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New tech accelerator seeks to boost startups in construction sector

Office-sharing firm OpenValley teams up with construction firm Stern Engineering to bring innovation to industry that suffers from accidents and still uses antiquated tools

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

A crane that collapsed at a construction site in Yavneh, killing four people and injuring two more, May 19, 2019. (Flash90)
A crane that collapsed at a construction site in Yavneh, killing four people and injuring two more, May 19, 2019. (Flash90)

Israeli workspace sharing firm OpenValley and Israeli construction company Stern Engineering Ltd. have set up a joint accelerator program to foster startups in the construction technology sector.

The construction sector in Israel accounts for 10 percent of Israel’s GDP and is valued at around NIS 90 billion ($26 billion), the two firms said in a statement on Tuesday. The industry globally suffers from challenges including workplace accidents, faulty construction and delays in project delivery, and technology has the chance to help bring new solutions to the field, the statement said.

There are already startups that are active in developing solutions for site safety, green construction, use of big data and artificial intelligence and deep learning in construction planning, smart energy systems, advanced robotics and smart helmets.

As of June 2019 there were more than 100 Israeli startups in the field of property technologies, or PropTech, which brings innovation to the fields of construction, asset insurance and property management, figures compiled by VC Innogy Innovation Hub together with ConTech, an innovation program by the Israel Builders Association in partnership with the Housing and Construction Ministry and the Economy Ministry, showed.

Shiri Green-Elgavish, CEO of OpenValley (Moshik Rubin)

But most construction sites today still use traditional tools, and some of the technologies are hundreds of years old. The first known construction cranes were built by the ancient Greeks; hammers were first used in the Stone Age. Security practices are flawed and there is a chronic shortage of workers to operate the machinery in an industry that often needs to meet tight deadlines.

Although this is an area that offers opportunities in Israel and abroad, it is still not sufficiently developed compared to other tech areas in which Israel excels, such as cybersecurity or fintech, OpenValley and Stern said in the statement. Their initiative aims to close this gap.

The new venture will target the startup community in Israel’s north and hopes to become an engine for innovation and help retain young people in the area, the statement said. OpenValley has three complexes: the Yokne’am complex, which will host the accelerator, and one apiece in Ramat Yishai and the Caesarea Business Park.

“Establishing a dedicated program for construction-tech entrepreneurs, which combines the professional knowledge and activity of Stern, along with the business support that OpenValley will offer in technological entrepreneurship, will give startups in the program access to practical experience at construction sites,” said Shiri Green-Elgavish, the CEO of OpenValley, in the statement.

Startups selected for the accelerator program will benefit from mentoring and access to more than 25 construction sites nationwide and also in Europe, which can serve as a beta sites for testing out the technologies, said Oren Stern, business development manager at Stern.

“The field of construction has not changed much since the days of the pyramids and the industry is one of the slowest in adopting new technologies,” he said in the statement. The startups in the program will be exposed to all kinds of construction activities and the firm will also mull investing in appropriate firms, he said.

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