Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 5: Exploring The Start-Up Nation


We kicked off Day 5 with a visit to the manufacturing plant of start-up Woosh, a provider of turnkey solutions for drinking water in public spaces. Israel is a country that is mostly desert, and with a growing need for better water security. Woosh set out to make drinking water available to more people at a lower cost and used Tel Aviv as a pilot. Their innovation is built around a well-designed water filling station that can be placed in public spaces for users to refill their water bottles by swiping their credit cards. The cost of refilling your own water bottle is a fraction of buying bottled water anywhere in the world. The co-founder of Woosh, tells a fascinating story about his personal inspiration for this innovation – proof that inspiration can come from anywhere, what matters is what you do with it.

The company had also extended its services to water purification and desalination (which Akhona Maqwazima taught me is converting seawater to drinking water. Smart guy that!). Furthermore, the need for better access to drinking water cannot be fully served by the retail of bottled drinking water. Lately, many big cities have started to frown upon plastic water bottles.


The website posted this article on 26 February 2015:

"San Francisco has become the first city in America to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property. “A move that is building on a global movement to reduce the huge amount of waste from the billion-dollar plastic bottle industry,” according to The Daily Catch. Over the next four years, the ban will phase out the sales of plastic water bottles that hold 21 ounces or less in public places. Waivers are permissible if an adequate alternative water source is not available. One of the largest supporters of the proposal was the Think Outside the Bottle campaign, a national effort that encourages restrictions of the “eco-unfriendly product.” Americans use 50 billion plastic water bottles a year, according to an anti-plastic bottle campaign Ban the Bottle, and just 23 percent of those are recycled. Should Venice be next?"

A number of entrepreneurs in our group were intrigued by the technology especially since we have our own problems with water supply in South Africa, and we ought to be embracing technologies that help conserve this key life source and protect the environment. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the electricity issue, where we didn’t adequately plan for a future that we knew was coming. So don’t be surprised to find yourself re-filling your glass or steel water bottle from a Woosh in downtown Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town.

After Woosh, our group made a trip to the University of Tel Aviv to hear about Space IL, an Israeli non-profit founded by 3 young engineers in 2010, answering the Google Lunar X Prize challenge. They are aiming to make history and land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon. The group also visited The Therapeutic Riding Centre of Israel, which is another non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of disabled people through a unique therapeutic and recreational method of Animal Assisted Therapies.

I missed both these visits as the rest of my day was scheduled with 3 back-to-back meetings before a party at Morris Kahn’s home. The prospect of partying with billionaires later in the day had me looking forward to these meetings.

My first meeting was with a company called Connesta. Eli Doron, the CEO, had made the trip across town to meet with me over a delicious pizza in an eatery not far from the University of Tel Aviv.

Eli is a warm, fascinating guy. Unlike all the tech entrepreneurs I had met to this point, he is also not young. He is grey-haired and I would place at circa +50 years old. In 1992 Eli was part of the team that wrote the protocol for VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). He wrote the actual protocol for the technology that the likes of Skype and others are built on. I should’ve taken a selfie with this guy!

Anyway, his company Connesta has found a way to broadcast LIVE events online, with all the bells and whistles, and all you need is a camera and an internet connection, all at a fraction of the cost of his competitors. I loved his presentation and attention to detail. We promised to stay in touch.

I then had to make my way across town (with a very unhappy cab driver who only spoke Hebrew) to visit the offices of a very impressive tech start up that is seeking the change way we interact with data when teaching, or making presentations.

The company is called MUV Interactive and they have created ‘bird’ a human-machine interactive tool that clips on your index finger and gives you ‘powers’. Gartner named this technology 2014 Cool Vendor in Human-Machine Interface.

The best way to explain ‘bird’? Think Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, meets boardroom presentations and watch this video.

Of course, one would have to use a projector to reflect the images onto a surface, however from then on you will be able to control everything using your finger.

The company is planning mass production for 2016 where they plan to raise $10 million to take the innovation to market. In 2015 however, they plan to have a certain number of units in the market in different geographies to test appetite and traction.

The future is here, ladies and gentlemen!

My last meeting was with a South African entrepreneur, Jason Glick, who had moved to Tel Aviv almost 10 years ago, who has now built a sizeable media business in outdoor advertising and digital media. We had a lovely cup of coffee in Hertzliya and struck up a good rapport.

I then needed to make my way back to Netanya, which is 24km from Hertzliya, to check into our hotel for the night and prepare for a party at dollar-billionaire Morriss Kahn’s home. He is now 85 year-old and he decided to invite the South African delegation to a have a party at his home. I had also been asked to speak at the dinner, so I was a little nervous about that.

I eventually reunited with the crew at the party, which was well attended by Morris’s friends, half of whom had left South Africa +-40 years ago and returned to their homeland of Israel. It was a great night. I made my way through the speech and everyone’s positive feedback, especially from my host Morris Khan and our other new BFF, Jonathan Beare, was a overwhelming

And then the dancing started. We took over the party (as South Africans typically do) and made some of the older folk feel very young with their moves on the dance floor. I can safely say that Israelis know how to get down. Even the host, at 85, was mostly found on the dance floor.

getting down

A good time was had by all!

Unfortunately we had to leave the hotel by 07h30 the next morning for our trip to the holy city of Jerusalem, so we have to cut the night short.

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