Swimming quiet and deep: Lo-tech in Israel

There is a subculture of lo-techies with street smarts, but they get short shrift from politicians and little media attention.

July 7, 2013 22:42
4 minute read.
Woman shopping in Machane Yehudah.

old woman shopping in shuk 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)

A recent book and series of articles by authors Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock illuminate how American support for Israel goes beyond moral obligation and common strategic interests. Asset Test: How the United States Benefits from its Alliance with Israel attests to the mutual blessings of their extensive trade relations and sovereign benefits from Israel’s technological triumphs in military hardware, cyber security, medicine, biotech, agriculture, water conservation and more.

Eisenstadt and Pollock pick up where Dan Senor and Saul Singer left off in their book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Senor and Singer describe how technological innovations and business savvy became the engine driving the expansion of Israel’s economy. Emphasizing the importance of hitech innovations today, Eisenstadt and Pollock quote Bill Gates: “Innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of the technology business.”

What happens to entrepreneurs not hi-tech bound? Hi-tech companies get all the horns and whistles. Are lo-techies all operating falafel shops, managing clothing stores in malls, or become rabbis? Hardly! There is a subculture of lo-techies with street smarts, but they get short shrift from politicians and little media attention.

Their products do not come out of university R&D centers, and seldom are they the result of venture investment and foundation grants.

Lo-techs do not elicit oohs and aahs like PillCam, geothermal power plants, solar-energy windows, HiSense monitoring of baby breathing to prevent crib death and Waze that sells for a billion dollars. Nevertheless, lo-tech products give legs to a fledgling economy needing jobs and capital growth, and they make for some interesting investment opportunities.

The first place to look is Israel 21c, a website devoted to promoting product development and Israeli ingenuity.

A few examples will suffice. To begin, there is the cardboard bicycle set to sell for $20 featured on television and news sites around the world. Greenbo is an award-winning colorful planter for flowers. It decorates and brings out a smile, after being attached to naked apartment railings and other sterile stairwells. Create a vertical herb and vegetable garden on any terrace. To date, around 250,000 units have been sold at about $25 apiece.

Hishti is an Israeli “inventor” that grafts vegetables for the professional market. A new eco-living improvement from advances in agricultural technology is the long-living basil tree in a pot or even a Greenbo planter. Take it indoors in the cold and outdoors in summer. City-dwelling chefs will kvel over this innovation.

Hishti employs more than 400 people in Israel..

A non-electric, non-laser hair-removal tool is as basic as lo-tech gets. Epilady is a small, handheld, discstyle gadget that removes hair similarly to a waxing treatment. Women swear by Epilady, a two-decades-old company with global sales of over 23 million in 13 different models. Lots of reasons for oohs and aahs here (pun intended).

Two new lo-tech Israeli products with takeoff potential are Mianzi and La-Tweez. Mianzi is a luxury fashion line for the special-needs community. The father of a special-needs child, who was tired seeing his son wearing a bib all day everyday, invented a high-quality line of shirts from fabric already on the market that is quick-dry, antibacterial, anti-odor, eco-friendly, absorbent like French Terry, beautifully designed and comfortable. Mianzi means “a face of dignity and prestige” in Chinese, where the bamboo-based fabric already existed waiting for a hi-tech mind to apply it to the simplest of needs. Mianzi has pre-sold nearly $20,000 worth of the shirts.

La-Tweez is a new product fighting to break into the beauty-supply thickets. Founded in Tel Aviv in 2004 following the inventor’s post-army trek to China, so the story goes, he bought a tweezer in a small town market. Today, La-Tweez is building an international brand of high-end tweezers and beauty tools. La-Tweez sports a LED light to illuminate hard-to-see hairs and is encased in a beautiful lipstick-style holder.

Long before the profits from hi-tech products brought a glimmer in the eyes of finance ministers, treasury secretaries and venture-fund managers, simple goods underpinned world economies. In 1,500 BCE, a caravan of traders with animals, spices, handcrafted clothing and jewelry bailed Yosef out of the pit, bringing him to the dense and teaming markets of Egypt to sell their wares.

The next time you are looking for an investment opportunity, think about what is in your home and office of a simple nature. Look for something you will miss if someone had not invented and others had not invested in it. Coca-Cola began its stellar rise when that first test tube was filled with that delicious syrup and water before it was ever sold to a thirsty little boy.

Inventors of simple products are a testament to Dr.

Seuss when he wrote: “You can’t wait around for things to happen to you; you have to go out and make your business dreams come true.”

Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the managing partner of Goldmeier Investments LLC and an instructor of business and social policy at the American Jewish University, Aardvark Israel, in Tel Aviv.

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