At the heart of the Start-up Nation, at the hottest spots of the Start-up City, the nation’s young companies gathered to show their wares this week at the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival.
Yossi Vardi, one of the godfathers of Israel’s hi-tech scene, co-chairs the event, which he imported from Munich in 2011. During the conference, hundreds of start-ups set up shop, accelerators and hubs highlight their protégés, who pitch their ideas to teams of venture capitalists and angel investors.
In Mitcham Hatachana, the old train station refurbished as a chic shopping center on the edge of Jaffa, a renewed hangar is filled with sounds, lights, art and sculptures – each with a hi-tech twist.
Maayan Cohen, a hi-tech designer who recently returned to Israel after several years in Canada, showed off a project called EyeCanTouch, designed to help children with disabilities draw using their eyes.
The program uses a camera to track eye movements, which move a computer cursor over arrows on a computer screen. Those arrows control a colorful robotic spider equipped with a marker, leaving a trail of ink where it creeps.
“For children who cannot move their arms to draw and move physical toys is phenomenal, so the idea was to let them control the physical world around them,” said Cohen.
Another camera-driven application came from Onysus, a start-up that created an entire system for putting people right into software with a camera. While its main attraction was a karaoke game that put the singer into a video of a band, the concept was larger.
“Today we have applications that are very complex and very expensive to create that use 3D cameras and normal cameras, and we allowed designers to create this kind of applications without the need of a developer,” CEO Dolly Ovadia of Onysus explained.
In other words, other applications will be able to use the product as a platform to build their own games and applications without needing much of the technical knowledge.
Wispa, an app that already has 30,000 users, aims to streamline product posts in social media.
Instead of searching through various Facebook groups to, say, rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, hoping that the criteria will match, a user can simply check off his requirements in the app. The program then finds the relevant groups, does a smart scan for the information, and returns the relevant posts.
Likewise, someone looking to post an ad for his apartment (or sofa or computer or pet) is offered a variety of forums to automatically post his ad.
For the musicians out there, an app from JoyTunes is taking Guitar Hero to a whole new level – on the piano. Unlike Guitar Hero, a video game that uses a fake guitar with a few buttons to let gamers “play” their favorite songs, the JoyTunes version requires a real keyboard.
The app runs on an iPad, and presents the player with notes to play, and provides its own background music. It then listens to check whether the maestro has hit the correct notes, and pops out an appropriate score.
“Music teachers are fighting a losing battle right now, because unlike a hundred years ago, they have to fend off temptations like TV and computer games,” said JoyTunes’s Oded Mager. “Why not give them a game they will enjoy which teaches them playing the piano.”
More than four million people have downloaded the game.
DLD’s (Digital Life Design’s) international participation added was an important element to the event.
“I’ve already met some investors on international VCs [venture capital funds], I’ve met distributors from Italy, from Latin America, we’ve met here met potential customers, so we have a whole rainbow of opportunities,” said a cyber security entrepreneur at the event.
Entrepreneurs from 16 countries competed for a chance to attend and face off in a city-sponsored competition called Start Up Tel Aviv.
“There’s a lot of things we can learn from a policy angle, from a technology aspect,” said Jessica Colasso, who represent a tech center called iHub; she came from Nairobi for the event.
“What Tel Aviv and Israel is doing in terms of hi-tech is amazing, and there’s definitely things we can learn from a Kenyan perspective,” Colasso continued. “On the other hand, Kenya is doing very disruptive things from a user-centric perspective that I think also needs to be adapted and applied here as well, so there’s a lot of learning and sharing experiences.”
In the evening, participants and start-ups headed out to Rothschild Boulevard, which was lit up with glowing orbs, shifting colored lights and giant interactive video screens.
Ten hi-tech fashion start-ups, such as personalized fashion advice program Stylit
, set up booths surrounding a red runway in the middle of the boulevard.
Bars hosted special group networking sessions such as for cyber security gurus or LGBT techies.
If anything was consistent at DLD, it was the immense diversity of companies growing in Israel.