Cleantech’s Start-Up Nation: Come Join Us In Israel

When Richard Youngman and I led the Cleantech Group’s first official executive tour of Israel back in 2011, it felt as if we were still letting people in on a well-kept secret.  While much of the business world had read Start-Up Nation and was well versed in Israel’s overall technology prowess, the country’s cleantech ecosystem was still a bit off the radar.  Yes, the bi-annual WATEC show was a must on the calendar for all water technology investors, but few were familiar with the rich depth of companies in energy efficiency, energy storage, transportation, solar, smart grid, waste, biofuels, and more.

Fast forward to 2013 and the cat is very much out of the bag.  In 2012, we named Israel the #2 country in the world in our 2012 Global Cleantech Country Innovation Index (bested only by similarly small and scrappy Denmark).  Then last month at our European Cleantech Forum in Spain, I had the pleasure of presenting Assaf Barnea, CEO of Israeli cleantech venture incubator Kinrot Ventures, with our 2013 Innovation Hero of the Year Award.   Late last year, Assaf had navigated the sale of Kinrot and its portfolio to Hong Kong based Hutchinson Water, a strong market validation of both the Israeli government’s incubation program and the strength of the country’s technology (not to mention a validation of Assaf as one of the sector’s most important innovators).

The cleantech landscape in Israel is blossoming beyond its water and agriculture roots (though these two sectors remain powerhouses).   There are many who believe the country’s next big cleantech act will be in combining data and web savvy with resource problems (aka cleanweb).  Waze, a mobile traffic & navigation app, has already emerged as a breakout success in this domain and has been engaged in on-again, off-again acquisition talks with Facebook that value the company at $800M-$1B.  Cleanweb is also at the heart of Azimpo, a recently launched incubator in Tel Aviv that will focus on digital energy innovation.

The country’s leading and most respected cleantech investors have also been actively raising new capital as they look to fund the next wave of innovation. Israel Cleantech Partners closed on a new $75M fund in January and will continue to invest broadly in a range of cleantech sectors from agriculture to energy to cleanweb. Similarly, Terra Venture Partners announced a first close of $20M as it moves toward a new, $50M fund.  Terra will be supporting a new crop of digital cleantech entrepreneurs through its government supported TerraLab Ventures incubator based in Yokneam.  TerraLabs also plans to launch a cleanweb focused accelerator program, TCamp, in partnership with Blake Burris & the Global Cleanweb Movement.

Israel may also emerge as a leading innovator on technology for conventional fuels as the discovery of large, offshore natural gas reserves (and the recent commencement of gas production) is a game changing development for the country’s energy independence.  It will likely spawn a wave of innovation as Israel begins to aggressively expand its ability to leverage gas for both electricity production and other direct uses.  The government’s newly launched, $400M Oil Free Initiative will also be instrumental in funding alternatives to petroleum based fuels and energy generation.

To take advantage of all of this activity, many of the world’s most important financial and corporate investors have initiated both technology scouting and research programs on the ground in Israel.  Have you?

If the answer is no, I would encourage you to come join Michael Ellis and me in October/November as we bring a tour of leading international investors and corporate executives to Israel to immerse them in this dynamic cleantech ecosystem (with some pit stops for great food, cafes, and Mediterranean sunsets).  We’ll spend time with senior government officials, investors, entrepreneurs (hand-selected based on the interest of participants), and major corporate players as you get to know the ins and outs of navigating the Start-Up Nation.