Israeli start-ups take top prizes in prestigious China start-up event

Two Israeli firms — NiNiSpeech and AerialGuard — were winners of the Global Innovation Awards 2016 in China this week

GIA 2016 finalists and partners
GIA 2016 finalists and partners

For the second year in a row, Israeli start-ups took top honors this week in one of the top start-up events in the world.

NiNiSpeech — which has developed a revolutionary digital platform for treating speech disorders — took first place in the Global Innovation Awards 2016, a global start-up competition featuring 21 start-ups from around the world competing for $1.5 million in cash prizes, with no equity. And AerialGuard — which has created an autonomous navigation system for unmanned aircraft — won second place.

The two Israeli winners of this year’s contest competed against 21 finalists from across the globe — 10 from China, six from the US, three from Israel and two from Europe. The winners were selected by 11 judges from around the world as well as real-time voting from an audience of over 1,000 people.

The finalists were selected from 3,000 international start-ups in an eight-month process that spanned four geographic regions.

Last year, it was the Israeli start-up DiaCardio, developer of innovative software for decoding echocardiograms, that took first prize.

That Israel is the source of more start-ups selected to participate in the contest than the entire continent of Europe is testimony to how highly China thinks of Israeli technology, according to Xueling Cao, director of the Shengjing Group and Shengjing Fund of Funds, which partnered with Jerusalem Venture Partners to sponsor the Israeli portion of the event.

“When we came to Israel several years ago, we knew almost nothing about the country, other than that it had some good potential technology,” she said. “Now we realize the level of Israeli innovation, and how important partnering with Israel is.”

Working with JVP on the Israeli version of the event were EMC, Microsoft Accelerator, Poalim Hi-Tech, Ernst &Young Israel, HFN, Nautilus by AOL, and PR Newswire.

The winners were selected on the basis of rankings by 13 international judges, in addition to real-time rankings of the start-up companies by an audience of over 1,000 people at the Zhongguancun International Entrepreneur Festival, which attracts entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world.

In addition to the cash prizes, the start-ups were given the chance to present their technological solutions to investors, as well as to leading technology groups from China and around the world.

This year’s winner, NiNiSpeech, has developed technology to assist people who stutter using mobile technology. To overcome a stutter — and for speech therapy in general — practice makes perfect. However, finding individuals to practice with in a neutral, safe environment is not always easy. In fact, lack of confidence and practice, among other things, is a major problem in stuttering therapy, with 84% of patients relapsing into stuttering after undergoing therapy, according to industry figures cited by the company.

NiNiSpeech provides a platform that lets individuals in stuttering therapy connect with therapists via their mobile devices, providing exercises, games, metrics, tips, etc. — a sort of mobile support group providing a safe environment for patients, who can practice without worrying about scheduling or social discomfort, according to founder and CEO Yair Shapira, whose child suffers from a speech disorder.

“Winning first place is a personal victory for me and offers new hope for millions of children and adults around the world who suffer the daily agony of difficulty in expressing themselves fluently,” said Shapira.

AerialGuard, the second-place winner, develops advanced autonomous navigation systems for unmanned vehicles. The company targets the civilian drone industry and helps drone manufacturers automate their drones by providing them with autonomous capabilities such as “sense and avoid” and intelligent navigation in compliance with the drones’ missions.

Itay Orr, cofounder of the company, said that “the competition has been an empowering experience that underscored the real need for our technology, which, with relatively simple means, transforms every drone into a smart, autonomous one. China is a drone superpower. We hope that our win at the competition will help us advance our operations in China and in other strategic locations in East Asia.”

According to JVP partner Yoav Tzruya, who served as a judge in the finals, “the fact that an Israeli start-up won the competition for the second year running not only demonstrates Israel’s technological edge and out-of-the-box thinking, but also the Israeli tech market’s relevance for global markets, specifically with a focus on China.

“A true competitive edge,” continued Tzruya, “is based on deep technological thinking and acute understanding of market and problem domains. Israeli entrepreneurs have become great at both, paving the way to an outstanding of the Israeli start-up ecosystem.”

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