Israeli development technology got a boost on Sunday with the announcement that Israel would be joining the international Grand Challenges development initiative.
Each year, the chief scientist and Economy Ministry will award 12 applicants up to a half a million shekels each to develop concepts in the fields of global health and food security.
“Many of the world’s populations suffer from a lack of food and water, and disease,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. “We at the Economy Ministry are helping companies develop technology to improve the quality of life for billions around the world.”
Founded in 2003 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Grand Challenges program has spread to more than 33 countries, and has awarded nearly half a billion dollars in grant money.
The idea is not only to support innovation that could help solve international development challenges, but also to push Israeli businesses toward the emerging markets that need them.
“A combination of doing good, contributing to global challenges while entering new markets, and trying ventures targeted at audiences and needs outside the Israeli industry’s norms may bring Israeli entrepreneurs many new businesses opportunities,” said Chief Scientist Avi Hasson.
The deadline to apply to the program – which is open to researchers, entrepreneurs, NGOs and businesses with up to 100 employees – is March 31.
In parallel, the Pears Foundation has launched a competition for Israeli development innovators that will provide training and support over a three-month period. Its scope is somewhat wider, covering agriculture, water, renewable energy, education and information technology in addition to health.
“The fast-growing demand for tech in these fields is in the developing world, so there’s more and more opportunities for Israelis to move into these fields,” said Aliza Belman Inbal, director of the Pears Program for Innovation and International Development at Tel Aviv University’s Hartog School of Government and Policy.
The annual competition will launch Wednesday at the Google Campus in Tel Aviv, where experts will discuss the needs and challenges in the fields and potential applicants can brainstorm and team up. The teams will be taught how to do business in developing countries, put together a business plan and start working on their products.
One team will win the grand prize, a 10-day trip to launch a pilot for their product in a developing country.
Inbal hopes the new competitions will push Israeli entrepreneurs to start thinking of developing markets as sources of opportunity, “so that they’re not just looking at Silicon Valley but also at the savanna.”