Silicon Wadi

We finished our first week as Israel Tech Challenge Fellows and I have a better picture of what the next five months look like. On Sunday and Monday we toured around with Startup Nation Central, a business development organization which sprang out of the NYT bestselling book Start-up Nation. This book is responsible for publicizing Israel’s startup ecosystem and caused business delegations from all over the world to visit. Walking around the tech center of Tel Aviv you will see groups of international business people speaking a host of languages.

Walking down Rothschild Blvd.

On Monday, we visited three startups and a venture capital firm. The startups represented a range of tech sectors: Financial Technology, Medical Technology, and Cyber Security. The Financial Technology, or FinTech, company we visited was Etoro. They are a social investing platform, which lets users follow or copy other traders on the site. For instance, my aunt Susan often advises my mom on stock trading. With Etoro, when Susan makes a trade my mom would either be notified or, if she “copied” Susan, she would automatically make the same trade. It is an interesting platform but they are having trouble attracting larger clients and professional traders; it’s mostly a mad money site.

Visit by MobileOCT

The youngest company we saw was the Medical Tech startup, MobileOCT, which is working to reduce cervical cancer in low resource areas. Cervical cancer, according to The World Health Organization, is the leading cause of cancer death among women in poor countries. Doctors use colposcopes to look at the cervix for abnormalities, however the machines are very expensive and are not present in many rural clinics. MobileOCT is developing a device that allows a mobile phone to act as a colposcope, reducing the cost by orders of magnitude. This seems crazy, but smartphone cameras have improved at astonishing rates while medical technology moves much slower. Their main client will be NGOs (e.g. Doctors Without Borders) who will buy dozens of the machines for the rural regions in which they work.

The final company we visited, Lacoon, hacks into iPhones and Androids. Well, actually they prevent corporate smartphones from being attacked, but to prevent an attack you have to understand it. They showed us how easy it is to gain complete access to an iPhone or Android, including reading emails, passwords, and secretly turning on the microphone. It is as simple as tricking a user into downloading a malicious app. Their company detects these malicious apps and alerts the user or blocks them. Essentially, they are an antivirus app for your phone. They focus on the enterprise market and show companies like Samsung how their CTO could have his every conversation recorded and sent to an attacker’s email. Lacoon made headlines when they discovered China’s attack on the smartphones of Hong Kong demonstrators.

Tomorrow we will travel to Jerusalem for the Masa opening ceremony. Masa is the umbrella organization which courts Jews from around the world (mostly the USA and France) to spend time in Israel in the hopes they will make Aliyah. Benjamin Netanyahu will speak and Idan Raichel will perform.

Written on October 31, 2014