Food and agriculture were the focus in Israel’s tech ecosystem this week, as representatives from the world’s governments, manufacturers, farmers, academic institutes, investors and entrepreneurs gathered in Tel Aviv to get a taste of the latest innovation in these industries, and the research and development that connects them
The 20th annual AgriTech Israel 2018 exhibition and conference opened on Tuesday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, drawing thousands of participants, including 1,500 from India alone. The three-day event is one of the world’s most important exhibitions in the field of agricultural technologies and over 50 government delegations and 80 business delegations took part.
Also on Tuesday, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and academics flocked to the Tel Aviv Port for AgriVest, an investment summit that showcases Israel’s newest and most promising ag-tech startups. A live startups competition was won by Israeli startup WeedOUT, which developed a novel biological herbicide to fight off resistant weeds.
But the week started out with FoodTechIL, an event aimed at showcasing startups pioneering new directions in the agricultural, food and beverage industry.
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In fact, FoodTechIL kicked off as news of the $7.1 billion buyout by American multinational International Flavors & Fragrances of Israeli company Frutarom hit headlines. In April, Frutarom and the Israel Innovation Authority announced the opening of FoodNxt, a fully equipped innovation lab for food-tech startups, in Israel’s north.
“Israel being a ‘startup nation’ is not just a cliché,” says Yoni Glickman, President of Frutarom Natural Solutions. “Startups have become the growth engine of the food industry, and Frutarom, through FoodNxt, is working to accelerate this innovation – by providing know-how, processes, technologies, and expertise to help overcome challenges, nurture development, and launch new products into the global market.”
But as the FoodTechIL event showed, Frutarom is not Israel’s only startup changing the food-tech space.
“At the first FoodTechIL conference there were 100 participants, and today 1,000 people gather,” Strauss Group president and CEO Gadi Lesin, President and CEO, told The Marker. “This is part of our vision, to establish and lead the international community in the field of foodtech, we are no longer in the theory stage, it took us four years to establish the foundations of the global community, and today the pyramid has been reversed — instead of Israeli companies running after international conglomerates, they’re coming here. This is because of Israel’s successes in the space.”
Israel is home to some 750 active startups and companies in the food tech and agriculture tech industries, according to a report this week by the Israeli non-profit Start-Up Nation Central.
“Israel has always answered its own agricultural challenges, and in the process has created a large produce export industry… But the real comparative advantage of this small country with its proven agricultural know-how lies in exporting technology, often tested first by Israel’s own farmers,” writes Fredrik Liljedahl, an Agritech analyst at Start-Up Nation Central.
Israel is renowned for revolutionizing irrigation methods and greenhouse cultivation in adverse climate conditions. The country also has the world’s highest reused wastewater rate and the most advanced agriculture technologies for water heating and electricity generation.
“The world trusts what Israel is doing because it sees the results. Israel has been good at feeding itself,” Karin Kloosterman, a serial entrepreneur and founder of agri-tech startup FluxIoT, tells NoCamels.
“Israel has a great reputation because of companies like Netafim, which has distributors all over the world. As such, people have ‘seen’ Israel in their towns and villages and they’re very excited to come and see these innovations first-hand. Agri-tech is about very practical solutions: pipes, pumps and valves. But these are the pipes, pumps, valves and compressors that work,” says Kloosterman. “Government groups are coming [to Israel] because they want to buy.”
The multibillion-dollar global agricultural industry is in need of disruption. While many farmers are still conservative about taking risks on new technologies, their end-goal is to make farming more efficient and thus better sensors, robotics, AI or data science are a lifeline.
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