Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 2: Startup Nation

Today we headed South and began to visit with companies and research universities that were potentially interested in collaborations. I have no idea how many companies that we met with, but I think all 27 trade mission delegates had follow-up assignments with specific companies.

Israel spins out some 700 companies a year. The companies can get up to 50% funding from the Chief Scientist's office. The office receives 2000 applications and funds approximately one in five companies. The company then has an obligation to match money from the State one to one. There are 70 to 100 venture capitalists that typically invest anywhere from $3 million to $300 million in startups. There are organizations like the National Institute for Health (US), Foundations and other companies that can provide matching money. That is one motivation for the SC collaboration.

At noon, we visited the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and had an overview of their technology initiatives. Chamir Weizmann was Israel's first President, a Ph.D Chemist and a great believer in research. He perhaps set the tone for the educational and research culture in Israel.

We took a bus from there to Be'er Sheva for meetings with officers and researchers at Ben Gurion University. There were breakout sessions and I went to the Nanotechnology/Robotics section. I will review only one of probably 20 technologies that were discussed. It was a five foot robotic snake probably five inches thick. It moved like a real snake, was painted black and could climb walls. John Warner wanted to take it home with him. One could wreak havoc with such a device. In fact, I could see no other real purpose, except that they could make a fortune selling them on

From there, we headed east to the Negev Desert. Our destination was a Bedouin camp, about 30 minutes from the Dead Sea. This was not a flat desert, but mountainous and mostly devoid of vegetation. The Bedouin's were essentially nomads with an acute sense of nature. They were trekkers that could read the desert like a book. They owned camels for transportation and large tents as mobile homes. The one that we had dinner in was probably 100 ft by 40 ft. We had a lecture from a Bedouin and then a fabulous dinner.

Quote of the Day: "The Life of the Bedouin woman was hard, including cooking, cleaning, child rearing, animal caring, and hosting frequent unannounced guests. If the work got to be too great, the husband would simply find another wife. They could then share the work."

Such generosity could result in a wife #3 as well. Somebody asked about three mother-in-laws. "Not a problem," we were told, "the wives were simply sharing the work."

On the way to the camp, we encountered an unusual desert phenomena: rain. OK, it was only enough to wet the windshield on the bus, but we were told that the desert would turn green in two weeks. There were seeds that had been waiting five years for moisture. More about water tomorrow when I will attend and speak at WATEC, an international water conference with 20,000 attendees.

Good night from Tel Aviv, where there has been a WATEC welcoming rain on and off for the last 24 hours.

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