In Israel there are many young bright graduates who come up with innovative ideas. But the road for start-ups to succeed is a rocky path, and many are forced to abandon their projects for lack of funding, resources and a targeted market.
Haifa-based Road2 seeks to increase the chances of success of start-ups by providing a hub, a physical building with workspace, training, access to the best of high-powered super-computing equipment, and related services. And with links to the major companies, universities, health centers, government departments, Road2 directs the start-up to the appropriate markets and customers. In short, it is an ecosystem for entrepreneurs, industry leaders and investors that develop start-ups into inspiring businesses.
CEO Eitan Kyiet is convinced that there is huge potential in the diversity, lower labor costs and unique tech-innovation opportunities that exist only in the north of Israel. At one time Haifa was at the forefront of Israeli hi-tech companies, with graduates from the Technion Institute of Science and Technology, the MIT of Israel, and the expanding science and technology campus on the southern side of the city. Gradually the innovation scene migrated to the center of the country and to the Negev. Nevertheless, Haifa and neighboring Yokneam are still major industrial centers with companies specializing in military systems, medical devices, and agricultural development that seeks to address the global needs for increased quality food production, food-tech ecosystems and digital health innovations as well as the major computer specialists.
In an interview in his downtown office, Kyiet – who grew up in Haifa and was educated at the Reali School – replies: “We believe that Road2 will attract start-ups from Haifa and the north, appealing also to more women, the Arab population that is concentrated in the north of Israel, haredi Orthodox and those residents in the many yishuvim and small towns in the Galilee, where housing is cheaper than further south. Also the improved train service and road infrastructure has made it possible to commute from what was once the remote periphery”.
“We believe that Road2 will attract start-ups from Haifa and the north, appealing also to more women, the Arab population that is concentrated in the north of Israel, haredi Orthodox and those residents in the many yishuvim and small towns in the Galilee, where housing is cheaper than further south. Also the improved train service and road infrastructure has made it possible to commute from what was once the remote periphery.”Eitan Kyiet
With Israel collaborating with the United Arab Emirates, Arab-speaking employees will be very valuable, and Road2 is attracting graduates from the many Arab villages in Galilee.
Many of Road2’s activities are centered around Artificial Intelligence (AI). This has attracted some of Israel’s top computing talent that is involved in algorithm creation and “teaching” computers (in geek language this is called “inferencing).”
Naturally, such computer scientists are in great demand, and there is intense competition in attracting talent to individual start-ups.
Road2 tries to address some of these problems with out-of-the-box thinking: for example, in order to “teach” a computer to understand its environment, a lot of manual work is done to help the computer identify the difference between a coffee cup and a water glass. Road2 employs a company whose entire workforce is on the autistic spectrum that is well-suited for this teaching or “inferencing.”
In this manner it is able to increase the population that is involved in computer sciences, while making special use of the unique skills offered by a population that is usually set aside in the employment world.
Walking into the Road2 building, the industrial architecture immediately tells the story of transformation. Once the palatial Barclays Bank on Ha’atzmaut Street, (Kingsway during the Mandate), the iron staircase winding around the entrance floor of the concrete-floored hub leads to glass-enclosed work spaces where each start-up sits in groups with their laptops that are connected to a state-of-the-art super-computer system supplied and maintained by Road2.
“An additional field that is in demand is medical technology,” continues Kyiet. “Road2 Rambam is a partnership with one of Israel’s major hospitals that links medical start-ups to Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus, a world-class teaching hospital.”
Rambam MedTech is the industrial liaison to bring medical innovations to the market. There is constant communication between the start-up and the client, whether it be to solve the specific problem identified by the medical practitioners or to revise an entire system.
A challenge for any start-up at this present time is to solve the problem of violence against hospital staff and vandalism in hospital departments. Perhaps body language recognition – a field that requires a lot of AI-based gesture recognition and online picture analysis – could prevent some of these incidents.
“The hub is unique in providing the infrastructure, the environment, services and contacts,” says Kyiet. “We tailor the start-up to the solution and the solution to the start-up.”
He explains that they also invest in companies that they believe have the potential to impact their fields of activity.
Since the demand to join Road2 must be in excess of the supply, I asked Kyiet to explain the criteria for acceptance.
“We have a strenuous selection process that we conduct together with Technion MBA students and later on with our commercial partners such as Israel Electric Corporation, oil refineries and major manufacturers in fields ranging from defense contractors to food and beverage production,” he said. “After being selected, there is an acceleration period of four to eight months. During that time, support and training are given to the start-up committed to deadlines.”
Kyiet said that in the first year, they already had 41 start-ups working from the hub in which they invested in seven of them.
Kyiet began his career as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. He worked for some time for Elbit Systems, the Ofer group, and was a partner in APM, a Tel Aviv law firm. He also worked with Luminus Lasers, a major medical company based in Yokneam and is traded on NASDAQ in New York. After another job as head of a global supply chain company of Johnson & Johnson, where he found he was spending his life in airplanes flying the world, he decided he had enough of big corporations.
“I always loved hi-tech and investments,” said Kyiet. He also serves as principal for the “Friendly Angels” in Israel, a group of investors, recruiting money from overseas for Israeli medical technologies.
“After all these years of personal experiences, I came to Road2 realizing that many existing large companies do not have wide enough scope of view for effective innovations and that they and appropriate startups could benefit from collaborating together,” Kyiet says. “We at Road2 hope to be an enabler of that.”
Watching the stream of young people walking in and out of the building, Haifa’s fears that they are losing all their young talent are unfounded.
Kyiet is married to Efrat, also a lawyer, and they have three children. ■