For Israel's Terra partners, making the world a better place sounds like good business

“We’re looking for the technologies that can change the world,” says partne at venture capital.

From left to right: Terra Venture partners Barak Goldstein, Astorre Modena, Harold Wiener (photo credit: Courtesy)
From left to right: Terra Venture partners Barak Goldstein, Astorre Modena, Harold Wiener
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you want an investment from Terra Ventures, having a brilliant idea that could make millions of dollars isn’t enough. Filling some gap in the business world, hopping on to the newest trend in online dating, or figuring out the best way to advertise online won’t help you. If you want an investment from Terra, the bar is higher.
“We’re looking for the technologies that can change the world,” says Barak Goldstein, a partner at Terra and CEO of Terra Lab Ventures, its accelerator.
Terra Venture Partners is an impact investment fund, meaning that it believes in more than one bottom line. The philosophy of impact investing sees business as a plausible tool for overcoming any number of social ills, whether environmental problems, the challenges of dealing with an aging population, or improving education.
“There’s no contradiction between making money and doing good for billions of people,” says Harold Wiener, managing partner at Terra.
Wiener co-founded Terra with Astorre Modena, a physicist active in seed-stage venture capital, in 2007 after Modena failed to get him to sign on to a project making biodiesel from algae (“I didn’t think it was the correct model,” said Wiener, a biochemist).
Though that particular project fell by the wayside, the more the two spoke, the more they realized they were equipped with the combination of science, business, and tech to make a push in impact investing.
Their raised $25 million for their first fund, and used them for seed investments in companies that had good founders and good ideas, but were very early on.
One of the first investments they made was in Phoebus Energy, a company that makes water heating and cooling more efficient, preventing wasted energy and, accordingly, wasted money. The company is operating in 100 sites in Israel and has begun expanding abroad. The system can reduces related pollution up to 90%, reduce fuel consumption, and save 60-70% of relevant energy costs, according to Terra.
The success of the companies in Terra’s first fund, say Wiener and Goldstein, has been impressive; some of the companies have grown to values of $30m.-$40m. from nothing in just a few years time, and most of them are still around.
But their investors have to be patient.
“We’re not looking, like other VCs, to have a fast exit. We want to build sustainable companies,” says Goldstein.
Their investors, adds Wiener, are happy enough with the results that many have invested in a second fund, which they linked to the labs’ incubator with help from the Office of the Chief Scientist in the Economy Ministry.
The seed companies that make it through the cutthroat application process are given 18-24 months to grow, at which point the TerraLabs decides whether to formally invest in them.
“We filter like hell before they come into the incubator, because not everything that shines is gold,” says Wiener.
During that time, the companies teams sit together, and get daily support in fields ranging from technology to patent law. The incubator also has strong relationships with large corporations, who could serve as potential clients or investors for the companies.
“Israel is by far the most beautiful pilot country in the world. Everyone knows everyone and is willing to take on some challenges,” said Wiener.
Once the companies have tested their product in Israel, they are ready to go global.
The companies going through the incubator deal with a wide range of problems; Kytera, a system to help deal with the difficulties of caring for the elderly through a system of sensors and wearable devices. sPARK, a company that aims to counter the time, fuel, and traffic congestion associated with drivers inefficiently looking for parking. Sixgill is a cyber security company that aims to protect businesses from financial and IP theft.
Agricultural company collects and coordinates data for farmers to help simplify and wring inefficiencies out their operations. Its system was designed with the Carmel Winery.
“We’re looking for the technologies that can change the world,” says Goldstein.
And if they can make a profit while they’re at it, what’s wrong with that?