TECH TALK: The Israeli start-ups that looked the pandemic in the eye

Over the course of the pandemic, societies all over the world faced numerous problems stemming from the virus’ impact.

Octopus command center  (photo credit: OCTOPUS PR)
Octopus command center
(photo credit: OCTOPUS PR)
These past few months haven’t been great for businesses. The unemployment rate in the United States is inching toward 15%, a number that dwarfs the Great Recession’s peak of 10% in October 2009, as economists warn of a looming second Great Depression. Even in Israel, which has been praised for flattening its curve and having swiftly reopened the economy with fewer than 200 infections per day since, a quarter of the population is unemployed. Nevertheless, there are many Israeli companies muscling through the novel coronavirus pandemic, and some are offering solutions to grapple with its ramifications. To Israel, the “necessity is the mother of invention” expression could not be better applied, and the Start-up Nation is proudly living up to its name.
Over the course of the pandemic, societies all over the world faced numerous problems stemming from the virus’ impact. And the entrepreneurs have risen to the challenges with their own innovations, ranging from tracking the spread of coronavirus in a given area to providing virtual consumer options during the height of the social distancing period.
During the peak of Israel’s fight against COVID-19, news broke that a massive outbreak of the virus took place in Bnei Brak. With a population that is predominantly ultra-Orthodox, Bnei Brak posed several challenges to officials working to control the city’s outbreak. Bnei Brak’s population density is three times that of Manhattan’s, and most of its residents don’t use radio, television, or internet.
The city deployed OCTOPUS Systems, the integrated command and control platform, within 24 hours to address these challenges by amalgamating the security systems and databases of the various members of the task force, including the Israeli Army Commando Division, Home Front Defense Regiment, Israeli Police Central Sector, and the Bnei Brak Municipal Police. OCTOPUS orchestrated all security systems and databases, ranging from CCTV and drone footage to facial recognition and geo-location. As a result, authorities were provided a well-rounded picture of the situation on the ground, enabling them to execute a more rapid and effective response, flatten the curve within just two weeks, and take Israel out of the COVID-19 red zone and into the green zone.
On a more individual basis, companies like Google and Apple released adaptations of existing technologies that could notify users if they had come into close range of an infected person. But their use of bluetooth posed problematic situations, like the inability to detect walls separating users who are technically within close range. But Sonarax, a deep tech company that harnesses the power of ultrasonic technology to offer contactless alternatives, found the solution to that challenge, making contact tracing more accurate, without collecting the user’s private data. Sonarax’s app, SONAR-X, functions broadly-speaking in the same way that Apple and Google’s bluetooth-based app does, but is more accurate, accounting more for movement, physical barriers, and measuring distance more precisely.
AS GOVERNMENTS instituted lockdowns, restricting citizens to their homes, consumers have turned to their devices and are shifting the entire retail space toward e-commerce. An ACI report found that in April 2020, global e-commerce sales showed a 209% rise in retail sales year-over-year. But with a surge like this, were consumers still protected? The numbers show that since last year, fraud has increased significantly, according to a report from Arkose Labs, with Q1 of 2020 seeing 26.5% of all transactions counted as fraudulent or abusive.
Security firm Brandshield, specializing in brand protection, stepped in to quell fraudulent digital schemes that pose as brands to extract payment information from consumers. For example, during April, Levi Strauss experienced a 40% rise in fraudulent domain names, which can be used to steal user information and credit card data. Brandshield, using a combination of algorithms and a persistent legal team, successfully took down 90% of phishing and fraud sites, according to the company.
At the same time that brands required protection, they also needed to reconsider their digital marketing strategy. For businesses dependent on digital retail, the market became suddenly saturated with greater competition, each one jockeying for the consumers’ eyeballs. With Columbia, Fiat, BMW, Chivas, and Venus under their belt, LEADERS was able to leverage its unique influencer-marketing platform to help retailers improve brand awareness in creative ways. Catching the brand recognition wave can be challenging in a market full of colorful campaigns, but finding the right artist to encapsulate the brand’s message and tone. To make the match, LEADERS created a bridging platform, similar to Fiverr, that could allow marketers to find artists, some of whom might be short of work, to create unique, brand-specific filters on Instagram stories.
Although few companies in Israel have been immune to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many have persevered and risen to the challenge to innovate and adapt to the circumstances. There's a reason why Israel is called the "start-up nation," and the pandemic has proven its resiliency, once again.