With Israeli tech, self-driving cars are becoming a reality

Israel to play ‘big part’ in the driverless vehicle industry, says seed investor Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures

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

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro takes a ride in Israeli MobilEye's self-driving car (YouTube screen capture)
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro takes a ride in Israeli MobilEye's self-driving car (YouTube screen capture)

For leading US seed fund Maven Ventures, autonomous driving technology is the most transformative technology out there, possibly second to the Internet, and Israel will have a big role to play in the industry.

“Full self-driving vehicles will reach consumers in a big way,” much sooner than people expect,” Maven Ventures managing partner Jim Scheinman said in an interview with The Times of Israel. “And as one of the leaders in new technology, great technical talent and established players, I’m sure Israel will play a big part in this important nascent industry.”

He cited Jerusalem-based Mobileye, with a market value of $10 billion, as a successful company that is already playing a role in the industry. Through algorithms and video images from a camera placed in a car, the firm has developed assisted driving technology that can improve safety by identifying vehicles, pedestrians, animals and lane boundaries, as well as traffic lights. The interview with Scheinman was held before Intel Corp. said on Monday it would acquire Mobileye for $15 billion.

Scheinman said autonomous driving technology is going to benefit society. “We’ll be saving 1 million lives every year, never have to sit in traffic or look for a parking spot.” He added that the technology will also cut down on pollution and increase productivity.

Mobileye provides technology in the area of software algorithms that could enable autonomous cars. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Maven Ventures is a Palo Alto, California-based seed venture firm for consumer software and transportation startups. The company has a portfolio of 20 active companies and has had six exits, or sales of companies it has invested in. Scheinman has achieved five unicorns — companies valued at or over $1 billion dollars — over the past 20 years, including the sale of Cruise to GM for $1 billion, and the $1 billion valuations of Zoom and Tango.

The $700 billion trucking and freight industry will likely be the first to deploy fully self-driving vehicles, even as early as 2018, Scheinman wrote in a February 24 blog, in which he spoke about Maven’s seed investment in Embark, a Canadian startup that has been working on a self-driving truck. Otto, acquired by Uber in 2016, held a historic drive of a driverless truck full of Budweiser beer down a Colorado highway earlier in October.

Auto tech startup financing topped $1 billion in 2016 with sector financing reaching a “frenzied pace,” according to New York-based data firm CB Insights. Automakers including GM, Toyota and Volkswagen have been acquiring startups and taking stakes in technologies in an effort to stay at the leading edge of developments.

Maven Venture's Jim Scheinman speaks at Axis Tel Aviv conference in March 2016 (Courtesy)
Maven Venture’s Jim Scheinman speaks at Axis Tel Aviv conference in March 2016 (Courtesy)

Scheinman was recently in Israel, where he spoke about autonomous car technology at the Axis Tel Aviv conference, and is also scouting for startups to invest in.

“I am definitely looking to meet early stage startups in consumer software,” he said. “Social, communication, health, fintech, VR and e-sports are some focus areas and autonomous vehicles/self-driving startups.”

Maven Ventures has in the past invested in companies founded by Israelis. For example, Check, the Palo Alto-based startup that created a mobile app that automates the paying of bills — which was sold to Intuit in May 2014 — was founded by Guy Goldstein. Tango, the Palo-Alto firm which created a chat and calling app was founded by Uri Raz. Santa Clara, California’s Pley, which has an Israeli founder, Ranan Lachman, allows users to rent toys for their kids. And Hello Heart, the California-based maker of an app that allows people to manage their health, was founded by Maayan Cohen, Ziv Meltzer and Eran Keisar, and has a tech team in Tel Aviv.

“We’re happy to invest in Israeli teams that stay in Israel, we just haven’t found the right investments for us yet,” Scheinman said.

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