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New innovation hub to foster Israeli food tech ‘revolutions’

Erel Margalit, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, says Israeli food tech sector could soon become a world-leading industry like cybersecurity

Attendees at the inauguration of a new food tech innovation center called Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona, on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Courtesy)
Attendees at the inauguration of a new food tech innovation center called Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona, on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Courtesy)

Israel entrepreneur and investor Erel Margalit, founder and executive chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), inaugurated a new innovation center in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona on Thursday, focused on advancing Israeli food technologies.

The inauguration event for the center, dubbed Margalit Startup City Galil, drew a number of senior Israeli officials, diplomats, business leaders, members of Israel’s high-tech ecosystem and investor groups, as well as representatives from multinational organizations, including Cisco, Deloitte, and Luzzatto Group, which will serve as strategic partners, according to the announcement.

Academic and research institutes like the Tel Hai Academic College and the Migal Research Institute, the Israeli Science and Technology Ministry’s regional R&D center in the Galilee region, will also be active in the new food tech center, as will dozens of food- and agriculture-related technology companies, and local authorities and community organizations.

Margalit, a former MK with the Labor party, said that the center positions Israel as an international hub for food tech and will create thousands of jobs in the area over the next few years.

“Food tech is the next cyber[security], and I believe Israel is on its way to becoming a superpower in the field,” Margalit said in his address on Thursday.

“We are creating an economic growth engine which will change the lives of young people and families, with 30,000 high-paying technology jobs like in the center of the country, and another 70,000 ancillary positions. And all this is happening together with the area’s schools, as part of the process of building an incredible and ground-breaking ecosystem, because the pupils of today are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

JVP founder Erel Margalit addresses the crowd at the inauguration of a new food tech innovation center in Kiryat Shmona, on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Ofer Freiman)

The Margalit Startup City Galil will seek to address some of the world’s most pressing problems, including global warming, threats to food supplies, drought, and a shortage of healthy foods, according to the announcement.

“Food tech needs to be the big answer to change food and agriculture, because right now we’re feeding animals, and we’re slaughtering five billion cows a year,” he said, voicing concern over unsustainable resource consumption.

Products of Kinoko-Tech are cooked during the Margalit Startup City Galil street foodtech event in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona on September 2, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The center in Kiryat Shmona, a stone’s throw from Lebanon, aims to be a nexus of “two revolutions”, food and technology, that are crucial to the world’s future, Margalit said.

Fourteen Israeli companies presented their technologies at the event, including InnovoPro, a developer of food products based on chickpea protein in various categories such as dairy and meat alternatives; Hargol Foodtech, an Israeli startup that developed a farm system for sustainable grasshopper protein production; Green Eye, which leverages artificial intelligence and deep learning technology for better pest control; Blue Tree, a developer of sugar-reducing technology; and Kinoko-Tech, which grows mushrooms on a platform of lentils to create an unprocessed, zero-waste hybrid food.

Also featured was Witi, which uses electro-optic monitoring to detect grapevine disease, allowing growers to reduce pesticide use by giving them real-time data from the field on when pesticides are actually needed.

‘Meteoric investment leap’

About 400 agri-tech and food tech enterprises are currently registered in Israel.

Food tech, in particular, has seen a “meteoric leap in investments,” said Ido Yosovzon, an agri-food technology analyst with Start-Up Nation Central, which promotes Israeli innovation.

“Investments in Israeli food tech companies in 2020 reached $148 million, compared to $300 million as of September 1, 2021,” he told AFP.

This doubling in less than a year marks the highest investment rise in the entire technology sector, Yosovzon said, listing alternative proteins as the main engine of growth.

This picture taken on September 2, 2021 shows the unveiling of the logo of the Margalit Startup City Galil street foodtech event in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

“We’re just in the beginning, both in terms of the amount of money invested in companies, and the number of companies.”

Kinoko-Tech co-founder and chief executive Jasmin Ravid said growing mushrooms on a lentil platform was made possible through “ground-breaking technology.”

The company, she told AFP, was producing “protein in a super-ecological and super-tasty way. It’s food that’s healthy for us and the planet.”

Separately, a device developed by Witi co-founders Yonatan Elimelech De-Wolff and Ran Nakash resembles night-vision goggles.

It gives farmers “the ability to have instant lab analysis from the field” and “detect grape-vine diseases and grape quality” said Elimelech De-Wolff.

Yonatan Elimelech De-Wolff, co-founder and CEO of Witi, handles his company’s device which gives farmers “the ability to have instant lab analysis from the field” and “detect grape-vine diseases and grape quality”, during the Margalit Startup City Galil street foodtech event in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona on September 2, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Allowing farmers to assess grape quality in the field, instead of a lab, saves time, money and could “dramatically reduce the use of pesticides.”

He cited data from France, where grapevines take up three percent of agricultural land but account for 30 percent of pesticide and fungicide use.

The innovation center’s home of Kiryat Shmona typically makes headlines through conflict with Lebanon, but Margalit said its Galilee region offered ideal conditions for food innovation.

“It has the highest mountains, the lowest valleys — you can grow everything,” he said.

Thirty-five companies are currently based at the center, but Margalit said interest was growing.

“We have people coming from around the country, from around the world, they want to be a part of it.”

Thematic innovation centers

Margalit Startup City Galil is Margalit’s fourth innovation center, following a high-tech center in Jerusalem, cybersecurity tech centers in Beersheba and New York, and a digital health center in Haifa. JVP is also in talks to open innovation centers in Paris and Dubai.

JVP’s Erel Margalit inaugurates a new food tech innovation center in Kiryat Shmona, on Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Ofer Freiman)

The model is based on connecting tech and business entrepreneurship with social and cultural entrepreneurship and drawing cooperation between the various players in a particular region.

Set up in 1993, JVP has raised to date $1.5 billion across nine funds and has invested in over 150 startups, of which 12 have had initial public offerings on the Nasdaq.

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