Without question, 2013 was a banner year for Israeli technology. According to a report released this week by PwC Israel, Israeli high-tech exits in 2013 were worth $7.6 billion, the best year since 2006. The biggest deals of the year, of course were those involving Waze (bought by Google for close to a billion dollars), Trusteer (bought by IBM for a similar amount), and the Wix IPO (the biggest Israeli IPO yet).
According to the report, Israeli successes went far beyond computer/Internet tech; collectively, the most successful Israeli exits were in the area of life sciences, where M&A/IPO activity amounted to $2.5 billion, and involved many more companies than the tech/Internet/mobile sector did.
And then there were the companies that achieved major successes and breakthroughs in their area, developing new technologies or products that had a significant impact on their industries, or produced research that others are using to make the world a better, safer place. There were also a plethora of academic studies that contain the seeds of the major breakthroughs of tomorrow, and the technology that will pave the way for the Wazes of the day after tomorrow – not to mention the Nobel prizes scarfed up by Israeli-raised U.S. researchers Prof. Arieh Warshel and Prof. Michael Levitt.
It all goes to show that the world of Israeli technology is wide – and deep, with made-in-Israel innovations impacting many areas of science and technology.
This, of course, is the time of year when news journals and web sites list their “top ten” stories (in this case, top eight), reviewing the biggest and most important events of the year. The problem in Israel, though, is that there are a lot more than ten top stories and events that could qualify as the “most important” stories of the year -which means that, unless the list is based on an objective criteria like the value of an exit – as in the Waze, Trusteer, and Wix, as mentioned – the list is going to be somewhat subjective.
It’s in that spirit that we present the Times of Israel list of the most important tech developments in Israel. Some of the events and companies listed below were well covered in the media; others were not. But all of them have already had, or will soon have, a major impact on Israel, and the rest of the world.
Here then, in no particular order, is our choice of the Top Tech Stories in Israel, 2013:
1) Evogene IPO – Wix wasn’t the only Israeli company to go public this year (there were seven altogether), but the emergence of agritech company Evogene could be the most important of them all. Evogene doesn’t just represent itself – it represents Israeli prowess in agritech, an industry that is using science and technology to figure out ways to feed more people, a skill that will become ever more necessary as the years go by.
Besides the hundreds of agritech and food-oriented biotech start-ups in Israel, the country boasts the Vulcani Institute, where better fruits and vegetables are born, without using genetic modification methods.
2) Israel Brain Technologies – the “brainchild” of President Shimon Peres, IBT gave out a million dollar prize in October to a team of American scientists who developed robotic arms for disabled people that are controlled by neural sensors.
IBT, headed by Dr. Rafi Gidron, is anticipating the next wave in biotech, in which technology will be employed to solve the riddles of the mind, as well as help those suffering from brain-related disorders like Alzheimers and Parkinson’s diseases to live better, fuller lives.
3) To Waze, the big winner of 2013, add security company Trusteer, which IBM bought for nearly a billion dollars, a sum similar to that of the Waze deal. Waze, of course, is the navigation app so many rely on to get to and from work and other destinations. Trusteer’s software can prevent malefactors from taking over bank accounts and using malware to steal information by enhancing identification of users interacting with a web site using advanced device “fingerprinting,” which evaluates tens of thousands of small details to determine whether a device or user making a request for information is legit or phony.
There were some other big tech deals this year, such as the respective purchases by Apple and Intel of PrimeSense and Omek Interactive. Both Israeli companies have developed unique 3D interactive technology (PrimeSense is the company behind Microsoft’s Kinect), and with Apple and Intel racing to enhance their device’s ability to understand gestures, the two companies’ technologies are likely to end up as products sometime in 2014.
4) Project Ray: Technology developed by Project RAY to enable the blind to “see” via their smartphones went live this year, in the form of the RAY Huawei Vision phone, a device that lets blind users not only make phone calls, but also allows them to send text messages, search the Internet, identify the denomination of cash, recognize colors, and access over 100,000 audio books and magazines.
Qualcomm, which has a large presence in Israel, has long been a backer of RAY, and has helped the Israeli company further develop its technology that uses sensors, wifi and GPS chips, and easy to use features to provide a tool for the blind that could immeasurably improve their lives.
5) “Digital Israel” – From laying a network of fiber optic cable to every home in Israel that has an electrical connection to a government commitment to put as many services on-line, to a data transfer backbone to be provided by Cisco, the seeds were planted this year for the Israel of tomorrow – turning it into a country where super-fast Internet is available to everyone, and businesses and individuals even on the periphery have an opportunity to participate in the digital economy.
With the new infrastructure in place, said Cisco CEO John Chambers on a visit to Israel in June, the Start-Up Nation will be able to add a lot more start-ups to its portfolio, as digital opportunities open up to more Israelis.
6) Bonus Biogroup’s bone regeneration factory – Using 3D imaging technology and patented culture bioreactors, Bonus Biogroup is building a factory where bones will be grown “to order” – using the cells of people who need bone grafts to generate new bones to replace broken ones. It’s a better method than the scaffolding methods currently in use, but it’s those bioreactors one should keep an eye on. If they can grow bones, why not a heart or liver?
7) Beersheva Tech Park Inauguration – Since 1948, the country has done everything it could think of to get people to settle in the Negev. From settling hapless immigrants in soulless development towns to throwing money at families that agreed to “rough it” down south, nothing worked; the Negev remained as forlorn as ever.
Until now. Ben Gurion University in Beersheva has emerged as one of the country’s leading research centers in computers, network, and security technology, and this year saw the establishment of a new tech park that will provide job opportunities in the area for graduates of BGU, as well as for throngs of Israelis from the center of the country, who will follow the jobs and head for the Negev to take advantage of opportunities.
The IDF is setting up its own technology center right near the Tech Park – all of which means that in a few decades, the Israel’s technology “center of gravity” could move due south.
8) Gene-G: Add to the mix of Israeli tech achievements the advanced research going on in the field of genetics, illustrated by the GeneG app. As prices for personalized genetic sequencing tumble, the app, developed by Tel Aviv University researchers, will help users analyze their own personal genome, opening the door to personalized medicine – with users able to determine exactly what they need from a doctor or hospital.
No longer will patients have to put up with side effects from “off the shelf” medications; by analyzing their genetic sequence, they will be able to demand more specified treatments for their personal situation, demands that will promote pharmaceutical makers to come up with ways to satisfy this new market. That’s just one way access to the genome will improve lives, and GeneG, along with other Israeli start-ups, is at the forefront of this technology.
There’s much more to talk about: The crowdfunding revolution in the world of investments, being fashioned in no small part by Israeli crowdfunding company OurCrowd; acquisitions and technology by Mellanox, an Israeli multinational whose stock has jumped over 500% since 2011; the water and environmental tech being developed here and being exported to places like India and Africa; and so on. The truth is, trying to fit the Start-Up Nation’s technology achievements into a single article is next to impossible; that’s why there’s a book about it.