Come test your tech with us, security establishment urges innovative startups
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Come test your tech with us, security establishment urges innovative startups

INNOFENSE program offers grants and mentorships for 20 firms a year to develop cutting-edge technologies suited for both defense and civilian purposes

Illustrative. Israeli soldiers take part in operations in the West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. Israeli soldiers take part in operations in the West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Defense Ministry has rolled out a new program that will pave the way for entrepreneurs and startups to pilot their technologies within the confines of the Israeli defense forces.

Called INNOFENSE, an “innovation program for technological projects in the civilian and defense sectors,” the purpose of the program is to promote the development and implementation of innovative security technologies by strengthening the connection between the civilian market and the security market, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The program will be operated by SOSA, a platform that matches startups and entrepreneurs with corporations that are seeking technologies, and iHLS, a private company that calls itself a “hub” for the homeland security ecosystem in Israel and globally.

The idea is to help entrepreneurs who have developed interesting civilian technologies to access the defense world, said David Rokach, a co-director of SOSA who was in charge of R&D and procurement for the ground force command in the IDF for 25 years.

Israeli army adapts technology from civilian world for use on modern-day battlefield (IDF)

“There are many obstacles to startups working with the Defense Ministry” due to the plethora of security rules and regulations, Rokach said in a phone interview. “This deters entrepreneurs.”

The ministry is now taking an unprecedented step to “open up its gates” to new technologies coming from outside, he said. SOSA and iHLS will be the buffers, helping to make the connections, clear the hurdles and ease the process.

As technologies develop at a breathtaking speed globally — from artificial intelligence to drones and self-driving vehicles — the Israeli army along with other defense bodies worldwide seek to tap into developments in the civilian world and adapt them for defense purposes, rather than developing them themselves.

As part of the INNOFENSE program, selected startups — 10 every six months — will get a NIS 200,000 grant from the ministry, as well as mentorship for developing the technologies.

SOSA and iHLS will select the firms and provide them with the services they need to develop their technology from idea to proof of concept and business development, and eventually to penetrate the relevant markets, networking and legal advice. They will also work closely with teams from the ministry, who will indicate what the needs of the army are.

The program is looking for early-stage startups with dual-use technologies — both civilian and security — so that they will be able to address both markets in the future. Later-stage companies that have interesting technologies will not be ruled out, said Rokach.

If the technology proves successful, the ministry will seek to license it, without taking an equity stake or making a claim to the company’s intellectual property. In return, the startups will be able to test out their technologies in real time within the setting of the army.

Relevant technologies, said Rokach, could be those that do predictive maintenance of equipment, or unmanned systems or robotics, or develop new artificial intelligence tools, all of which will help the army not only get an edge in the battlefield but also increase efficiency and cut costs.

Brigadier General (res.) Danny Gold, head of Administration for Research, Arms Development and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) at the Defense Ministry, said that INNOFENSE will be a professional home for all ventures or ideas that can be of dual use, in the civilian and defense worlds, and that the program will benefit the various security entities of the country.

Founded in 2014 by Israeli investors and high-tech entrepreneurs, SOSA has set up a global network of tech innovation hubs that aims to showcase the best of Israel’s and other global technologies and match startups with multinationals who seek tech solutions to challenges they face. The company, with centers in Tel Aviv and New York, has access to over 15,000 startups and 250 investors, venture capital funds and international corporations, according to the Defense Ministry statement.

Set up in 2012, the iHLS operates a website that has become a news source in the security and technology sphere. The firm also has a vast database of some 100,000 subscribers, including top decision makers from the global security technology field. iHLS has also set up an accelerator program, focusing on growing startups with technologies from the security field. The accelerator is sponsored by defense industries in Israel and globally, and helps startups pave their way into the defense world, according to the iHLS website.

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