The Pope was in Israel earlier this month, bringing with him thousandsof Catholic pilgrims (and a request from environmentalists to help clean the Jordan River).A week later 40 investors from the California region came on adifferent kind of pilgrimage to Israel – to see the world-famous cleantechnology opportunities Israeli entrepreneurs have to offer.
Despite the poor US economy, American investors see the down marketas a business opportunity, and Israeli clean technology companies inrenewables, water and energy are on their radar.
Among the participants in the clean tech mission to Israel are someof the biggest names in the California investment community includingAtiq Raza, former COO of AMD and now at Khosla Ventures; George Coelhoa managing partner for Good Energies; Josh Green, a general partner forMohr Davidow Ventures; and Michael Allman, the CEO and president ofSempra Generation.
Giving event organizers – the California Israel Chamber of Commerce(CICC) – their wish list before hand, the visitors met with dozens ofIsraeli companies. The guests, representing 25 different companies,landed in Israel on May 18, and for four days explored collaborationopportunities with Israeli firms and co-investment opportunities inthis growing sector.
Some of the companies they met with included Metrolight, an energysaving electricity ballast company, and Better Place, the electric carsensation. Younger companies such as GreenRoad Technologies, an energyefficiency company, water tech innovators TaKaDu and AquaPure; andsolar energy companies HelioFocus and ZenithSolar were all on theagenda.
Young, clean and green
An event including 20 promising research projects from Israeliuniversities was also a highlight, says Shuly Galili the executivedirector of the CICC. “The big highlight will be the start up companiesthat they are going to see,” Galili tells ISRAEL21c. “The selection wasdone by them,” she points out.
“It’s a good mix from various sectors,” she adds. “That’s a big partof it. They want to see a variety of companies that are potentiallyfundable.”
The CICC office is based in Silicon Valley in California – aninteresting place in a down economy, according to Galili. “Investorsare excited to make investments because valuations are down, and thereis less noise in the market. We tend to see good entrepreneurs at thesetimes,” she explains.
Interest in clean technology continues to run high, despite theeconomic downturn. “Both the Obama administration and governmentsworldwide are pouring money into this sector. It won’t be an area thatinvestors will neglect because there are other partners in this area,”says Galili.
Some of the delegates on this new mission have already invested inthe clean tech arena, while for a lot of the guests, it will be theirfirst trip to Israel. Beyond onsite visits to research facilities, thegroup will also see a number of showcases of innovative cleantechnology companies, and will meet with President Shimon Peres, anadvocate of pushing renewable energy into the mainstream.
Making green inroads
This will be the CICC’s fourth delegation from California to Israel.Last fall, the group sent Israeli entrepreneurs in clean tech toCalifornia where they met investors and utility companies and more.Over the years the CICC has brought over more than 100 funds to Israelinterested in the cleantech sector.
Eric Weiss, the senior VP of marketing at GreenRoad decided to jointhe CICC as its entrepreneur in residence last fall to help bring thecleantech delegation to Israel. “I come from industry so I understandthe VC world, industry and the corporate world both as an entrepreneurand as a large corporation,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
“Bringing these together is salient for clean tech because unlikeany other industry, clean tech requires cooperation in policy, inacademia, entrepreneurship and investment in large companies.”
While Israel is well known for its activities in solar power andwater, Weiss was surprised to see many other layers to the sector inIsrael, he says.
“One thing that pleasantly surprised me in our network is that thediversity is very profound: from fuel cell storage to wind, to solarand energy efficiency like Metrolight and Green Roads, to smart gridsolutions,” he says.
A clean tech Petri dish
Israel has so much to offer, “not to mention water,” continues Weiss, who is based in California.
One attractive element to working with the country’s clean techentrepreneurs, he adds, is that Israel has made a lot of policyprogress in the last year. Such a revolution could never happen soquickly in America, Weiss believes. “The turnaround happened fast.That’s why Israel is an amazing Petri dish for clean tech.”
Chaired and founded by Zvi Alon, an Israeli high-tech entrepreneurand the co-founder of ISRAEL21c, the CICC is a non profit,non-governmental membership-supported organization strengtheningbusiness and trade relations between California and Israel since 2001.
The CICC has been working with global technology investors andcompanies to discover Israel’s breakthrough technology innovations,resulting in millions of dollars in new venture and M&Ainvestments.
The clean tech delegation to Israel was sponsored by the companiesPerkins Coie, Jeffries & Co, Vantage Point Venture Partners;Silicon Valley Bank and Israel Cleantech Ventures.
(This story is reprinted with permission by ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org)
(Photo: Investors from California tour the desalination plant inAshkelon, Israel, last week. Center is Shuly Galili from the CICC.)