Pentagon to sponsor counter-terror tech contest for Israeli start-ups

Named the “2018 Combating Terrorism Technology Start-up Challenge,” the contest is being held in Israel for the third time – after previous competitions in 2014 and 2016.

THE TEL AVIV skyline (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE TEL AVIV skyline
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Uncle Sam wants you, Israeli start-ups, to participate in a counterterrorism technology contest in Tel Aviv this June.
The US Defense Department is joining forces with the Defense Ministry and the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel to host the event – where Israeli start-ups will compete for up to $220,000 in prizes as they unveil tools that can help defeat terrorism.
Named the “2018 Combating Terrorism Technology Start-up Challenge,” the contest is being held in Israel for the third time – after previous competitions in 2014 and 2016.
The Pentagon is holding the CTTSC event locally because of Israel’s unique status as the “Start-up Nation” – with around 5,000 start-ups in the country. That, combined with the national hyper-focus on security due to ongoing strife, grants Israel unique tools in combating terrorism and providing first-responder services.
The US military used to sponsor a worldwide program looking for start-up technologies, with finalists being flown to London or Washington, but after that program was downsized, the Israeli contest took center stage.
“The idea came up to develop a combating terrorism technology start-up program in Israel, because Israel is quite unique,” Gideon Miller, chairman of the CTTSC, told The Jerusalem Post.
“You have this unique situation where there’s a large and vibrant start-up culture and at the same time, where almost everyone who’s involved in it knows a lot about security. It made a lot of sense to the Defense Department to try to leverage this combination to see what kinds of technologies can come out of it.”
While Israeli start-ups in fields such as biotechnology or enterprise software enjoy multiple funding channels and venture capital opportunities, defense-related firms can face challenges. There are only a few large defense firms in Israel – such as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems – with a handful of accelerators and incubators working with start-ups. That’s where CTTSC enters the picture.
“Homeland security start-ups are not well suited to VCs and the rest of the standard start-up ecosystem, and so exist in a kind of vacuum,” Miller said. “This program helps fill the void of getting these start-ups initial exposure and giving them the coaching, funding access and strategy direction to help them navigate.”
THIS YEAR, the contest is divided into two tracks, Urban Navigation and General Technologies. Urban Navigation focuses on what to do when the GPS does not work.
Challenging locales for counterterrorist forces include “urban canyons,” where signals are weak, or desert outposts far away from a cell tower. That includes the elusive question of how to map out indoor positioning and spatialize indoor settings.
For first responders and law enforcement, this can be an Achilles’ heel, and Israeli start-ups may be sitting on a solution without realizing it.
“The idea is that there might be technology that start-ups developed for commercial applications that can be helpful in combating terrorism,” Miller said. “Startups might be developing systems for retail applications, for advertisers and retailers to be able to track people who walk around a mall, in order to present them with ads that are relevant based on where they are.”
Entrants for the urban navigation track may include start-ups offering location services based on beacons, preloaded maps, positioning that estimates a person’s position via dead-reckoning or step-counting and other technologies.
In previous years, entrants for the General Technologies track have included start-ups specializing in surveillance, social media analytics, image and video understanding, cybersecurity, drones, robotics, personal protection, biometrics, reconnaissance, detection of explosives, water contamination and hidden threats.
Both tracks are open to start-ups, entrepreneurs and research groups worldwide, not just in Israel, with an international panel of juries evaluating the pitches.
Around eight to 10 finalists in each track will be picked from an applicant pool that is likely to number in the hundreds. (The 2016 contest saw 150 start-ups compete.) The contest will take place at the Combating Terrorism Technology Conference at Tel Aviv University on June 17.
“We chose Israel as the location for this contest because of the breadth, depth and creativity of the local ecosystem,” said Adam Tarsi, the US Defense Department’s international program manager for the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office. “The scourge of terrorism impacts us all and we can use the brainpower that they are developing. [Start-ups] can still make the market, win resources, and be successful in their primary customer market while supporting US and Israeli government needs,” Tarsi added in a statement.
The 2016 winner of CTTSC was the Israeli start-up Duke Robotics, which developed the “The Future Soldier” robotic weaponry system that works on a drone platform. In 2014, first place was won by InSoundz, a start-up that makes it possible to identify a voice and isolate it, no matter how much background noise there is.
Other previous winners included InnerEye, a brain-computer interface technology that helps process massive amounts of data, Imagry, which uses AI to process images and video fees, and Lirhot, a startup whose technology can detect hidden objects by using unexploited parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The deadline to sign up is March 9.