Intel to ‘Ignite’ key startup tech with accelerator program in Tel Aviv

Early-stage startup in industries including AI, autonomous systems will be guided to growth, Intel CEO Bob Swan says during Israel visit

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

CEO of Intel Corp., Bob Swan, center, visits the US tech giant's Haifa facility on June 16, 2019. (Ezra Levy)
CEO of Intel Corp., Bob Swan, center, visits the US tech giant's Haifa facility on June 16, 2019. (Ezra Levy)

Intel Corp. on Sunday said it was setting up an open-innovation startup accelerator program that will help grow early-stage startup companies in Israel in key industries, including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and other data-centric technologies.

Based in Tel Aviv, the program, called Ignite, will tap into Intel’s global market access, business and technology know-how to provide the selected startups with guidance and mentorships for them to grow.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Intel CEO Bob Swan said this new program will be “very important” to advance open innovation in Israel and accelerate early-stage Israeli startup companies that are exploring technologies in a variety of key industries in which Intel operates.

The US tech giant is in the midst of a transforming itself from a maker of chips for PCs to a company centered around data, offering a much wider range of products and services to customers, including semiconductors, sensors for driverless cars, drones, and cloud-based technologies.

The new 10th Gen Intel Core processors of Intel Corp. on a motherboard (Courtesy)

“Intel has always worked in concert with open ecosystems to scale what we often call disruptive technologies so they can, in fact, be transformational for business and society,” said Swan, marking his first visit to Startup Nation after being appointed earlier this year as the chief of the US firm. “This process is fueled not primarily by large companies like Intel, but by the innovation, velocity and passion of the startup community.”

After a selection process, the program will host 10-15 pre-seed to seed startups through a 20-week program where they will receive hands-on mentorship from Intel and industry experts in a variety of product, business, and management and technical areas.

“Ignite will build deeper business and technical collaborations between Intel and local startups with the goal to accelerate their growth and help scale their impact,” said Swan.

The Ignite program will begin operations in Israel later this year, with plans to expand to additional countries over time. Startups that are diverse — with a diversified social mix — will be a key consideration in the selection of the startups, the company said.

Intel has no plans to seek equity in or rights to IP from these companies, the company added. Yaniv Garty, general manager of Intel Israel, said, however, at the press conference that Intel could eventually invest in some of these startups via its venture capital arm.

Intel, which started operations in Israel in 1974, is the largest non-government employer in the nation, with some 12,000 workers, including those in Mobileye, a maker of self-driving automotive technologies that Intel acquired in 2017 for a massive $15.3 billion. The firm has a manufacturing plant in Kiryat Gat and R&D centers in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, and Haifa.

Intel Corp,’s Haifa team has developed the new 10th Gen Intel Core processors that bring AI to the PC for the first time (Courtesy)

“The Israeli site has been integral to Intel’s success for 45 years now and it was a natural choice for our Ignite program given its unique position as a global catalyst for innovation,” said Swan. Some of Intel’s “most important products,” like its most recently announced 10th generation core processors, have been developed in Israel, he said.

The work of the firm’s Haifa based team has been part of “some of the most intricate and challenging projects” that have “yielded the world’s best processors,” he said. Intel Israel has had an “extremely significant contribution” to Intel’s work globally, Swan said, adding that Intel will continue to invest in the nation. The firm has invested some $40 billion in Israel over the past 45 years, in acquiring firms, investing in startups and in R&D.

Tzahi (Zack) Weisfeld, former global head of Microsoft for Startups, will serve as general manager and managing director of Ignite, reporting to Garty. At the press conference, Weisfeld said that Intel is planning to create the “Harvard” of the accelerators, “the top accelerator in the country… the top program in the country.”

Weisfeld will be assisted by Avner Goren, vice president, Intel Architecture, Graphics and Software Group, who will connect the Ignite program to the technical community inside Intel.

“As Israel’s largest high-tech company, we want to support the major technological changes emerging across our startup community,” said Garty. “Ignite is an important step in this direction, focused on our efforts to transform the world through working on innovations in AI, autonomous, cyber and next-generation computing.”

An Intel Corp./Mobileye self-driving car with a human driver behind the steering wheel (YouTube screenshot)

Earlier in the day, Swan visited Mobileye in Jerusalem and took a ride in one of the firm’s autonomous vehicles that are being tested in the city.

Answering a question about whether Intel perhaps overpaid for Mobileye, Swan said he has “no regrets” and that in the two years since the acquisition the firm has doubled in size and is a leading player in its field.

On Monday, he will visit the Kiryat Gat plant of Intel.

In May, Intel confirmed plans to invest some $5 billion in expanding its Kiryat Gat production plant in Israel, where it produces and develops some of its most advanced computer chips, through 2020. As part of the investment plan, Intel is expected to get a 5 percent tax rebate until the end of 2027, as well as a NIS 700 million ($194 million) government grant.

Intel’s latest plant investment in Israel comes on the heels of a $6 billion upgrade of the same plant in southern Israel announced by the company in 2014, to enable the production of Intel’s most advanced next generation computer chips, the 10-nanometer chips.

Swan said that he expects the 10-nanometer chips to be on the shelves by “the holiday season of 2019,”

Regarding trade tensions between the US and China and the US ban on Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co., Swan said that “China is a very important market to us,and Huawei a large customer to of ours. That being said we abide by the rules and regulations that exist in the markets in which we operate.”

Shares of chipmaker Broadcom plunged last week after the company missed revenue expectations for the second quarter and lowered its revenue guidance for the full fiscal year, citing Huawei and trade uncertainty.

Broadcom cited a US. ban on working with Chinese device giant Huawei in lowering its revenue outlook. The news triggered declines in other chipmakers as well.

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