Israeli-based technologies can help solve water crises

For inventors with new ideas, funding is available.

dripping faucet water crisis 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dripping faucet water crisis 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kinrot Ventures is looking for good ideas. The first Israeli business incubator dedicated solely to water technologies is interested in reaching the Anglo market, according to CEO Assaf Barnea. In an effort to tap a heretofore underutilized resource, Kinrot Ventures is also looking to high school students for ideas. Every May for nearly a decade, pupils aged 15-19 have competed to become Israel's entry for the Stockholm Water Prize, awarded by Sweden's royal family each August. The winner takes home $5,000. This year, Kinrot will take promising projects and evaluate them with an eye toward funding their creators with $500,000. If the idea passes the company's advisory board and the chief scientist of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, then Kinrot will consider taking the inventor under its wing for the next two to three years. Kinrot Ventures began as a state-owned business incubator run out of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Two years ago it was privatized and bought by the Stern Group of Canada. Today, it channels government money and its own funds to help develop ideas into technologies. At present, Kinrot Ventures has 12 companies in its portfolio, some of whom have ideas which, if developed, would be immediately applicable to Israel's water issues. The water industry earns roughly $450 billion a year worldwide - roughly the same as the pharmaceutical industry - and Israel is a major player. Israel is known by foreign reports as the "Silicon Valley" of water technologies, and local companies have had tremendous success in Europe. Given the country's proven track record, the ministry wanted to encourage additional innovation and so created a water technologies center as part of its incubator program, Barnea explained recently during an interview in his Tel Aviv office. While other incubators do take on water technology companies, none focus solely on them, he added. Barnea, a former basketball star, created and ran the WaTech initiative for the Mekorot national water company before becoming CEO of Kinrot Ventures in October 2007. The ministry created the incubator program to encourage development in various technical fields such as biomed, telecommunications and "cleantech." Most of the incubators have been privatized, but Kinrot still receives much of its investment money from the government. Barnea said Kinrot Ventures puts up 15 percent of the funding and the government the other 85%. Grants are usually between $500,000 and $1m. over two to three years. Meanwhile, the incubator program has a budget of $35m. After undergoing a vigorous screening process, Kinrot Ventures provides new companies with all the services they need to be able to focus solely on developing their technology, Barnea said. They provide business consulting, legal consulting, office and laboratory space, and help companies navigate government bureaucracy. Some of the companies Kinrot Ventures and the ministry are shepherding could solve persistent problems both here and abroad. Take for instance, the recent contamination of bottled water companies Eden's and Netivot's springs. After the problem was discovered, production was delayed because testing the water took so long. TACount Ltd., part of the incubator program, is developing a technology that would determine contamination in minutes rather than in days. The company aims for near real-time counting of reproducible microorganisms. Potential applications in industrial microbiology include the water market, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage production lines. Another of Kinrot's companies is hopes to cut down treatment time for wastewater by developing a technology that would combine many of the steps into one, Barnea said. "Kolmir Water Technologies Ltd. is developing a new ultrasonic technology aimed at the water and wastewater treatment industry. The new technology can replace traditional treatment phases... The new technology has many advantages over the traditional ones, and enables a dramatic reduction in water and waste water treatment costs," according to a summary provided by Kinrot. As Israel currently reuses 75% of its wastewater, such a technology would have obvious benefits. As the recent Ono Valley sewage pipe rupture showed, locating a break or a drip can be difficult. It took nearly two months to locate and fix the problem. Aquarius Spectrum Ltd., however, is working on a system for the detection of water leaks in complex municipal networks. The system will provide a cost effective tool for saving water and significantly improve water infrastructure maintenance and planning, according to Kinrot Ventures. While Kinrot is becoming more well known among certain sectors of the population, it is interested in reaching out to new groups like Anglos and other immigrants, Barnea said.