Israeli start-ups cook up better food tech in ‘The Kitchen’

New incubator, supported by the Strauss Group, looks to help firms develop better tasting, more nutritious diets

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Yoav Hoshen of WaterIO holds one of his company's "connected" bottles. His company is looking to join The Kitchen incubator, June 25 2015 (Courtesy)
Yoav Hoshen of WaterIO holds one of his company's "connected" bottles. His company is looking to join The Kitchen incubator, June 25 2015 (Courtesy)

Food technology – using high-tech tools and methods to make a better meal – has taken off in recent years, and a new incubator, called The Kitchen, seeks to bring out the best in Israeli food.

The food tech incubator, based in Ashdod, opened in January with clean, brightly lit, offices and labs. Although they’re still mostly empty, Amir Zaidman, vice president of business development of The Kitchen, hopes to fill them soon.

“We’re trying to find start-ups that are tackling major issues the food industry is facing,” Zaidman said at a recent event that brought together dozen potential candidates to see what The Kitchen offers. “We’re trying to create an ecosystem and community in food tech that doesn’t exist yet.”

The program, in partnership with the Strauss Group, was awarded a government franchise to invest in food-related start-ups for the next eight years. The incubator will host start-ups from the food technology community in Israel. They plan to tackle issues including alternative sources of protein, spoilage of food in the supply chain, quality assurance and food safety, and robotics in food manufacturing.

Organizers will screen potential candidates and decide which are worth investing in. The incubator can provide mentoring, sponsorship and connections to newly formed Israeli start-ups, and plans to involve universities, food companies and investors in the venture. The start-ups will all be Israeli, but the focus is global.

Zaidman said The Kitchen intends to collaborate, and not compete, with food-tech innovators from outside the incubator. “We want to gather everybody in this industry together to create a critical mass in the food-tech community,” he said.

Yoav Hoshen believes that his start-up, WaterIO, is a perfect fit for The Kitchen. “We make disposable bottles into smart bottles,” Hoshen said. “We make your drinking smart.”

Dehydration is a major problem in the world today, partly because people forget to drink, or don’t realize how much water they need. It is the fifth leading cause of children’s hospitalizations in the United States, Hoshen said. WaterIO plans to address this by making smart caps for water bottles.

The company will sell two different versions of the bottle caps to bottled water companies. The first version will be unconnected to any outside system, keeping track of when it is removed from a bottle, and alerting users with a flashing light if they have not had a drink for an hour.

The second version will be connected to the Internet and record information on users’ water drinking habits, similar to wearable products like the Fitbit fitness device bracelet, which records a user’s physical activity. The “connected” WaterIO cap will take into account customers’ personal information like weight, age, and sex in order to determine when and how much they need to drink. Users will be able to monitor the information through an app on their smartphones.

The system will also be able to engage with other platforms and products, such as Fitbit, and take the other data into account, Hoshen said. Users will get insights on their hydration but will not need to change their behavior.

The product will also be valuable to bottled water companies. “For water companies this will be the first time they will have an opportunity to engage with customers,” Hoshen said.

Right now, water companies ship their products and do not know who uses them or how. WaterIO will be able to provide analytics for these companies to help them better engage with customers and help build brand loyalty, Hoshen said. The companies could do this by sending coupons to certain customers, for example.

The company has registered patents and developed prototypes already. They hope to introduce their product in Israel later this year or early next year.

“Then, of course, we go global,” Hoshen said.

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