THE HUMAN SPIRIT: The great Israeli salad bar of investment – 2018

I’m fascinated by an invention called Bio-Catch that captures our personal relationship with electronic devices.

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February 14, 2018 23:16
PARTICIPANTS MINGLE at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit held earlier this month in Jerusalem

PARTICIPANTS MINGLE at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit held earlier this January in Jerusalem. (photo credit: COURTESY OURCROWD)

A friendly voice calls out to me amidst the minions. “It’s me, Michael from the salad bar.”

I recognize the affable young man who used to work at the food court behind a favorite buy-by-the-bowl salad bar. What’s he doing at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit? Newly printed business cards say “Michael Avniel, Smart Container, Real Time Inventory.”

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Avniel, 30, and a buddy are now developing a restaurant-related invention at a Jerusalem tech start-up accelerator. He’s come to the Summit – Israel’s largest tech event – to learn and network. Like many of his contemporaries, he’s dreaming of reaching the tech stratosphere, where an estimated one in 10 start-ups become so successful that they make “exits” through stock market offerings or acquisition by giant companies.

Among those speaking today is Natan Barak, inventor of the Iron Dome.

The Summit is a giant science fair with corridors lined with exhibits of inventions in security, communications, agriculture, medicine – you name it. It’s also speed-dating between inventors and investors. Nearly all the former are Israelis. The latter have flown to Israel from 95 countries to see what the Israelis have come up with and to join the crowdfunding. You can buy in for as little as $10,000, but some investors are ready to put down $10 million. In the last five years, OurCrowd has raised $650m. for its 145 start-ups and venture funds.

American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) is credited with saying “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door, though it be in the woods.”

In 2018 the woods appear to be right here in Israel.

A great idea is necessary but not sufficient.

You have to be fast and agile and more flexible than your competitors, says Ofer Ben-Noon, CEO and cofounder of Argus Cyber Security. Germany’s Continental AG has bought Argus’s technology that protects self-driving cars from hacking. It won’t be swallowed up, but will keep its autonomy as a subsidiary so that the creators’ feet don’t go to sleep.

Barak and Ben-Noon are the mega-inspiration, but most of those displaying new ideas are only a few steps ahead of my former salad maestro Avniel. I’m so glad to see him here. Truth is, I’m feeling a sort of vertigo, making my way among the 10,000 persons who have squeezed into the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s project to enlarge the building feels urgent. There’s a lot to stretch one’s mind around, hearing the explanations of the technology, with its vocabulary of “platforms” and “ecosystems.”

This is eased by the ubiquity of food, be it popcorn in the “No Pitches, Just Wow Demo Theater,” hot waffles near the 3D printed evening bags, and frothy cappuccinos along every walkway. The world’s best party planner somehow manages to provide a multicourse buffet lunch for 10,000 people.

Having enough food at a party is a concern he picked up from his mother, explains OurCrowd’s charismatic founder and CEO Jon Medved. A mix of California and Jerusalem, he describes himself as a cheerleader for the Israel tech world, and pledges that “things are good and getting even better.”

Last year speakers hinted at cryptocurrency.

Today the key words are “artificial intelligence”– machines that can do anything, whether they’re reading our X rays and CT scans, targeting our two-year-old’s eardrum and sending the image to the pediatrician, or suggesting that we listen to Dvorak’s New World Symphony to lift our mood.

The last is a tabletop robot named Elli Q who lives with isolated seniors and offers sometimes less-than-gentle reminders to pay the bills or get out and exercise. It was the object of a humorous Late Show with Stephen Colbert skit. Now that’s arriving.

I’m fascinated by an invention called Bio-Catch that captures our personal relationship with electronic devices. It catches our “behavioral biometric profile” by remembering how we swipe, if we’re slow and need to start again when typing in our bank-account numbers, and how we hold our cellphones. A thief might steal our ID numbers but can’t quite copy our unique grip.

There’s a pocket spectrometer that can tell you how many calories are in your apple but, more important, can judge in real time how much dry content is in a milk cow’s diet. Consumer Physics has already joined forces with American giant Cargill Animal Nutrition and Chinese giant Changhong. That’s a lot of cows.

My vertigo is heightened by my escalating sense of pride. I like hearing how Israeli technology helped identify the terrorists on the otherwise overwhelming output of surveillance cameras at the Boston Marathon bombing. I love that 80% of the investors have come to Jerusalem from abroad to see what is happening in Zion. Not long ago, I carried around telephone tokens, and now we’re creating augmented reality for drones.

I suppose the pundits are right that we have a head start because we can industrialize secretive military ideas, but with my Zionist nation-pride, I believe Israeli creativity has deep roots in a cultural acceptance of thinking out of the box and a passion for improving the world.

Take Michael Avniel. He’s was in the Armored Corps, not cyber intelligence.

After the army, he worked his way up to salad-bar manager and faced a daily quandary about ordering the day’s fresh food supplies. He realized this was a universal problem for restaurant owners.

“Customers are disappointed when they can’t order something they like, but leftovers are wasteful and expensive.

Restaurant leftovers could feed half of Africa.”

What is needed is real-time updates on what’s in food containers, and calculations of what needs to be ordered, culturally corrected for seasons like the week before Passover in Israel, when sandwiches are in high demand. As soon as it’s ready he’s hoping to join the Crowd.

The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.


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