Thursday, October 31, 2019

Intergalactic Innovation in Israel

Our last day of Innovation Journey 2019 was filled with futuristic technology. We began by meeting with SuperSmart, a company that is revolutionizing the shopping experience. They offer an affordable option for supermarkets to implement high-tech, autonomous checkout machines that operate 20 times more efficiently than a normal cashier. Using only one camera at checkout and their proprietary software, they can analyze everything in your shopping cart; yes, even those items hidden at the bottom! The machine has Artificial Intelligence technology that allows it to continually improve as time goes on. It provides a more helpful experience for end-users as well as it can recommend items that they may have missed or forgotten; it can even make sure you’re not overpaying by taking something you don’t want! The whole process takes 10 seconds so you are in and out in a flash. An added bonus for the supermarket is that it helps with loss prevention, saving them up to 4% of revenues each year. It’s an innovative solution to a daily challenge and it was impressive to hear from the founder about their rapid growth. 

We then went to visit HighRoad, an organization that provides a Launchpad Accelerator for
up-and-coming startups that are revolutionizing urban technology for smart cities. As humans continue
to migrate en masse to urban centers, it’s imperative that we appropriately prepare with infrastructure
that is connected via the Internet of Things (IoT). HighRoad’s vision is to connect all major services
intelligently. Imagine a future where traffic lights have built-in smart cameras that both detect and
prevent slowdowns by managing signals. A future where a smart city is connected via a network with
ports to connect devices--that are yet to be invented--in a way that creates the infrastructure necessary
for future solutions. These are just a couple of examples of organizations that are coming out of
HighRoad. Being in their office felt like taking a peek through a crystal ball at our future. It was really
impressive to be around futurists and technologists who are taking an active role in preparing our
societies for a better tomorrow. 

Our next visit was out of this world… literally! We had the privilege of meeting with the Founder and
Senior Systems Engineer of SpaceIL, an Israeli startup that sent a robot to the moon! It was absolutely
incredible to hear first-hand how they designed a robot that ended up orbiting the moon. The company
was initially founded as part of an XPrize Foundation challenge, and SpaceIL was the only organization
that ended up building their vessel and launching it into space. What’s most impressive about SpaceIL
is that they are a non-governmental, private startup organization. As such, they are facing a significant
challenge with much more limited resources than any other country that has shot for the moon. While
the vehicle ultimately had a mechanical failure and crash-landed, it was seen as a huge success. It’s
impressive that a small company could marshall the necessary international resources, create an
innovative design, build the autonomous ship, and ultimately launch it into space to orbit once around
the moon. They are now changing their focus to educate and inspire the next generation of children
around the world to take big leaps for mankind. Who knows what galaxy they will explore next?

Our Innovation Journey ended with a company that is furthering technology that is necessary for the
future of sustainable life on planet earth. We visited the Mekorot desalination plant in Ashdod, a
company that converts salty ocean water into healthy drinking water. Israel is the largest producer in
the world of this technology, per capita. We thought it was a special treat to taste the water at their
office--but then we learned that 80% of the whole country’s water is produced by desalination! We
had been drinking desalinated ocean water the whole trip without realizing it. We had the privilege of
touring their operating facility, walking amidst the pipelines and machinery that process this water so
it is safe to drink. Every year, the facility adds more than 100 cubic meters of water to the national
water system. This technology is crucial for maintaining a healthy life source for the planet. As our
natural resources continue to become more scarce, it is these types of innovative organizations that
are paving the way for a sustainable future. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

High Tech in the Holy Land

Day four of our company visits started in Jerusalem with Made in JLM, an umbrella organization that consolidates resources for startups and technology companies in the holy city. When most people think of Jerusalem, new technology is probably not the first thing to cross their mind--but there is a thriving ecosystem, and Made in JLM is at the forefront. It is their goal to position Jerusalem as one of the most innovative cities in the world--what a perfect stop for us on our Innovation Journey. They operate as a sort of ecosystem hub, bringing together various entities of the startup world by hosting events and programs. As part of their efforts, the amount of new startups in Jerusalem has grown by 500% from 2012-2015. They've reached over 20,000 community members in different organizations and have been ranked as one of the top emerging tech hubs in the world. After seeing their headquarters, they led us on a tour of a few other top Israeli companies who also had offices in Jerusalem.

We continued our journey with the most successful Israeli startup and "multi-unicorn," Mobileye, who sold to Intel for over $15 Billion. They've developed revolutionary vision-safety technology that is used in over 40 million vehicles worldwide. Their software enables Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) which is incorporated in some of the world's largest auto manufacturers. Their single-lens camera placed at the front of any vehicle is able to identify shapes, like vehicles and pedestrians, in addition to road safety signs like lane markings. This goes into providing alerts for drivers when there is a risk of collision and can connect with automatic braking or automatic lane assistance technology. Mobileye is moving us faster into the future by building on their ADAS technology, using the latest advancements in Artificial Intelligence and partnering with other leading organizations to make autonomous vehicles a reality of the not-so-distant future. We got to see some raw footage of what a Mobileye camera "sees" and it was incredible to see how it identified and tracked almost all the objects on the road in real-time. This technology is crucial to keeping us safe on the roads today and into the future.

Continuing with the "super vision" theme, our next meeting was with OrCam, an incredible organization that helps blind and visually impaired people navigate the world with audio. They built a small camera with built-in artificial intelligence that can clip-on to any pair of eyeglasses; it's capable of recognizing and reading out loud virtually any text! This helps people with disabilities read books, navigate street signs, read ingredients on food items, and countless other things that many of us take for granted. It even has technology where you can teach it to recognize your family member's faces and it can tell you who is in front of you. This technology has helped tens of thousands of visually impaired people be more self-sufficient, empowering them to have more independence in their daily lives. They have had such an immensely positive impact on people's daily lives, it was a privilege to meet with them.

Next, we went to visit Hometalk, the largest website for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects in the world. They've created a community that allows people to learn how to do home improvement projects through user-generated content and curated videos. The focus of these is on skill-building to empower users to be more self-sufficient in creative projects. They have a highly engaged online community that helps each other by answering questions and collaborating. It's really cool to see how the platform gives people the know-how and opportunity to do something that they might otherwise have had to hire someone else for. At their headquarters, we met with Hillel Fuld who is a strategic advisor to them, and many other startups. He shared with us his insight into how to turn a startup into a business by scaling with innovative marketing techniques. We got to hear firsthand about his experience as a leading insider in the Israeli startup world, including how he got his start by producing free content. It was a really unique opportunity to learn about the bout the micro-and macro-environmental factors that contribute to an organization's success worldwide.

Our last visit of the day was with United Hatzalah, an organization that literally saves hundreds of lives every day. They are a volunteer-based emergency response providers that offer their services free of charge. They respond to over a thousand emergency calls per day with a response time of 3 minutes or less throughout Israel! This is compared to the average response time of an ambulance that can be 12 minutes. Often, this is too long and victims are dead on arrival. They have several phenomenal competencies that allow them to perform at such a high level and save so many lives. First, their technology platform that tracks their over 6,000 volunteers across the country. They are able to coordinate emergency calls and triangulate the emergency responders that are closest to the scene to respond fastest. They send out an emergency signal to a handful of responders in the vicinity which increases the chances of survival. We got an exclusive look inside their control center and it was amazing to see how well-coordinated their efforts are. Another key to their success is that the volunteers are on-call, not working specific time-bound shifts, and they are going about their normal day and work life. This means that rather than being centralized at a dispatch center, they are decentralized throughout the country providing more localized support, increasing the chances of them being at the scene quickly. Another reason they are able to respond so quickly is because of their "ambucycles." These are motorcycles that are equipped with all the same life-saving devices as an ambulance; except for a stretcher. There is a large backpack that is fairly lightweight that includes everything necessary to stabilize someone until they're able to get to a hospital. A brilliant, innovative solution to a life-threatening problem. It was such an incredible way to end the day by meeting with a life-saving organization, and it left us reflecting on how to make a positive impact in the world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Visual Tour of Jerusalem and Southern Israel

During the weekend, we took a break from the fast-paced business world and our frequent visits to explore the natural beauty, culture, and history of Israel. We got off to an early start with a sunrise hike of Masada, which is an ancient fortification in Southern Israel with a fascinating history. It was built by Herod the Great and is particularly impressive due to its location, atop a very high plateau. The location was chosen because it was very difficult for attackers to access. Masada is believed to be the last Jewish stronghold during the Roman conquest in the 70's CE. Ultimately, it was taken over by the Roman invaders who used Jewish slaves to build a ramp to the top. Although much of it is destroyed, there are some beautiful remnants that show the architecture including an ancient Roman bath area. From the top, there is a stunning view of the Dead Sea, which was our next destination.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level. It's also famous for its hypersalinity; the water has extremely high salt content, more than 9 times that of the ocean, which makes you float on top. Once you wade in past standing height it's impossible to touch the bottom! It's quite a surreal experience to feel yourself literally lifted by the saltwater, and you can float either on your back or standing up (if you have good balance or stabilizer muscles).  The location is also popular because of the minerals in the water and mud, which are used in beauty products. In fact, it was even used as a health resort in ancient times by Herod the Great.

We then went back up to Jerusalem and got lunch at the Machane Yehuda Market. It's a bustling market with narrow streets that are packed with vendors in different stalls. It is known as a "shuk" which in both Hebrew and Arabic means marketplace. It is part open-air and partly covered, and located centrally. It is in some ways the heart of cultural life as it unites people around food! It's a unique opportunity to try a wide variety of local cuisine, from shawarma and falafel to pastries like knaffeh and baklava; you can truly eat to your heart's content!

We continued the historical part of our trip with a walking tour through the Old City of Jerusalem. We had a personal guide who was incredibly knowledgable and explained to us the over 3,000 years old history of the city! We walked through the four quarters--Armenian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish--exploring the incredible diversity of the city. One of the highlights was following the Via Dolorosa, following in the literal footsteps of Jesus Christ on his walk to the crucifixion. It was incredible to follow along and learn about the history that has had such a significant impact on our world. We also had the opportunity to go inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is recognized as the official site of the crucifixion and Jesus' empty tomb (from which he is said to have resurrected), the holiest sites in Christianity.

We also had the opportunity to celebrate the Sabbath at the Western Wall, one of the holiest places in the world for Jewish people. It was incredible to see hundreds if not thousands of people there, from all different backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities, faiths, and all walks of life, united together to welcome the holy day. It was fascinating to observe how differently people celebrate; some were praying silently, others were praying out loud together, and others were singing and dancing together. It was truly a beautiful display of humanity. It was nice to take a break from the business trip and enjoy traveling, but stay tuned because we have 2 more chock-full days of the world's leading innovative organizations!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How Israel is Shaping our Future

Day three of our program began with an informative meeting at Moovit's headquarters, the #1 urban mobility app worldwide. Moovit is unique in that it aggregates information from a variety of sources to provide the most accurate, real-time information for travelers; this includes transit operators, governmental authorities, and millions of their users. A key feature of their platform is that they integrate all forms of transport--including car-sharing, local bicycle services, scooters, all public transport options, and more--to provide a unique Mobility as a Service (MaaS) solution to their users. One of the most impressive aspects of their business is how they are using Big Data to transform the way people move across cities. They collect 5 billion anonymous data points per day, which can be shared with local governments and transit operators to make their services more user-friendly and efficient. To share a personal example of how this can have an individualized impact, data from Moovit can help people with disabilities navigate the often-unfriendly landscape of public transport by providing accurate, real-time information on which subway stations have functioning elevators. One big takeaway from this visit was learning about how a company can use one platform to provide solutions to a variety of client categories; in this case, they serve individual consumers, private companies, and government agencies. As humans continue to migrate to cities and we see a growing number of megacities with over 10 million people, we will see an increased need for smart mobility applications that help us navigate the urban jungle.

Next, we visited one of the most amazing organizations in the world: the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Weizmann Institute is one of the world's leading multidisciplinary research facilities focused on natural sciences. First established in 1934, they are responsible for groundbreaking research, advances in medicine and technology that have significantly improved quality of life around the world, and discoveries that are truly shaping the future for humanity and the environment. For example, their cancer research led to the discovery of the gene that encodes p53, a protein that suppresses tumors and is found to be dysfunctional in almost all types of cancer. Their work has led to the basis for the drug Erbitux that treats colorectal, head, and neck cancer, and many other insights for cancer varieties. They are responsible for six Nobel laureates and three Turing Award winners. From a business perspective, it's impressive to note that their research has led to over 2,000 families of patents which are the basis for 37 independent companies, and $37 Billion of revenue (in 2017). A lesson learned here is how technology transfer can commercialize scientific discoveries to take groundbreaking research out of the lab and into the hands of consumers for the benefit of society worldwide.

We then went to Rishon Start-Up, a co-working space designed exclusively for technological entrepreneurs. It's subsidized by the municipality, which allows early stage startups to access their services at a very low fee. This is one way the government fosters entrepreneurship and commerce, by providing opportunities for new businesses to succeed. It's a unique environment for startup founders to work closely together; it was impressive to see the collaboration happening between different groups that otherwise wouldn't have had much interaction. Creating a shared space for people who are facing similar challenges allows for cross-pollination of ideas and solutions, and the energetic exchange in the office was tangible. We also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs who were in similar fields as us to discuss new ideas that we were each working on and get feedback, which was a huge value-add. As the global economy transitions to the new "gig" economy with more independent freelancers and entrepreneurs, it's crucial to have these places that foster connection and collaboration to create a thriving business-world for our future.

From here, we went to one of the most impressive visits of the trip: Netafim, a company that has revolutionized the way our food is grown around the world. They are the creators of drip irrigation that allows farmers to grow more food, with less water, using a precise irrigation technology. Their custom-designed tubing delivers the perfect amount of water and nutrients to the root of a plant--not the soil--which allows for healthier plants while saving precious resources. They have even individualized this process to specific crops! Their proprietary technology also allows the farmer to monitor, analyze, and therefore optimize processes at every step of the way. We took a guided tour of the factory and it was incredible to see the autonomous robots working together! We saw how they can even diagnose problems, identify solutions, and communicate between each other--and with humans--to maximize production efficiency. There is so much demand for their products worldwide that they are operating at 100% capacity! With our rapidly expanding population, this technology is critical for farmers to sustainably produce enough quality nutrition to support our future civilizations.

With such a future-focused day, it was nice to end it by revisiting our past. We visited a local Bedouin community in the Negev, Israel's southern desert, that shared with us their traditional ways of living and some of their cultural customs. The Bedouins are a subgroup of the Arab people living in Israel with their own historical and social uniqueness. Many of them are fully integrated into society and live a modern lifestyle, but their origins are of a semi-nomadic way of living. We sat around in a tent with one of their elders and learned about a simpler way of life. It was a good reminder to end the day that despite all our technological advancements, it's important to be in touch with our roots and stay connected to the most meaningful parts of our lives.