In less than a decade, Tel Aviv has become the second biggest start-up hub in the world. Now it’s poised to take on Silicon Valley in the quest for the next big thing in high-tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The line-up at last week’s Digital-Life-Design (DLD) innovation festival in Tel Aviv was as astonishing as the high-tech explosion that has placed the city at the epicentre of the information revolution.
The inventor of the USB flash drive, the founder of global navigation app Waze, and a former president of Israel who won the Nobel Prize and helped inspire the electric vehicle revolution all shared their visions of the next big thing.
But it was Steffi Czerny, who founded DLD in Germany, who offered the overriding perspective on the significance of the event: “If you want to see what’s next, come to Israel,” she told an audience that included delegates from several dozen countries.
The event attracts start-up entrepreneurs, high-tech giants like Intel and Microsoft, and government trade representatives from countries like France and the Netherlands. Two start-ups from South Africa, WhereIsMyTransport and Funda, were there as regional winners of a global startup contest.
All delegates were alert for either the next big investment opportunity or the next big thing in technology. Most of all, they were on the outlook for the technology that will shape the future.
As a result, it is not only the new ideas and apps that make an impact at DLD, but also the ideas that will shape the future. Ironically, many of these ideas come from arguably the oldest man at the event: 91-year-old former Israeli president Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the main drivers of Israeli investment in research and development for the past 50 years. His passion for electric vehicles has been an inspiration for research into battery technology and the electric grid.
His thoughts on what it takes to predict the future in themselves help to understand what will be important in the future: “We can predict things up to a point,” he told the audience. “To do that we need maximum information. And for that we need a combination of a human being with imagination, and infinite patience.”
Asked to make three predictions for the next big area of technology breakthrough, he had no hesitation: “The first domain will be about medicine. The second will be about sharing; instead of having our own houses and car, we will share most things, as we do with shared rides and accommodation today. It will change our assumptions of capitalism. Then I can see a third change that is particularly important: robotics.”
He struck a cautionary note, however, warning against an obsession with technology for its own sake.
“We invest so much in robotics that is not being invested in human beings. The human being produces thoughts, which means the human being is superior to the robot. Why make a better robot instead of a better human being?”
His conclusion: “The human being has a long way to go.”
Not that there was a shortage of start-ups and established companies trying to show the way. Tel Aviv has the distinction of having more startups per capita than any economic hub in the world outside Silicon Valley. Of around 3400 startups in Israel, 972 are in Tel Aviv. With 40 per cent growth in number of tech startups since 2012, some suggest it may even overtake Silicon Valley.
The city also hosts 49 research and development centres for multinational organisations like Google and Facebook, and 58 co-working spaces and startup accelerators.
Those may sound like mere numbers, but they add up to an equation that begins to explain Israel’s impact on the high-tech world. One of the smallest yet most revolutionary technologies originating there, the USB flash drive, was invented by Dov Moran and his company, M-Systems. It’s $1,6bn sale to SanDisk in 2006 still ranks as one of the biggest ever acquisitions of an Israeli high-tech company
“It’s about opportunity,” Moran said in a panel discussion at DLD. “It grows and grows and grows, and every success brings us new entrepreneurs who then know what to do next.”
He, too, offered a forecast for the next huge thing or two: “The industry of self-driven cars, and the effect of genome research on health, are going to change the world.”
A slightly different perspective came from Shahar Waiser, founder and CEO of Israel’s answer to Uber, a taxi app called Gett that is now also available in New York, London and Moscow. Revenue has been growing at 300 per cent a year for the past three years, and it is likely to be one of the next “unicorns” – startups with a valuation of $1-billion a year.
The one area where we won’t see a unicorn, said Waiser, was telecommunications. Quite simply, the big unicorns like WhatsApp and Facebook have cut short the meteoric growth in profits we once saw from telcos.
But it goes beyond just the industry sector, he said: “It’s very difficult if take something with both a digital and offline component and scale it. There is no company with a telecommunications component, where it has more than $100-million in revenues, that keeps growing at the kind of 300 per cent growth we are seeing.
“Food research is one area where we may see unicorns emerge. Transportation is another.”
In short, sectors that address urgent human needs.
And it means that, from food to medicine to the sharing economy, the DLD festival put several signposts on the roadmap to a future that will confirm one of the oldest rules of innovation: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com
This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.
Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.
What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.
However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.
As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.
It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.
The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.
To enter the competition follow the steps below:
Competition entry details:
3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.
4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.
5. The competition is only open to South African residents.
Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist
Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.
Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.
The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela. It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.
“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time. We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”
The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba. It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.
Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.
“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”
This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.