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First map of Israeli desert tech identifies over 300 companies

Report aims to expose country’s strength and potential for tackling desert challenges worldwide

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A desert view of the Ashalim power station, a solar power station, in the Negev desert. August 21, 2020.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A desert view of the Ashalim power station, a solar power station, in the Negev desert. August 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More than 300 Israeli start-up companies are developing technologies either specifically geared to, or potentially adaptable for, desert environments, according to the first annual report of DeserTech and Start-Up Nation Central, published Monday.

Noting that more than 2 billion people live in deserts and drylands, which cover approximately 40 percent of the earth’s surface, and that Israel is one of the only countries in the world that has managed to reverse desertification via innovative solutions, the report provides an analysis of the companies involved in agriculture, energy, water, and infrastructure.

It is aimed at exposing Israel’s strength and potential for tackling desert challenges.

Of the 303 start-up companies mapped, 66 are focused on addressing desertification challenges as part of their core business, the report says.

Over the past five years, 22 of these 66 have raised $374 million. Most of them are involved in agriculture and infrastructure and are at the early development stage.

By contrast, half of the companies working in water and renewable energy are at an advanced stage of development. They are mainly focused on smart irrigation and smart building solutions for a desert environment.

Illustrative: An undated image of a farmer in the western Negev inspecting a crop of cherry tomatoes. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The report stresses the central role the Negev region can play in the development of desert technology, given the dozens of basic and applied research institutions and many incubators and accelerators established in recent years.

In addition, it says, an “innovation district” currently being developed in the Negev’s largest city, Beersheba, is connecting sectors such as academia, advanced industry, research hospitals, and IDF intelligence units and represents a “promising first step” toward establishing the city as an “entrepreneurial metropolis.”

Around 17% of DeserTech startups are from the Negev, which is higher than the region’s share of just 2-3% of all start-ups, in general, nationally.

In this December 22, 2016 photo, 50,000 mirrors, known as heliostats, encircle a solar tower in the Negev desert, near Ashalim, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

DeserTech was created by the Merage Foundation Israel, the Israel Innovation Institute, the Environmental Protection Ministry, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

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