Innovation can happen anywhere. It shouldn’t be solely entrusted to Cupertino or Mountain View nor should it be limited to self-styled visionaries in New Balance sneakers. But it does seem to happen in clusters. Why Silicon Valley? Why Waterloo? Because creativity is cultural. For the better part of a decade, the Martin Prosperity Institute at U of T’s Rotman School of Management has been studying the complex web of factors that encourage and sustain innovation in regions around the world. First published in 2004, the institute’s Global Creativity Index measures a nation’s innovation potential, focusing on what it calls the Three Ts: technology, talent and tolerance. We used this index, but also dove deeper, to choose cities that are best positioned to nurture their creative edge into the future. “The GCI is really trying to help regions understand where they are,” explains Kevin Stolarick, research director of the Martin Prosperity Institute. “Even when times are good, you have to worry about what comes next.” Here are five cities —and some of their start-ups—that we think have very bright futures.
The entire population of Israel may only number seven million—smaller than New York City—but this Middle Eastern state spends more of its GDP on research and development than any other nation. And it shows. In April, 2011, Israeli software start-ups PicApp and PicScout sold for a combined $30 million (all currency in U.S. dollars) to Indian and American buyers, respectively. A month later, cellular company Provigent was snapped up by U.S. chip maker Broadcom for $313 million, while Google paid $70 million for app developer Snaptu. In September, eBay bought e-commerce site The Gifts Project for a reported $20 million. All are start-ups. All have offices in or near Tel Aviv. In the first three quarters of 2011 alone, 422 Israeli start-ups raised $1.57 billion in venture capital, and an estimated 250 multinationals maintain R&D operations there. What makes Silicon Wadi—as the coastal region between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is known—so special? Some say that a service requirement in the country’s famously high-tech military has given many young Israelis a technological sophistication that bolsters creativity and inventiveness. What we do know is that while Tel Aviv is small, it’s one giant innovation engine. —Steve Brearton
“Here’s how we form start-ups in Israel: A bunch of guys meet up, usually over beer; one of them comes up with an idea, everybody gets excited and, minutes later, there’s a company,” says Gil Hirsch, who founded Face.com in Tel Aviv with three colleagues. The idea to create a fast, highly accurate facial recognition platform—one that can identify faces in digital photographs, even at varying angles and orientations—grew out of a recurring techie meet-up that Hirsch led for several years out of a Tel Aviv auto garage.
“The most important piece was the technology,” he says. Officially launched in March of 2009, Face.com’s software spoke for itself when it was presented to early investors. A $200,000 seed investment came first, followed by $1 million in the company’s first significant stage of funding. In 2010, another $4.3-million round of financing included a substantial investment from Russian search engine specialist Yandex.
But Face.com really made waves when Facebook integrated its site. Two Facebook-specific apps—Photo Finder and Photo Tagger—spawned calls from other developers eager to work with the technology. To gain market traction, Face.com offers its base API code for free, and currently has 30,000 developers using the platform, including an increasing number of mobile developers. Large-scale users, namely those who want to process more than 5,000 images per hour, pay a per-usage rate.
While Hirsch now spends about one week per month in California, the company’s 10 employees remain based in Tel Aviv. “When it comes to things like facial recognition, Israel’s engineering talent is huge, and the prices are sane,” says Hirsch. “There’s also no fear of failure here. Just a fear of not trying.” —Andrew Braithwaite
When your city is the freeway hub for all of traffic-choked Israel, you’ll find yourself stuck in your car with time to kill, often. In 2006, Israeli software engineer Ehud Shabtai decided that the pre-loaded navigation software in his PDA couldn’t handle the demands of notoriously gridlocked Tel Aviv. So he hacked the mapping program to input real-time local traffic conditions. The results were halfway decent, and he decided to share the hack with others, who began contributing more data. When a cease-and-desist letter arrived from the software’s manufacturer in 2009, Shabtai and a pair of friends launched Waze, a crowd-sourced GPS navigator.
As a free downloadable app running on mobile devices, Waze optimizes driving routes in real time. Drivers contribute their own live data simply by activating the program. Today, with $67 million in capital investments and eight million users across 45 countries, Waze has become a global “phenomenon.” At least, so says its newly appointed California-based director of communications Michal Habdank-Kolaczkowski.
He may be right. The company claims that one in three Israelis have used the software. Since its arrival in the U.S. last year, two million users have begun contributing data, and Waze is now working to develop partnerships with broadcasters (who will feature Waze in on-air traffic reports) and auto manufacturers (with an eye toward in-car integration). In October, Chinese business magnate Li Ka-shing contributed a large chunk of Waze’s most recent $30-million funding round, betting that China’s booming population of drivers and smartphone users will be the firm’s next market.
As Waze gears itself toward bigger things, the company’s creative brain trust has shifted to Palo Alto, California, but 90% of its 65 employees remain firmly based in traffic-mad Tel Aviv. “On my recent visit to Israel, anybody who figured out I work for Waze was either trying to buy me a drink or asking me for a job,” says Habdank-Kolaczkowski, laughing. “Waze is a way of life in Israel. It’s a rock star.” —A.B.
Herzliya, the bougie suburb just north of Tel Aviv, is one of Silicon Wadi’s most important hubs. It’s where you’ll find the likes of Microsoft, Freescale, Matrix, Formula Group, HP and IBM, not to mention a large number of Israeli VC funds. Word is, 12-hour days are pretty normal for Tel Aviv’s tech crowd, but if you’re looking to find execs and entrepreneurs unwinding after the long workdays, head to one of the city’s grill bars: The Whitehall Steak House and the Herzliya location of the Meat & Wine Co. are always packed after-hours. —Nancy Won
“In Israel, personal relationships aren’t all that relevant to business. Israelis will do business with you within five seconds of meeting you. In fact, there’s virtually no small talk at meetings. Nothing. Zero. They’re very direct.”
—Dr. Neal Naimer, CEO of Woojer, a Tel Aviv-based start-up. He’s originally from Montreal.
by Benji Lovitt
Thank heavens United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords survived the horrific shooting attack back in January. If not for an innovative Israeli-designed bandage, her fate might have been less clear. Bernard Bar-Natan, a Brooklyn native who immigrated to Israel, is credited with the creation of a unique pressure-applying bandage. Used in armies around the world including the US, the county in which Giffords was shot began using the bandage in 2009. Whew.
Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg. Heard of them? They’re kind of a big deal. As part of their plot to take over the world, Facebook acquired the Israeli start-up Snaptu back in March for between sixty and seventy million dollars. We’re not betting men here at Size Doesn’t Matter but let’s just say that while this was the first, it probably won’t be their last acquisition of an Israeli company.
We’re double-dipping a bit here, borrowing April’s Better Place story from our 2011 top 10 list. And why shouldn’t we? This might only be the biggest technological innovation since, I don’t know, the internet? Electric cars could completely change not just the auto industry but the energy industry as we know it. And from where I come from, that’s pretty INNOVATIVE.
A wise sage once said, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” This past May, at the 12th Asian Physics Olympiad hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel’s future became a little bit clearer as one of their students became the country’s first gold medal winner since 2003. With countries such as China, Russia, and India also in attendance, the strong performance gives good reason to believe that Israel’s technological future continues to shine brightly.
No doubt about it-using your cell phone while operating a vehicle is dangerous. Well…can you allow us to make an exception? If you seem to always be getting stuck in horrendous traffic jams, your life just changed. Meet Waze, the Israeli app which combines GPS with user input. By tracking drivers’ locations, speeds, and more, Waze tells you the best route to your desired destination and keeps you updated on traffic accidents. You’ll thank us later.
Ok, so maybe this doesn’t rival putting a man on the moon, but for the lives of pedestrians who are tired of stepping in Fido’s dinner from last night, isn’t this a bigger deal, really? NUFAR Natural Products has developed a harness which attaches to your dog, eliminating the owner’s need to…you know, shovel $#%&. Estimates for first year sales are around one BILLION dollars. If it’s not the most innovative event of the year, it might just be the most awesome.
Tech Crunch is the most respected technology blog today. So when they decided to handle the increasing number of Israeli start-ups attending their Disrupt conference back in September, let’s just say we noticed. With Israeli company Soluto winning first place in the 2010 competition and the unrivalled number of start-up companies coming out of the “Start-Up Nation”, Tech Crunch gave these companies their own area at the conference, branded with Israeli flags and colors. Here’s hoping to holding the conference in Tel Aviv next year!
If it wasn’t official already, now it is: there’s a whole lotta stuff happening here. Google…Intel….Microsoft….and now you can add arguably the most “it” technology company in the world to Israel with December’s announcement that Apple plans to open a semiconductor R&D center in the Holy Land. When you consider that this will be the very first time Apple has opened an R&D center outside of California, well, consider us impressed.
Microsoft got a lot of attention for its Kinect motion-sensing game device. Leave it to Israeli company Extreme Reality to take it to another place, combining cell phones with motion technology for, voila, a motion-sensing cell phone. Just last month, it was announced that one of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters, Ron Conway, was behind the funding raised by XTR who scooped up another $8 million in the last round of funding. No more taking off your gloves in cold weather to make that oh-so-important phone call. One swipe and you’re connected. Wow.
We may not yet have won the war on cancer but we’re certainly putting up a fight. Just days ago, researchers at Tel Aviv University announced a new procedure to blast cancer tumors, reducing the risk of the disease returning after treatment. Working much like a cluster bomb, atoms disperse alpha particles not in one place but at increasing distances. In testing, those treated with this procedure had tumors reappear in only 50% of the cases as opposed to 100% when the tumor was removed via surgery. While cancer is nothing to smile about, these breakthroughs give us hope that we are in fact getting closer to wiping it out completely.
She graced us with her presence on Weeds and The Sopranos, this 2 times Israelis Oscar nominee turned Singer is all the hotness we can handle. Check out her latest single here
Soon to be single (Read more) Noa Tishby is all the talent and looks a girl can ask for. Her appearances on NCIS, Big Love and CSI just to name a few, sure made American TV that much hotter!
Noa’s voice, music and initiatives bringing people together (Read more) are just a few of the many reasons she’s on our Top 10
This is one HOT lady that needs no introduction, her recent split from Leo DiCaprio (yet again) means she’s on the market. She’s the new face of ESCADA (Read more), She’s Fit enough for GapFIT (Read more) and she is introducing her own line of lingerie (Read more) She’s talented, beautiful and one of Israel’s top names in the Fashion world, Boys/Girls take a number!
She’s beautiful, talented and won the hearts of the French with her recent single “A Paris” (Watch here) Any Israeli who’s good enough for the French, is good enough for us!
No wonder Angelina Jolie is threatened by this Israeli beauty, it was reported that when Jolie learnt that Levi might co-star in “World War Z” with Brad, she wasn’t happy! (Read more) Anyone who can threaten Jolie is on our list of top 10!
Imagine her in uniform… Now stop, concentrate and check out her piece on Army Uniform / Designer Clothes for Vogue Italy (Watch Here) ! Ginzburg is one of Israel’s hottest commodity, from Sports Illustrated photo shoots(Watch here) to a successful music single (Listen here) Esti is very deserving of her spot on our TOP 10 list!
Marky Mark (Wahlberg) seems to have a little fetish for Israeli girls, after acting along side Israeli actress Gal Gadot (Watch Here), It’s Alona Tal’s turn, after appearances in Supernatural, Against the Wall, and The Killing, Tal will be appearing along side Wahlberg in the upcoming political thriller, Broken City (Read More)
Superman is getting a Yummy Mummy courtesy of the state of Israel. Ayelet Zurer will be replacing Julia Ormond as Superman’s Mother. She’s now the mother of a Super Hero (Read more)…Doesn’t she look the part! Her spot on the Top 10 is just … obvious