the Israeli NGO that helps new immigrants to Israel with business and career goals, Cactus Capital, the first student-run university venture capital firm in Israel, and Yazamut 360°, the Entrepreneurship Center of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).
NoCamels sat down with Dr. Blekher recently in Tel Aviv to talk about why Yeshiva University’s Katz School of Science and Health as well as its new Innovation Lab, aims to be an important initiative in the US-Israeli business connection. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
NoCamels: How did you come to found the YU Innovation Lab?
Maria Blekher: I joined Yeshiva University before the Innovation Lab when I got the chance to develop a course called “Business In The Israeli Environment,” which is my expertise.
After landing at NYU — it was a postdoc, which means strictly research — I was looking for more things to do. I love being busy and I need several projects, and as much as I love academia, I love to see impact. Academia is very impactful, but sometimes it takes years to get something published. After a year, I got the chance to start teaching at Yeshiva University and although I started as an adjunct, it felt like home because it has an Israeli flag on campus and they play Hatikvah [Israel’s national anthem] at every single official event. The sense of community and belonging — it just felt like home. For me, it feels like Israel.
In 2014, I started to teach my first course as an adjunct, and then after one semester, they offered me the chance to teach more courses, because again, I was teaching back in Israel during my PhD, so I had teaching experience and also principles of marketing [skills]. One thing led to another and a couple of years later, we launched the Master’s in Marketing program and they offered me the opportunity to lead it. I stepped up into the leadership position. I am still doing this position now, though I’m hiring someone soon because my main focus now is the Innovation Lab.
NC: It sounds like you were thriving as a director of YU’s Marketing program. Why the shift towards the Innovation Lab?
MB: I love marketing. I think I bring my marketing expertise into the Innovation Lab. I didn’t ditch [the marketing program,] but I think that putting this expertise to work in the context of early-stage Israeli startups or startups in general, has more impact on an outcome. The combination of understanding the Israeli business environment and the Israeli tech scene and my marketing background is kind of a unique edge that brings value to startups who want to enter the US market.
There are plenty of marketing experts in New York. But there are fewer people who can use their marketing skills to bring startups to NY. I love being in places where I bring the highest value. I want to be there where I can help others. If my impact can be broader, working with students and startups because of my diverse background, that’s where I want to be.
NC: What are you looking to achieve as the director?
MB: It’s an interesting story. A couple of years ago, and it was before my time, the state of New York provided the university a grant to renovate a space on campus to attract Israeli startups. This was around 2017, before I was involved in the lab.
I think that [former NY] Governor Cuomo visited Israel, was impressed with the Startup Nation and at Yeshiva University, we have this institutional connection, so the background story was, “You’re Yeshiva University, bring some Israeli startups.” For the university, it was a great opportunity to bring some startups and let them work with students.
When I heard about [the grant] and I was told I should help to find Israeli startups because of my background, my first question was, “Hold on, does the school have an innovation lab?” I was told no, but somehow we got this grant and we needed to renovate this space. So I said, “Ok, this is the kind of project I want to be involved in because this is my expertise.”
I was on top of the project from day one. I literally chose the color of the paint on the walls. I [ told the school] we should build up a program that will connect our students with Israeli startups and provide added value. In order to do this, we need to see the challenges that Israeli startups are dealing with and figure out what kind of things we want our students to get from the program. I said, “If we’re building something, let’s build an institution that will connect our students with the startups and provide added value.” And that’s how we started.
Then I was appointed founding director but when we started working on the project, it was just an idea. When we had the official launch in May, it was very exciting because you see something on paper, you see an idea and then you see it come to life. Now we have 11 startups, over 90 students working with us, and that’s amazing.
NC: As someone who knows the Israeli business world, what are some of the challenges Israeli startups face?
MB: I think that’s the main question. The way I see it and based on my knowledge and based on multiple conversations — I spoke to Israeli startups and other colleagues and accelerators, really trying to nail the main challenges — the challenges that I identified and the ones that we really want to tackle are these three: knowledge, culture, and connections.
Culture – Culture is huge because as an Israeli, when you grow up in Israel, sometimes you feel like the 51st [US] state, you watch Netflix, and you even shop on Amazon and you grew up watching Sex and the City and you grew up in New York — if you speak to an Israeli startup, they’ll say, “Ok, I get American culture.” That’s not true! The first thing I thought of, “You think you know? You don’t!” There are so many differences and you need to know these cultural differences and you can talk to any Israeli and they’ll tell you 10,000 situations of misunderstandings. But when you are in the business of business and the business of startups, these are your investors and these are your customers, so you really need to be careful and you really need to be aware of these differences.
Connections – In Israel, everybody knows everybody. If you need to recruit a marketing person, you’ll find it in your network, if you need to recruit a developer, you’ll find it. In the US, with all due respect, you are just another person, especially in New York where the most talented people from around the world are gathering, and you don’t have the network.