Honda gets ready to join other auto giants in ‘Mideast Detroit’

The carmaker is working with OurCrowd to find the best of Israeli start-up car tech

Nick Sugimoto at the OurCrowd conference, January 25, 2016 (Courtesy)
Nick Sugimoto at the OurCrowd conference, January 25, 2016 (Courtesy)

Somewhat late to the party, Japanese car manufacturer Honda is ready to tap into Israel’s start-up ecosystem, according to Nick Sugimoto, ‎senior program director, Honda Silicon Valley Lab.

“The lab was created in 2011 to reach out to start-ups in Silicon Valley that have good technology that will fit in with Honda’s ecosystem, and we plan to extend that strategy to take advantage of Israel’s expertise in the area of car tech,” he said.

With its impending involvement in the Israeli start-up ecosystem, Honda joins a plethora of other car companies that already do research and development here or have developed relationships with Israeli start-ups — among them Ford, GM, Hyundai, Toyota, and others, in what has become a Middle Eastern version of the Detroit car tech ecosystem. Each of those has held hackathons here to develop apps for connected cars or to discover technology for other aspects of the automotive business, and Honda plans such a hackathon “in the near future,” said Sugimoto.

To search for Israeli tech, Honda has teamed up with Israeli crowdfunding firm OurCrowd. Sugimoto, who has been visiting Israel on the prowl for tech since 2011, officially announced the partnership last week at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem, where over 2,000 people gathered in the biggest-ever tech investment event ever held in Jerusalem On the agenda were discussions on how crowdfunding could help entrepreneurs in areas such as medical technology, environmental technology, cyber-security, the Internet of Things, and how to build billion-dollar companies, among others.

“Israel is particularly well positioned to produce companies relevant to the auto industry given its strengths in embeddable devices, machine vision and related algorithm development and cybersecurity,” said Jon Medved, OurCrowd founder and CEO. “We are proud to be working closely with Honda, a company dedicated to investing in the future.”

Also attending the event were representatives from two Honda open innovation initiatives — Honda Developer Studio, which enables app developers to work directly with Honda engineers to create apps that are road-ready more quickly; and Honda Xcelerator, which provides tech innovators with funding for rapid prototyping, a collaborative work space and pairing with Honda mentors.

“I’ve been checking out companies in a wide variety of areas — battery technology, materials technology, IT, connected vehicles, and more. Israel is very good at all of these, and more. For us, working with OurCrowd is a win-win situation,” said Sugimoto.

In recent months, Japan, which has traditionally shied away from doing business with Israel, has begun to realize that it is missing out, according to Kazu Okada, director of the Japan Innovation Center (JIC), which matches up Israeli start-ups with Japanese corporations.

“While Intel, Samsung, Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and all the other European and American giants have large research and development facilities in Israel — and while Chinese companies increasingly hook up with Israeli start-ups — Japan has been left behind,” he said.

That has begun to change — with the most significant sign of that change the recent announcement that electronics giant Sony was buying Hod Hasharon-based Altair Semiconductors, a developer of 4G (LTE) chips for devices. Whatever the holdup was in the past, said Sugimoto, it’s no longer in play.

“There was no problem explaining to the board that interacting with Israel was a good idea,” he said. “I did not have to sell them on the idea at all. Israel is very strong in the areas we need and want to grow in. Working with Israel is a natural fit for us.”

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