(February 16, 2023 / JNS) You never know who you’re going to sit next to at an OurCrowd Global Investor Summit cafe table at breakfast time. In my case, it was Cameron Jones, co-founder and COO of Flash Forest, named at the World Economic Forum in Davos as one of the top 11 startups of the year.
Cameron showed around a seed pod the size of a chocolate truffle, its patent still pending, that his company had invented. Using drones, Flash Forest assesses forests that have been ravaged by fires, floods, disease and other disasters, using artificial intelligence to determine what best to plant, and where. The drones then deploy the the seed pods, which penetrate deep into the ground in places it would be dangerous for humans to reach, reforesting vast areas in a matter of moments. Each drone can carry 10,000 pods and fire 10 pods per second, vastly superior to other aerial seeding methods, which leave seeds distributed scattershot across a landscape.
Flash Forest can plant 1 million trees in less than 30 days. With fires destroying 9 million hectares of land each year—four times the size of Israel—the Canada-based company is producing more than 200,000 pods today, and hopes to rapidly return trees to the forests that once stood proud. Jones and two other founders conceived the company back in 2003 after his town in British Columbia lost 20 million trees and 240 houses in a deadly forest fire. They hope to plant 1 billion trees by the year 2028. The company, now with 30 staff members, is (pardon the pun) seeded and came to Our Crowd, which is co-leading its Series A round of funding.
Everything from green hydrogen to digital avatars to 3D shopping and lamb chops that look, smell and taste real was on display at the conference. OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved said it best after he danced in—preceded by his own D-ID digital multi-speaking language Avatar that introduced him—at the morning plenary: “We have drones that plant trees and plants that make fish. We have 98 unicorns [companies with a value of $1 billion or more], which is 10% of the world’s total.”
He optimistically looks forward to 10-fold growth over the next 10 years, saying that OurCrowd averaged one deal per week last year and hosts six incubators: five in Israel and one in New Zealand.
For Israeli President Isaac Herzog, it was not about unicorns but about the elephant in the room. He opened the summit by addressing the debate on judicial reform that has polarized the country.
“I think the same way you see the innovative spirit of the State of Israel, you also see it in this debate, and I am very proud of my brothers and sisters—the Israelis taking an active role in the debate from all of its sides. All I can say about myself is that I’m doing my best to direct this debate into a constructive dialogue that will lead to an agreed-upon result that will strengthen and foster and protect Israeli democracy,” he said.
Tapping into the creative and business energy in the air, Herzog said he is concerned about global climate disaster and to that end has created an Israel Climate Forum to address specific issues. He hopes to transform the Middle East and send solar energy from the region to Europe, Asia and Africa.
‘Look East, instead of West’
This year, the OurCrowd Summit was sold out. With 9,000 ticketholders spreading out through the Jerusalem Convention Center, it really was quite the crowd. But the energy was palpable as technology companies displayed everything from flying devices to gym-enhancing equipment.
Binah.AI, on the cusp of receiving FDA approval, displayed its technology, allowing a cellphone to use AI and skin-tone readings to give heart rates, take blood pressure and ascertain hemoglobin levels. Dr. Allen Chefitz came all the way from New Rochelle, N.Y., to let passersby stick fingers in his non-specimen viral-detecting machine to check visitors for COVID.
Drones are the cowboys of the 21st century, as displayed by BeeFree Agro, a company from the Galilee that uses drones and AI to herd, count, identify and even push the cows forward. It is contact-free and checks the water troughs, and can do early disease detection and take the body-heat temperatures of calving cows.
Allie Feuerstein, director of New Business for OurCrowd, emceed demos of nascent tech companies, including seeTrue, which automates security processes for airports by connecting to existing machines and analyzing contents of bags being taken through security. No operator is necessary, according to Assaf Frenkel, co-founder and CEO. SeeTrue’s autonomous AI detection system provides automatic threat detection and alarm resolution for X-ray and CT systems.
TechSee’s vice president of marketing Ari Rosenstein presented the use of AI tools to troubleshoot home-based technology instead of waiting on hold for customer service; and Gil Perry, co-founder and CEO of D-ID, displayed customized videos featuring talking avatars fueled by deep learning and generative AI. The videos are used by businesses for training, marketing and customer support. The user provides the photograph, and the platform provides more than 270 voices to choose from in 100-plus languages.
On the investor side, deals were in the air in the many rooms, nooks and crannies of the great Jerusalem convention building. A total of 111 delegations came from Mexico, Morocco, Ukraine, and for the first time, the Global Investor Summit hosted major delegations from the United Arab Emirates and Gulf region. Medved announced a $60 million project with ADIO, the first Abu Dhabi vehicle for Israeli investments. At the Emirates pavilion traders, venture capitalists and investors came to talk money and planned opportunities.
At a plenary panel on the Abraham Accords, His Excellence Abdulla Abdul Aziz Al Shamsi, director general of Abu Dhabi Investment Office, said the summit marked his first time in Jerusalem.
“On the back of these accords, we established an office in Israel looking for companies looking to expand into our country,” he said. “You can see the power of partnerships in OurCrowds operations in Abu Dhabi. Fundamentally, what we are here to do is create opportunities for Israeli businesses that are looking to expand their operations. This is an opportunity for businesses to look East instead of looking West.”
“There is huge potential for Abu Dhabi-Israel cooperation on innovation,” he added. “We know you for being a startup nation. We look at this as a model for what Abu Dhabi can become.”
Salman Jaffery, chief business development officer of the Dubai International Financial Center, sees great promise and unrealized potential in markets like Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, and believes this to be a great opportunity.
“We are looking for relevant technologies to existing problems,” he said.
Dr. Sabah Al-Binali, executive chairman and partner of OurCrowd Arabia, said: “What I look forward to in five years’ time is when we have Israeli and Arab entrepreneurs working in the same startup.”
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