Israeli firms cash in on free engineering software

Over 50 Israeli companies receive $150,000 of software through Autodesk clean tech program.

Muv-e CEO Amir Zaid 370 (photo credit: Niv Elis)
Muv-e CEO Amir Zaid 370
(photo credit: Niv Elis)
Over 50 Israeli companies have joined the Autodesk Cleantech Partner program, gaining access to the company’s 3D engineering software valued at $150,000 for a nominal fee of $50, the company announced Wednesday.
The program is intended to provide cash-strapped innovators at cleantech start-ups access to some of the most powerful software in the field, which will give them a shot at competing with big companies.
“Cleantech innovators should have incredibly powerful design tools for solving the world’s most difficult problems,” says Autodesk CEO Carl Bass.
The software suite allows businesses to model and test their designs digitally, compare materials to bring down costs, and even assess the environmental impact of building and using the product.
Israeli green engineering company Azouri, for example, designed Tel Aviv’s only gold-rated LEED-certified building with Autodesk’s building design simulator.
The software helped it model, among other things, how big to make the windows to allow in natural sunlight, which reduces electricity costs. That, cofounder Ronen Azouri says, led to a different problem: increased heat. Using the software, Azouri tested different window materials before settling on a “smart” glass that allows 65 percent of the light in without heating up, keeping the building well-insulated and lowering cooling costs.
Azouri also calculated the best place to put solar panels to boost electricity intake, and how to recycle rainwater for use in the building.
“If you build a building and then see that something is wrong, the cost of fixing it is several times larger than investing in planning it correctly in the first place,” says Ran Kimhi, Autodesk’s industry solutions manager.
Another Israeli cleantech start-up, Muv-e, managed to turn its plans for a portable e-scooter into a prototype in a matter of months using the software.
“We’re a company at the start,” says Benny Shimon, Muv-e’s vice president of business. “Everything you see is self-funded. But what will differentiate us from others companies? Time. In four months, we managed to get it from the idea stage to what you see.”
Amir Zaid, the company’s CEO, credits the software with helping them design the scooter, which folds up like a suitcase on wheels and can be easily rolled around. “The Autodesk tools helped us immensely,” he says.
The prototype they settled on uses wide, sturdy plastic, rests on three wheels for easy balance and will cost about a third of the price of a Segway, Zaid says. He hopes the rechargeable electric vehicle will hit the streets of Tel Aviv by the end of 2013.
“We’re not responsible for the outcomes. That’s the work of the engineers,” says Kimhi. “We simply provide the tools.”
By the looks of it, the cleantech world may need a boost. According to Eitan Glazer of Pricewaterhouse- Coopers, a consulting firm, cleantech investment fell 30% from 2009 to 2012, despite an overall growth trend in investment over the past decade. The decline was even sharper than that of venture capital in general, he says, indicating that investors are leery of the industry’s path forward.
Autodesk doesn’t seem worried, however. “Israel is considered a powerhouse of innovation in cleantech,” says Kimhi, noting that Israel was ranked second in cleantech start-up innovation by the Cleantech Group research firm.
Ilan Israel, an executive of Omnitech, which partners with Autodesk to provide free software training to the cleantech start-ups in the program, agrees, noting that the software can help spur innovation.
“This is our modest contribution to the cleantech world,” he says, “and