Israeli startups on cutting edge of aging tech


The world’s fast-growing over-60 population needs tech solutions for issues ranging from retirement planning to health monitoring, and Israeli companies are stepping up to meet the challenge. Some of the most promising products were displayed earlier this year at the Israel Aging 2.0 startup contest during the Conference for Technologies for Aging Well at Bar-Ilan University.

“We see the entry of more and more high-quality Israeli ventures in this field, and more interest from the investor community,” said Dov Sugarman, the Israel representative for Aging 2.0, a global platform to accelerate innovation to improve the quality of life of the aging population.

The competition was part of Aging 2.0’s worldwide startup search. Winners of 40 local events were featured on the Aging 2.0 website for popular voting and expert judges’ review. A chosen few will vie for prizes and mentoring at a San Francisco event in October.

Sugarman said that Israeli entrepreneurs and marketers — who tend to be young — are becoming aware of the opportunities in aging technology.

“We have so many great apps, but most 85-year-olds don’t have smart devices, and we need to address that with new solutions,” he said.

The Aging 2.0 competition was hosted by the Conference for Technologies for Aging Well, a program of the Israeli Society for Aging Well of the Society of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Israel.

The 250 members of the society, ranging from social workers to doctors to engineers, look at the future role of technology not only for health needs but also to help combat loneliness, aid in retirement planning, make devices like computers and cellphones easier to use, and provide assistance to caregivers.

“In the last four years, we’ve seen big progress in Israel’s aging technology,” said Yael Benvenisti, chairwoman of the society and the conference. “In Israel’s startup incubators, there are more and more companies with solutions for the aging population. Nobody used to think about this population, and now they see it’s a good market.”

From left: Dov Sugarman, Israeli rep for Aging 2.0; MyndYou co-founders Itay Baruchi, Ruth Poliakine Baruchi and Dan Sztybel; Yael Benvenisti, chairwoman 
of the Israeli Society for Aging Well. Photos courtesy of Israel21c

 

Sugarman, a Tel Aviv-based aging-tech consultant, manages strategic partnerships for SafeBeyond, a platform for creating and storing personalized messages for distribution later in life or after death. SafeBeyond pitched at the first Israeli Aging 2.0 competition last year.

He noted that monitoring, sensing and tracking technologies — delivered via apps, smart TVs and robots, for example — is becoming critical in extending the independence of people in declining mental and physical health.

“The megatrend is aging in place [aging at home], and we need technology for that,” Sugarman said. “We’re seeing activity in Israel across all those spectrums. I expect that 2016-17 will see Israeli companies playing a growing role in global innovation and the generation of new business ideas.”

The U.S. caregiving market is estimated to be a $279 billion opportunity, with some $100 million in venture investment going to tech-enabled home care in 2015. 

Israeli startups are making significant contributions in this aging-tech sector, and here are 11 to watch.

MyndYou: Winner of the Aging 2.0 Israel competition, MyndYou is developing a mobile platform to help people with early stage cognitive deterioration maintain independence. The monthly subscription platform will monitor cognitive, physiological and behavioral parameters, alert family members to changes and offer actionable insights, according to CEO Ruth Poliakine Baruchi.

A $1.2 million funding round is going toward finalizing development and launching in the U.S. next year; the startup is now in the ICONYC Labs accelerator.

Vitalitix: Following a new phenomenon called “crowd-caring,” the Vitalitix social-responsibility platform provides three-way communication among seniors, caregivers and community “social angels,” as well as volunteers from existing networks. The idea is to reduce loneliness, improve safety and allow more freedom at home and out. The senior can access the app, now in beta, through any wearable device or smartphone.

Pharmpool: Pharmpool is developing a mobile app that evaluates the safety of a particular drug therapy regimen for a specific patient, and includes features to increase medication adherence and management.

Steps&: Steps& has created a virtual smartphone assistant who guides and encourages physical therapy patients through home exercises. The interface, managed by the physical therapist, includes instructional videos, a motivation boost, and goal-setting, pre-scheduling and tracking features.

Kytera: Kytera, a graduate of the Microsoft Ventures Tel Aviv Accelerator, is working on a smart wristband and motion-sensor technology to monitor seniors who are aging at home. It automatically detects and alerts to “stress situations” that vary from a person’s usual activity patterns. It’s being piloted in the United States ahead of commercialization by the end of this year.

AbiliSense: According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 1 in 3 people from age 65 to 74 has hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. AbiliSense is developing apps that continuously listen to the world around the user, analyze the sounds and transform them into alerts — delivered to smartphones, wearables and other devices — ranging from “the doorbell is ringing” to an emergency SOS.

HelpAround: Founded in Tel Aviv in 2013, the HelpAround platform for chronic patients and caregivers enables organizations to match patients with appropriate resources to improve access to care. The founders applied their knowledge of mobile health and data-driven, targeted advertising to build a smart “safety net” of helpers for chronic patients similar to the way ad tech pairs buyers with sellers.

HelpAround was one of four Israeli startups chosen as regional finalists in the 1776 Startup Challenge, and visited Washington, D.C., in June for the global competition.

Mybitat: Mybitat, a company in Herzliya, partnered with Samsung to develop a suite of smart-home solutions aimed at helping the elderly remain at home longer with better quality of life. Advanced sensors, cloud-based software and behavior analytics monitor daily routines and wellness. If a change in behavior or health is detected, the system alerts preselected contacts.

Perlis: Haifa-based Perlis is developing an artificial intelligence and robotic system to identify early symptoms of diseases commonly affecting the elderly, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The system serves as a support tool for physicians, caretakers and family to address health problems quickly enough to enable the elderly to retain independence at home.

E2C: Easy to Connect (E2C) in Ramat Gan offers a Basic smartphone (available in the United States and Israel) and a Basic tablet (available in Israel) designed to help seniors easily access the latest communication technologies with large print, one-button navigation and other streamlined processes. A Basic smart TV and Basic smartwatch are coming next.

PowerTags: PowerTags are miniature low-cost wearable tags providing location-based tracking capabilities for institutional caregivers of the elderly, among other applications. A proprietary “position engine” presents the tag’s real-time and historical movement patterns on a cloud-based dashboard viewable on smartphones, tablets and laptops. An emergency alert button is embedded in the tags. 

Review: HiFiman HE400S open headphones


A man sits down in his most comfortable chair beside a crackling fireplace. He pours two fingers of expensive scotch, lights a cuban cigar, then flips on his state of the art tube amplifier, giving it a good couple minutes to warm up before kicking back and listening to his favorite Jazz Fusion ensemble record on his forty thousand dollar sound system.

If you would have asked me to define an audiophile, the above scene would have popped in my head. Someone with near unlimited disposable income and ready to pour it all into his hobby. As of a few weeks ago, that image has completely changed.

I’ve found a way to get an amazing audiophile experience without the forty thousand dollar investment. For 300 bucks, you can get the best sounding headphones I’ve ever heard.

While I’ve never had a chance to listen to truly expensive headphones in the $1000-$55,000 range – Yes, you can buy $55,000 dollar headphones — I’ve listened to a lot of headphones under 600 dollars, and the HE400S headphones from HiFiman easily stand out from that pack. They really sound that good. You can close your eyes and imagine you’re that guy sitting by the fireplace, though scotch and cigars are not included.

If great sound quality is the only factor you’re looking at when choosing headphones, and your budget is $300, you can stop reading this review right now. Go buy the HE400S. I don’t think it’ll be easy to find better sounding headphones under $600.

However, these headphones aren’t perfect, and they’re not for everyone. First thing you need to know is that these headphones are open backed, which means that unlike most headphones, they let sound flow freely out of the ear-cups for a more natural sound, but they also ensure that people sitting nearby will hear a tinny version of your music, even at lower volumes. Open headphones, by design, also let you hear everything going on around you, so they’re not great for loud environments. These are not headphones for walking around, or for listening in places where you need to be quiet. I did try them in my office, and while none of my coworkers were able to hear my music, your mileage may vary, and I wouldn’t recommend these as a first choice for work headphones. These are headphones you listen to in quiet environments, or in places where a lack of sound isolation comes in handy. I know that knocks out three quarters of headphone use situations, so like I said, these headphones are not for everybody. But if you’re like me, and want to hear every little finger pick of a guitar vibrate in your ear, these are a solid choice.

These headphones are Planar Magnetic, which is completely different from the dynamic driver technology most other headphones in this price range use. I don’t fully understand the technical differences, but the company claims that this technology results in better sound quality. I don’t know if it was the Planar technology that made these headphones sound way better, but they definitely did way sound better — So let’s call that a win for Planar Magnetics.

Most high-end headphones and definitely most Planar Magnetic headphones are really power hungry and need a powerful amplifier to be driven properly. That’s where the HE400S really stands out from it’s more expensive rivals. The S stands for sensitive, and these headphones are very sensitive. I was able to listen to my music straight from my phone and laptop at loud volumes without any amplifier, though I did have to crank up the volume a couple notches louder than for my other headphones. I normally listen to music at around 40-50% maximum volume, and with these headphones, I found myself at around 70% of maximum to get the same volume levels. If you normally listen to music at ear blistering levels, you might want to get a headphone amp for these. For everyone else, the should sound great with almost any player you can throw at them.

The HE400S’ are also among the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever tried. The ear cups are massive, and after a few minutes of enjoying music, I forget I’m even wearing them.

A big issue I had with these headphones was the build quality. They don’t feel nearly as solid as other headphones in this price range, they’re incredibly light and plastick-ey. While I know that their lightness contributes to their comfort, I would have preferred a slightly more solid feeling headphone. The review unit I was sent still looks in pristine condition, but I can’t help but feel like I need to baby them more than my other headphones. I feel like a drop on a hard floor might be the end of them. Since I really only use them to listen at home, when sitting or lying down, it’s not a huge issue, but definitely worth mentioning.

The cable that came with these headphones is thick, chunky and feels super heavy duty. That’s both a positive and a negative. I’m not worried about the cable’s longevity (unlike the headphones themselves), but they are so thick that they don’t bend or have the flexibility I’m used to. There were times when I found the thick cable getting in the way, or twisting in awkward ways. This did nothing to affect the comfort, but it did annoy me at times. Not enough to get me to replace them with third party cables, though.

To summarize, these headphones sound awesome. Really really awesome. I just wish as much time and thought had been put into their physical design as their sound profile. I know that Hifiman doesn’t want to canabalize sales of their more expensive headphones — while 300 dollar headphones aren’t cheap by most people’s standards, these are actually Hifiman’s entry level headphones, their line includes premium models that go for as much as $3000. I see the incentive to get people hooked on great sound, and then encourage them to upgrade to more expensive (and more solidly built) models. The engineers at Hifiman did everything they could to keep costs as low as possible without compromising sound — and they really succeeded. But maybe they could have charged a little more for a slightly better build quality.

Meet the guys helping Israeli entrepreneurs make it big in the Big Apple


The hoodie-clad millennials tap furiously at their laptops. They’re perched on colorful couches, or sitting at long, communal tables, munching on Fruit Loops from the built-in dispenser in the open, subway-tiled kitchen.

In other words, AlleyNYC is your typical co-working space. There are plenty of international workers here, yet the space is quintessentially New York with its upscale, industrial look and “work hard, play hard” philosophy, complete with biweekly happy hours.

Its location in Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan, makes it a hub for local entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech scene. That cachet made it the perfect home for ICONYC Labs, a new accelerator program that helps Israeli startups launch their businesses stateside.

Israel has earned a global reputation as “Start-Up Nation” for its lively tech scene — Israel is home to nearly 7,000 high-tech companies, and nearly 80 percent of those are startups, according to a report from the business information firm Dun & Bradstreet. But despite its track record of innovation, Israeli startups often struggle with finding local investors. Additionally, Israeli deals generally require entrepreneurs to cede a greater share of their companies than a typical American deal.

So a main goal of ICONYC Labs is to connect Israeli entrepreneurs with New York investors. Additionally, the program helps Israelis adapt their pitches and products to better appeal to American investors, who typically have a longer decision-making process than their Israeli counterparts.

“In America, it’s about building relationships over time, but that’s not something that’s in Israeli DNA,” says ICONYC co-founder Eyal Bino. “It’s definitely a mindset we are trying to change with our founders, and it’s not always an easy task.”

But this incubator program isn’t just about generating money — through the shared workspace, the program also embeds Israeli startups in the city’s tech scene.

“While they’re here, they’re mingling with the other entrepreneurs in the kitchen,” says co-founder Arie Abecassis. “They want to be here and get to know New York, and one of the goals of this program is to help them exponentially expand their social network in tech.”

Other goals include providing mentorship, assistance with media relations and branding, as well as operations support on logistics like immigration, banking and accounting. In addition to these services, ICONYC Labs provides the startups with $20,000 and office space in AlleyNYC in exchange for a small equity stake in the firms.

ICONYC Labs’ first cohort, which began last April and finished the end of October, consisted of Myndlift, a mobile health solution targeting those who suffer from ADHD; Flux, a smart agricultural product enabling water-efficient growth of food and plants; DandyLoop, a cross-promotional marketplace for independent online stores to gain traffic; Clickspree, an ad-tech firm focused on video engagement and return for brands, and Gaonic, a platform for businesses to monitor Internet of Things data.

While working with ICONYC Labs, the companies’ founders must spend at least a week each month in New York, although many stay longer. During the weeks they are all here, ICONYC hosts networking events and fireside chats with high-profile startup success stories. It also sets pitch meetings with potential investors and advisers.

“At the end of the program, they’ll have the ability to expand their business to New York and raise money here,” Bino said.

Going forward, the incubator will shorten the program to four months and accept companies on a rolling basis. Two startups began in January; three more will enter the program this month.

ICONYC staffers sift through hundreds of applicants to select businesses to accept into the program — there’s no shortage, after all, of companies hoping to be the next Waze and make it big in the U.S. They put potential applicants through a serious vetting process, which includes outside experts assessing their business prospects and an investigation into their reputation in the Israeli startup community. They’re looking for companies that already have a viable product with the potential to scale in the United States, along with a committed team and a willingness to learn.

Bino, 40, and Abecassis, 49, are uniquely positioned to help Israeli companies acclimate to New York’s startup ecosystem. Both were born in Israel — Abecassis moved to the U.S. as a young child, and Bino attended college here and moved here for work a few years later.

When they met in 2014, Bino was working as a business development consultant for international startups in New York, and Abecassis was serving as a board member, adviser and investor for several startups. Bino tapped Abecassis to mentor some Israeli startups, and the two began discussing the specific needs of Israeli entrepreneurs in New York.

The pair saw a gulf between the growth potential of many Israeli startups — the talent and the ideas were strong — and their ability to connect with a wider variety of investors, and turn those connections into meaningful business opportunities.

One challenge facing Israeli entrepreneurs in New York is their products may not yet have an American following.

“We work extremely hard to help our founders prove their concepts in the U.S. markets, so they are worthy of funding from venture capitalists in New York,” Bino said. “The more traction our founders have, the better their story becomes.”

For Omer Rachamim, co-founder and CEO of DandyLoop, moving his business to New York was always the long-term plan because it’s a global hub e-commerce.

“ICONYC came along at just the right moment,” he said. “They helped us do a soft landing in the city, and really leveraged their connections in a way that helped me to be completely emerged in the startup community and the VC community within a few months. It’s like integration into the city on steroids.”

Since completing the program, DandyLoop, which is now incorporated in the U.S. and has an office in the city, has added advisers, investors and clients in New York.

In recent years, New York City has become a hub for Israeli-based startups — nearly 300 Israeli companieshave a presence in the city. While Silicon Valley grabs a lot of the startup spotlight, New York typically makes more sense for Israeli entrepreneurs — the time difference (7 hours versus 10 hours) makes business calls more conducive, and it’s an easy train ride to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“They see New York as the market where they can meet clients and investors as well as the big American corporations they want to do business with,” said Guy Franklin, founder of Israel Mapped in New York, which tracks the Israeli startup community.

Plus, in some significant ways, New York City is more culturally similar to Israel than Silicon Valley.

“There’s the food, the holidays,” Bino said. “Israelis may not be able to see themselves renting a house in the suburbs in California, but they could live on the Upper West Side.”

Israel shows off its drones


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Switzerland this week voted to buy six Israeli surveillance drones made by Elbit in a deal worth $256 million. The deal went through despite a campaign by protestors not to buy Israeli-made products because of alleged human rights abused against Palestinians.

The deal came the same week that an exhibition in Rishon Letzion showed off the latest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as drones. Israel has long been in the forefront of manufacturing drones.

“This is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft which can fly for three times the time as a multi-copter and is resistant to wind while hovering,” Amit Regev the CEO of Colugo said of his prototype the Arcopter. “We are aiming at many markets including precision agriculture and first responders. What we have here is the next generation.”

He spent many years flying drones in the Israeli army, but said his start-up is aimed at civilian applications. In China, he says, drones are already delivering packages, a move which saves time and money, and does not add to the carbon footprint, as a truck delivering a package would.

He has come to this exhibition in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv, looking for investors and partners. It is the third time that iHLS, a website that deals with homeland security has sponsored the exhibition.

“Israel is a major power in unmanned systems,” Arie Egozi, the conference organizer told The Media Line. “Israel needed them for its survival. It’s not that the US doesn’t have the capability to do this, but they fight in Afghanistan, far away. Israel needed this system to fight wars and that is why it is so advanced.”

Among the items on display were the Heron, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It can fly for 52 hours continuously and can be fully autonomous from takeoff to landing. It can carry the most sophisticated payloads and cameras, and is used in at least 20 countries, said IAI officials.

Also used for surveillance is the RT Skystar Systems which look like large white nylon balloons. These were used during last summer’s fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip, says Taly Kosberg Shmueli, the Vice President of RT.

“We do all kinds of missions including protecting the border, intelligence and aiding special forces,” she told The Media Line. “Last summer we had 13 systems around Gaza and we are now working on the Egyptian border as well as Jerusalem.”

Dozens of governments sent representatives including China, India and Albania. Israel’s defense exports totaled $5.6 billion in 2014, including drones. The businessmen declined to be interviewed.

There were also exhibits from companies that make parts for aircraft. One that received a lot of attention was Su-Pad, a company that uses 3-D printers to make plastic parts for drones and other planes.

“The users are adopting the technology in a way that is getting better and better,” Ziv Sadeh, the Sales Manager for Su-Pad told The Media Line. “We supplied a big printer to the Israeli air force. They use a polymer called ultem, and it is able to make parts for the aerospace industry. We are able to print very complex parts and we don’t need a tool to do it. The price is much smaller than traditional methods.”

Organizer Egozi says that what is on display is only what is not classified.

“There are many many other drones that are still classified and will be so for many years,” he said. “What you see here is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Overheard at the DLD Tel Aviv Digital Conference


“Hey, Jackson! How’s your startup coming? Still living the dream?”

“We’re not really fancy yet. We still need to have that discussion.”

“Let me be Israeli for a minute and not be politically correct.”

“Let’s do it after Rosh Hashanah. Don’t let me forget, dude.”

“It’s good to laugh about Microsoft, just like it’s good to laugh about Yair Lapid.”

“They’re a pain in the ass, but you can’t get rid of investors. It’s very hard.”

“Really? People want to monitor their urine on their iPhone?”

“You’re kidding, how much?” “I don’t know — you’ll have to ask them. But an incredible amount.”

“My nephew was in this unit. They give them super hot projects like Iron Dome. Now, after that, everything looks easy.”

“The Chinese are hungry. The Thai are not so hot on Israel, but the Chinese are. So are the Taiwanese.”

“There’s so much money here on this small island.”

“I don’t care where you find them, just find me the startups.”

“I know someone who knows the woman who was almost kidnapped in Jerusalem.”

“If you get caught without a business card, you’re gonna get f—ed, man.”

“It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for him, because he has high blood pressure.”

“No, she couldn’t come. She’s doing a hackathon in Westfield over the weekend.”

“Look, if you want, you could have a presence for a couple thousand dollars.”

More from the conference: 

Israeli tech sector continues investment surge with nearly $1B quarter


Israeli high-tech firms raised $930 million in the second quarter of 2014, the sector’s strongest quarter in more than a decade.

The figure, drawn from a survey by the Israeli Venture Capital Research Center and financial firm KMPG, was the highest quarterly figure since 2000 and an increase of 109 percent from one year ago.

Combined with the results from the first quarter of this year, Israeli high-tech firms raised $1.6 billion in the first half of 2014, which the research center calls “the strongest capital raising period on record for Israel’s high-tech industry.”

The strong quarter was led by a $135 million investment in Landa Digital Printing by the Altana Group, a German investment company. Life science firms raised more than any other sector, drawing $251 million in capital.

The data indicate the continuation of a recent investment surge in the Israeli tech sector. In 2013, Israeli high-tech firms raised $2.3 billion, the most in a decade, according to Reuters.

 

Israeli startups meet with top broadcasting companies


Nine Israeli startups last month were given an opportunity few small companies are ever afforded — the chance to ply their wares to some of the top companies in Los Angeles.  

Invited to participate in the Israeli New Media Delegation, executives from the Israeli businesses each met with representatives from at least one of the following broadcast and entertainment-related companies: Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, DirecTV, Technicolor, Disney/ABC Television Group, Starz, Edelman and Creative Artists Agency.

Organized by the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export Institute, the June 18-20 trip was one of the many missions Israel’s Ministry of the Economy organizes every year to the United States, India, China and Europe. 

“We do this on an almost weekly basis,” said Gili Ovadia, Israeli consul for economic affairs for the West Coast. He said the next few missions will feature Israeli companies engaged in pharmaceutical, gaming and mobile automotive industries. 

The Israeli delegation — representing technologies involving social media management, viewer engagement and personalization tools, and more — featured Beyond Verbal, Comigo, Dex, eTribez, eyeSight, Homage, Kaltura, TinyTap and Vodience.

In this case, the tour reflected the Israeli government’s determination to connect Israeli companies with American companies on the West Coast. The mission provided “great exposure to the decision-makers at the top U.S. firms,” Ovadia said. Without these personal invitations, “It would likely take a few years” for the Israelis to make such contacts. … Basically the missions shorten their time to market by showing their technology to potential partners.” 

Jason Ciment, an executive board member of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, which joined in putting together a reception to welcome the delegation, agreed the mission was invaluable to the Israelis.

“What they definitely needed was exposure to the American business people to help improve their pitches and meet potential investors,” he said. 

The American companies selected the Israeli ones they wanted to meet with out of a pool of 30 compiled by the Israel Export Institute. Although some of the U.S. companies chose up to 15 Israeli ones, not all of them were able to participate because of timing or other factors. 

“We showed the Hollywood companies the list back in March and asked them to choose the companies they felt were most relevant to their needs,” Ovadia explained. “Then we gave the Israeli companies the opportunity to come on the mission.” 

Dan Emodi, vice president of marketing at Beyond Verbal, a company that has developed ways to analyze people’s emotions — moods, attitudes and personality — by examining their vocal intonations, said he met with DirecTV, Fox and Disney execs during the mission. 

“They expressed interest in our technology to better understand audiences’ reaction to pilots, movies [and] shows before and while they’re being aired.”

Emodi said manufacturers of machines that respond to verbal commands, such as certain toys, could also potentially benefit from Beyond Verbal’s technology. 

“We are thrilled and grateful that the American executives gave us their time and attention.”

Rony Greenberg, vice president for business development at eyeSight, said he met with execs from DirecTV, Technicolor, Fox and others. 

The company, which develops gesture-recognition technology for digital devices, believes the execs were intrigued by the potential to control TVs, tablets, computers and other devices with the flick of a finger or hand. 

“For example, if you want to mute the volume, you bring your finger to your lips. If you’re cooking with a recipe on your tablet and your hands aren’t clean, imagine flipping the page by waving your hand.” 

As for the other Israeli companies that made the trip, some have obvious implications for television: Dex allows two-way interaction between a live TV show and viewers, and Vodience creates a live virtual audience, allowing those watching a program to interact with each other.

Comigo offers a platform that allows TV viewing across all types of handheld devices, with social interactive features and applications overlaid on the broadcast stream. ETribez offers digital audience engagement and TV production management solutions and services to the entertainment industry, and Kaltura is a video platform that provides media companies with video management, publishing and monetization tools. 

Then there’s Homage, a mobile video app that places users into a variety of stories, allowing them to, for instance, appear in a famous movie scene. TinyTap allows anyone to create, share and play personalized educational games. 

David Schlacht, senior director of multimedia at DirecTV, helped facilitate the inclusion of the Israelis in a mini startup fair that was part of a larger innovation open house. The startups were able to pitch their products and technology to more than 1,000 senior DirecTV employees. 

“The companies we chose were in fields most related to DirecTV that were new to us,” Schlacht explained. “Some were content-related, others more technology that was interesting to media companies.”

That turned out to be “a great opportunity to educate a wide, diverse senior team in the latest cutting-edge technology being developed by some of today’s leading companies, who in this case happened to be from Israel,” he said.

Schlacht said the encounters were beneficial to both the U.S. and Israeli companies. 

“I think that many of the small and medium companies are not well versed in creating long-term relationships with big companies, and that is key to landing deals or investments. For us it was a great opportunity to educate a wide diverse senior team in the latest cutting-edge technology being developed by some of today’s leading companies who in this case happened to be from Israel.”

Schlacht said the Israeli marketing professionals were clearly “experienced” in presenting their companies, but he was “not sure how familiar some of them were with our specific needs and focus.” He thought some of them could have done an even better job demonstrating their technology in the context of the U.S. market.  

In a small survey completed by the DirecTV employees, the Israeli pavilion ranked among the top three from a large number of demos. 

“I think this is a clear indication that the companies were well-received by a broad audience,” Schlacht said, “and now the companies have at least a foot or pinky in the door to follow up and develop a relationship or test their technologies.” 

Milken conference explores Israel-California tech partnership


When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement in March to boost economic cooperation between Israel and California, positive feelings were high, but details were few and far between.

Plans became clearer — if only a little bit — at the recent Milken Institute Global Conference at the Beverly Hilton, which took place April 27-30.

Seven breakout sessions and panels with renowned businessmen, politicians and academics involved Israel and topics such as energy, agriculture and health, but it was the final one on April 30 that directly related to implementing the memorandum of understanding signed by Netanyahu and Brown two months ago in Silicon Valley.

The goal of that pact, both leaders said at the time, involves solving problems in the areas of water conservation, alternative energy and cybersecurity threats. It gives Israeli companies access to California’s Innovation Hub (iHub) Program, which is composed of 16 research clusters around the state.

Led by Milken senior fellow Glenn Yago, the local panel featured the likes of Nathan Brostrom, the University of California’s executive vice president for business operations, and David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

And although, as Yago said afterward, accomplishing concrete steps in a conference is always difficult, his goal was to gather under one roof major players from Israel and California who will play a role in helping both states work together.

“Neither the prime minister nor the governor had any interest in it just being a photo op or a press release,” Yago told the Journal. “They want the two states to really develop a global platform for breakthrough technologies.”

Take water, for starters. Israel is widely regarded as the most advanced nation in water conservation and purification. It has, after all, turned what was desert and swamp into a developed, vibrant nation. 

From its early-warning leak systems that allow farmers and water officials to detect dribbles before they become bursts, to desalination technology that allows Israel to safely draw a large portion of its annual water consumption from the Mediterranean Sea, it may have much to offer California, a state facing a severe drought. 

In a way, the memorandum of understanding signed by the two governments’ leaders came after years of intimate economic cooperation at the market level. Firms like Netafim, an Israeli irrigation company with an office in Fresno, and BrightSource Energy, a solar-thermal company with projects in the Mojave Desert, already have brought Israeli technology to the massive California market.

One new thing the Netanyahu-Brown agreement may have done was give the economic ties that already exist more attention, and make local governments across California aware of the benefits that so many Israeli firms can provide.

“Much is already happening between Israel and California,” Siegel said. “It’s a matter of giving it visibility and communicating to government officials and private sector and public sector officials the significance of Israeli technology in areas that are critical to California.”

The consul general told the Journal that one way the agreement could be implemented is by establishing a think tank or a nongovernmental organization to coordinate turning the promises of the intergovernmental memo into concrete economic development. 

In March, building upon the deal signed in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced a measure to establish a task force for increasing cooperation between Los Angeles and its sister city, Eilat, in a number of areas, including water technology. 

One Israeli businessman who came in from London for the conference was Yariv Cohen, chairman of Kaenaat, a London-based economic development firm. An expert in bringing niche technologies to the global market, Cohen hopes that California can serve as a testing ground for Israeli technologies that could benefit much of the developing world.

“We are working now on how to redesign the tools that create public-private partnerships to promote the scaling-up of clean energy,” Cohen said. 

In other words, once California’s government works more at integrating advanced Israeli clean-energy technology — a key component of Netanyahu’s and Brown’s agreement — Cohen may then be able to bring “the technologies that have been developed and tested in Israel here to emerging economies,” particularly ones that have chronic shortages in two areas of economic development — water and energy. 

Cohen summarized how he sees Israeli technology using the California market to go global: “Use the strength of Israel, the ‘startup nation,’ and California, the ‘scale-up nation,’ to deal with world problems.”

Google Opens campus Tel Aviv


Startup spaces in Tel Aviv are getting to be a dime a dozen, but the prime minister doesn’t attend the opening of every single one.

The Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was on hand at the December ribbon-cutting for Google’s Campus Tel Aviv, a one-floor shared work environment available to Israeli startups, developers and entrepreneurs at no charge.

Campus TLV, like Campus London, which opened nine months previously, is a part of the Google for Entrepreneurs program to foster global entrepreneurship and innovation. It offers access to Google’s devices and experts, as well as workshops and events for the local tech community.

This is the newest pin on the map of Google facilities in Israel, according to Paul Solomon, Google Israel communications director. Google opened its Tel Aviv offices in 2006. Currently, 270 developers work in this creatively designed eight-floor headquarters in the 45-story Electra Tower. Another 80 employees churn out new products and technologies at Google’s Haifa research and development (R&D) lab. 

“We also have a business operation here working with advertisers in Israel, Europe and Africa to build online businesses,” Solomon said.

Google Israel personnel have taken the lead in cultural preservation projects, such as digitizing historical archives of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Campus TLV is another community-minded move for the California-based multinational corporation.

“We’re not looking for acquisitions or talent,” Solomon said. “If it were simply about acquisitions, we wouldn’t need to build Campus Tel Aviv. It’s about contributing toward future Israeli tech innovation and helping Israel maintain its reputation as a startup nation, and in doing so, making Web and mobile space even better.”

Google began as a startup in a garage, Solomon adds, and in many ways remains a startup at heart.

“Entrepreneurship is very much in our DNA, and we want to help the next generation to be successful. There is tremendous expertise here in Israel. Our goal is filling gaps in knowledge in a number of places.”

To distinguish the new venture from neighboring projects such as TechLoft, Hub TLV, The Library and The Junction, Solomon is unequivocal about what Campus TLV is not.

“There are many incubator and accelerator programs here, and it’s not another one,” he said, “though we do work with existing ones.”

In fact, part of the program is a two-week Launchpad pre-accelerator program for very early-stage startups that come through Campus TLV partner incubators, developer hubs and academic institutions.

In boot-camp style, Launchpad covers user interface, product strategy and technology, marketing, business development and analytic tools. The first participants are supported by UpWest Labs, The Junction and the Tel Aviv Angel Group. Up to 100 startups per year are expected to pass through.

“We recognize the huge talent that has made Israel the world’s second-largest center of tech startups, after Silicon Valley,” said Yossi Matias, managing director of Google’s R&D Center.

Meir Brand, managing director for Google Israel, Africa and Greece, added, “Our continuing investment and expansion in Israel are a testimony to the unique talent here, and we’re committed to helping increase even more the contribution of the Internet to the Israeli economy and society.”

As for Netanyahu, he termed the opening of Campus TLV “pure joy.”

“The world is flying fast, and we’re leading the way,” he said.

Israel’s whiz kids


Mickey Haslavsky of Holon is only 18, but he’s already on his second startup.

“When I began my first startup at 16, I thought I was the only one creating Web sites at this age, but I was amazed to discover a huge community between [the ages of] 10 and 18 around the world, and I know of about 10 startups by Israelis my age,” Haslavsky said.

By invitation of Israeli high-tech godfather Yossi Vardi, Haslavsky recently gave a TEDx Youth@Holon presentation, “Teenage Nation,” about how he founded an online youth magazine.

One thousand people registered the day Haslavsky launched his second site, Machbesa (Laundry), this past spring. It’s a viral scheme for racking up genuine “Likes” on Facebook, pluses in Google Plus and views on YouTube.

“I want to bring the system to Brazil next because it has 51 million Facebook users and it’s spreading all the time,” said Haslavsky, who needs to find someone to run his enterprises come November, when he gets drafted for military service.

That shouldn’t be hard, as he is at the older end of the spectrum of Israeli teens helming a surprising number of high-tech ventures.

Mickey Haslavsky, 18, presenting at TEDx Youth@Holon.

Tal Hoffman of Haifa says Israel’s designation as the “Startup Nation” has encouraged young business developers. “Israel’s entrepreneur community is really big among my age,” said the 15-year-old founder of Itimdi, a not-yet-launched site where teens can meet and interact based on their interests.

Another 15-year-old, Gal Harth of Herzliya, was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt last year in San Francisco about his Doweet Web site (motto: “So, what do you want to do?”), described as “a fun and easy way to create activities with your friends.”

Harth said he founded Doweet with his pal Nir Ohayon in reaction to all their friends playing Xbox and PlayStation instead of engaging in social and physical activities. “This is a way to get together easily to go to the gym, go swimming, play soccer. It’s an app that links everyone in one spot.”

Harth and Ohayon got initial funding from Israel’s Rhodium, the first venture capital firm they approached.

“My passion is startups,” Harth said. “My passion is to change the world.”

Nurturing whiz kids

Enterprising Israeli teenagers have plenty of role models. Gil Schwed, founder of Israel’s Check Point Software Technologies and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, is a prime example. Schwed was taking computer courses at the Hebrew University before graduating high school. Drawing on experience gained in the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 intelligence corps, he invented the modern firewall at just 26.

Many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are eager to follow the same path, knowing that their military service can pave the way to successful careers. It’s no coincidence that many Israeli startups are co-founded by former army buddies.

However, programs to recruit high school students for high-tech military units focus on top achievers and tend to miss a considerable number of kids whose tech abilities far surpass their grades. Finding and cultivating these diamonds-in-the-rough has become a priority for StartupSeeds, a 1,300-member community for entrepreneurial Israeli teens founded in 2007 as a private philanthropy-supported project of the MadaTech-Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa.

One of its original members, Ido Tal, created a wildly popular Flash video game at the age of 14, but — perhaps because of his addiction to video games, he said — wasn’t exactly a model student. Likewise, Haslavsky, whose math teacher once told Haslavsky’s mother that the boy wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“From our research, nobody is dealing with this population of kids,” StartupSeeds Director Saar Cohen said. The organization is hoping to fill that gap by reaching out to parents of teens who show a talent for coding, Web design, video editing, animation, social media, security and other needed skills.

Through contacts in the military and academia, StartupSeeds brings these teens out from under the radar for the benefit of themselves and their country. “Everybody wants their kid in a special unit because if you get in, you’re set for life.”

This is just one of the organization’s programs devised to nurture and encourage Israeli whiz kids, with support from Israel’s high-tech industry and academia. In 2008, StartupSeeds was invited to lead a panel on entrepreneurial youth at the prestigious Israeli Presidential Conference.

“StartupSeeds promotes excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation among technological youth,” Cohen said. “We believe in strengthening their existing strengths by giving them tools and a platform for them to reach their potential. We help them make connections through an online community as well as physical forums.”

Every two weeks, StartupSeeds hosts meetings and lectures along with social activities. There are periodic regional conventions and field trips to army units and high-tech industries. Members get access to events such as TEDx, groups such as MIT Forum and competitions such as BigGeek, a live broadcast from the Microsoft R&D Center in Herzliya where four teams of techies scramble to develop a working application within 24 hours.

What is special about Israel that seems to encourage what Cohen calls a technological youth phenomenon?

“Everything here happens fast,” Cohen said. “Kids are encouraged from an early age to think on their feet, ask questions, be curious and not be afraid to try anything. The high-tech industry and the startup industry in Israel are very strong, and they take great pride in that, so it’s contagious. The army helps, too, because a large percentage of those in high-tech startups went to these special tech units.”

Boys and girls together

StartupSeeds, as well as Israel’s military, academic and industrial leaders, are eager to get more girls into the high-tech mix.

“Research shows there’s an early age at which kids decide what to go into, and everyone wants to get girls to choose technological fields,” Cohen said. “We recently decided to target this audience by starting an all-girls forum, offering meetings with female leaders in industry, to see if we can create a community. Our goal is to get to 30 percent girls [in our membership]. We think they are out there, and we are approaching them at the perfect age.”

For now, most teen entrepreneurs are boys, including recent immigrants such as Ben Lang, 18, who co-founded the Innovation Israel community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors; and, most recently, Mapped in Israel, a Web site pinpointing Israel’s many startups.

In March, Lang and three young colleagues ran a successful Hackathon Israel event, sponsored by Carmel Ventures and ROI Community; their stated vision was “to share the incredible high-tech scene in Israel with the entire world.”

“Because Israel is so small, it’s easy to create a startup and give life to an idea,” Haslavsky said. “In the media you see every day how startups sell their companies for millions of dollars, and that also encourages us. Every young entrepreneur wants to be a CEO. I think Israel is amazing in this field.”

Israel opens up about national cyber plans


Israel will establish a national cyber situation room as part of a national cybernetic defense concept.

National Cyber Bureau head Dr. Evyatar Mataniah also announced Wednesday at Tel Aviv University’s Second Annual International Cyber Conference that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the budget and work plan for the bureau that was established at the beginning of the year.

The announcement came on the heels of a speech by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in which he acknowledged for the first time that Israel has launched offensive cyberspace operations. He said Israel has been working on both cyber defense and offense, but stressed that defense is more important.

“Our goal with cyber defense, which is the more important and difficult component, is to prevent damage,” Barak said, according to Haaretz. “It is more than we can benefit from an offensive action, even though both aspects exist.”

It is suspected that Israel released the Flame virus that was discovered attacking computers in Iran and the West Bank, among other places, last month. The Flame virus reportedly shares some characteristics with the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and which Israel was accused of creating with U.S. cooperation.

Israeli start-up XtremIO acquired for $430 million


EMC Corp. acquired the Israeli storage systems start-up company XtremIO for more than $430 million.

The sale completed last week is EMC’s sixth and largest acquisition in Israel. Senior executives from EMC had been in Israel in recent months holding acquisition talks with XtremIO, the Israeli daily Globes reported.

Xtremlo, which has offices in Herzliya and San Jose, Calif., was founded in 2009 by a group of Israeli high-tech veterans. It has raised $25 million in two venture capital financing rounds.

“This is an inspiring event, as it shows once again that Israel has the skill set and drive to create exceptional cutting-edge companies,” Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, which owns up to 30 percent of XtremIO, told JTA in an e-mail.

EMC also operates an Israel R&D center with 700 to 800 employees, according to Globes.

Mix of high-tech and human helps students learn Torah [VIDEO]


Indeed, bar or bat mitzvah training today has become increasingly reliant on technology to complement learning — from YouTube videos of kids chanting and online lessons with a cantor or tutor to on-the-go studies with an iPod. 

Experts say new technologies can make b’nai mitzvah study and planning easier for students and families with hectic schedules. But at a time when some students prepare for their simcha with a tutor via Skype — oftentimes in lieu of the family joining a synagogue — others worry that an over-reliance on technology removes critical human elements from training intended to prepare youth for a communal faith that favors public prayer. 

At congregations such as Stephen S. Wise Temple, Sinai Temple and Temple Judea, students access b’nai mitzvah prep materials online, like blessings, prayers and Torah portions.

Jennifer Smith, b’nai mitzvah and social justice coordinator at Stephen S. Wise Temple, says online technology works better with the lifestyles of today’s students than old technologies do.

“Kids are always coming in with their iPods and phones … something they always have with them,” she said. “Oftentimes they’ll forget their books or say their CD player is broken.”

Today’s high-tech b’nai mitzvah tools not only provide students with convenience, but also offer parents peace of mind.

“We used to have parents ask us, ‘How is my child going to study on winter break?’ ” Smith said.

Mitzvah Tools is one online-based resource that some synagogues and tutors are using to help coordinate learning. The Web-based app enables students to download or upload materials from any computer and monitor their own progress.

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Mitzvah Tools Demo

Developed by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea, Mitzvah Tools offers all the materials a bar or bat mitzvah-in-training could ever need — a section of downloadable MP3 recordings of blessings, prayers and the student’s Torah portion; a Web-based calendar to track the student’s in-person meetings; an assignments page, where tutors give feedback regarding a student’s progress; and a space for a student to share audio or video recordings of his or her chanting, which a tutor can watch or listen to from anywhere.

The app also allows rabbis, cantors, tutors and parents to track the progress of the student, write notes, schedule appointments and note attendance (including when the student was late or absent).

“It’s all online, wherever they are,” Moskovitz said. “It’s a wonderful way to amalgamate all that information together.”

Another high-tech tool that’s available to aid b’nai mitzvah students is the Magic Yad, a Livescribe Pulse smartpen app named for the ritual pointer used during the Torah reading.

The app’s creator, Alan Greenfield, got the idea for the product when a bar mitzvah student he was helping was frustrated with listening to cassettes in the car.

“I started working with the kid, and I could see how frustrating it was for him,” Greenfield said. “It was very hard for [him] to listen and repeat the one phrase on the audio. With the Magic Yad, you can just touch one phrase and you just touch it again as many times as you like. It facilitates repetitive learning of small units.”

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“In my day, they had a record,” said Cantor Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple, describing the changing role of technology in b’nai mitzvah training. “It moved from records, to cassettes, to CD, to downloading MP3s off your computer.”
Magic Yad

About the size of a small ballpoint pen, the Livescribe smartpen comes equipped with an embedded computer, digital audio recorder and infrared camera. The Hebrew text is printed on special paper that consists of numerous small black dots in patterns that are essentially invisible to the human eye but can be detected by the pen’s camera.

When the student opens the folder and touches the smartpen to a mark at the beginning of any trope, Magic Yad knows to play a prerecorded version of how the phrase should be chanted.

The student can also record a phrase, compare his or her own version to that of the prerecorded version, and slow down the playback to work on pronunciation and cantillation.

Alan Warshaw, West Coast head of sales for Magic Yad, says technology makes studying a less daunting task for students.

“The problem is that with kids who are 12 years old, there are a lot of things that they would rather do” than study for their bar or bat mitzvah, he said. “So you have to get their attention. … The better the experience they have learning, the better they will feel about the Jewish milestone.”

Although the Magic Yad boasts a unique “cool factor” for tech-oriented kids, app creator Greenfield believes technology shouldn’t become a substitute for students meeting in person with tutors or teachers.

“It’s very hard to replace a human — [but] some people actually see it that way, even use [the Magic Yad] that way,” said Greenfield, who recommends families use the product with a tutor or teacher, rather than as a substitute. “We say, in conjunction with the tutor you can do extremely well. It makes the tutor’s job a lot easier.”

While Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Smith praises technology when it comes to teaching b’nai mitzvah students, she says it fell flat when it came to coordinating with parents.

“We found that over the phone and face-to-face check-in was much more effective than leaving messages for parents online,” she said. “I don’t know if our parents were ready for it.”

Lam similarly praises the role of technology in making learning easier, but he also stresses the importance of human interaction.

“The most important thing is the mentor who teaches the child,” he said. “[That] is more important than the technology.

“It’s not just, ‘Are they learning the rote material?’ ” he continued. “The question is the overall goal of the bar mitzvah training, for bar and bat mitzvah kids to feel a connection to Jewish peoplehood, to Israel, [to] a spiritual side to God, to make them Jewish learners.”

To illustrate his point, Lam recalled his own experience as a child studying for his bar mitzvah.

“I can tell you, I had the greatest teacher,” he said. “My cantor inspired so many of us to become cantors and rabbis. You can have all the technology in the world, but you cannot replace [my teacher’s] passion and talent and the level of which he thought. That model — you can’t replace that with technology.”