You often hear the saying “Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays and Haifa works” when visiting Startupbootcamp Israel in Haifa, an hour north of Tel Aviv. This saying is also captured in day to day stories you hear on Haifa’s streets. While at lunch with Shahar Namer, CEO Startupbootcamp Israel last week, he pointed out the burger joint we were in, “Bunny’s Bar”, is next to the most unprofitable McDonalds in the whole of Israel. Bunny’s went through 80 recipes before perfecting what was a most delicious burger (pic below). McDonalds in Haifa to this day remains open but mostly empty while Haifa’s food lovers flock next door to Bunny’s. This spirit of working hard and “little guys taking on the big corporates” can be seen everywhere including the fast moving Israeli tech scene, according to Shahar.
It is widely known that Israel has more hi-tech startups per capita than any other nation. It ranks second behind the US in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ and with only seven million people attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined, the highest venture capital per capita worldwide. Israel is the Start-Up Nation. It is also the “Startup *Exit* Nation”, says Shahar. “This is evident in the high quality of engineering talent coming out of local universities, such as the Technion in Haifa, who go on to start new companies that attract VC funding and then get acquired -there were $6bn high tech exits last year.” Israel’s engineers are also highly sought after by global tech leaders such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel & IBM who have based their global R&D operations in Haifa. “One of the many reasons we like it here too.”
It is within this context that Sushi Venture Partners embarked on creating an Israeli tech acceleration program and partnered with Europe’s leading startup accelerator, Startupbootcamp. Based in Haifa University, SBCIsrael has been running since January and hosted its first demo day on Thursday 25th of April at IBM Labs.
Seven teams were chosen to present across rapidly evolving digital areas such as photo sharing, voice technologies, web video, crowdfunding and music streaming.
Photosharing, evolving in new directions
Sharing pics of yourself and things you like has become a widespread activity thanks to Facebook, Google+, Flickr and other related services with hundreds of billions uploaded and shared daily. Photo filters and tools to improve photos are featured in many of the latest photo apps and it is within this context that SBCIsrael’s first presenting team Pixtr showcased their one click “picture perfecting” app.
Pixtr – Perfecting Pictures
Aviv Gadot of Pixtr described how many of the pictures he takes need improvement and end up being deleted because the shots of people do not look good. With one click, Pixtr’s mobile app detects faces, who the person is, extracts facial features, adjusts proportions & smoothens skin tones creating magically improved pictures without the complexity of using photo editing software. There are currently a number of high end complex professional tools for photo editing but very few that are easy to use and operate on mobile phones. Pixtr is designed for mobile and it integrates with facebook and dropbox. Their API will allow developers to take advantage of Pixtr’s proprietary tech and develop photo applications. With an experienced team and backing from Uri Levine of Waze, Pixtr intend to change the photography world. According to Aviv, “What Adobe did to digital photography, Pixtr will do to mobile photography”. The app is live and available for download in the AppStore.
Team – Aviv Gadot, Avner Barr, Yaron Recher, Gad Markovits
Thingies – The world’s first stealing app
The second photo app adds a fun social game to photo sharing. We all love to share pics of things we love, for example: shoes, favourite foods, cats & cars. We also like to view what other people share. Sometimes just liking them on facebook isn’t enough according to Oz Barzilay, co founder and co-creator of Thingies, a novel game where users can steal Thingies from other users with rewards for good steals and punishments when you get caught. Oz describes the addictiveness of the game, the first stealing app in the world, as three times higher than other mobile apps for average frequent use. In the short time they’ve been live testing, the app spread without marketing, creates its own buzz and draws strong commitment from its growing young userbase. One user for example asked them to protect his Thingies while on vacation and another jumped on her friend to stop her stealing! Thingies have taken what they learnt while at SBCIsrael and are developing the next version of the game which will feature in-app purchases, power apps to guard your thingies and new advertising opportunities. On that note, Oz pointed us to their competition launching next week featuring a pair of Beats headphones – the user who holds on to the Beats “Thingy” the longest wins the headphones. The last time a similar competition took place in the app they saw a 31% click through in app vs 6.5% in Facebook. Thingies see this as a new form of competitive advertising with better brand engagement through *stealing*. You can join the competition by downloading the game, available in the AppStore.
Team – Oz Barzilay, Ayala Barzilay
Voice Technologies, the next wave
Many of us have used voice tech in recent years with the spread of Siri, Google Voice and numerous new voice recognition tools in areas such as dictation and personal assistant functions. Current applications are mainly focused on improving speech recognition in devices and voice to text applications. SBCIsrael presented a team developing voice technologies to enable a new breed of applications that not only recognise speech but importantly also recognise intonation in a person’s voice.
Voiceitt – Voice intonation UX
Voiceitt are creating the next wave of voice application interfaces. Danny Weissberg presented a new and exciting natural user interface based on voice intonation. Voice recognition can be so much more than words and this has yet to be captured in today’s speech recognition tools. Voiceitt have developed real-time voice intonation recognition features enabling new voice applications. Their first targets are games (Danny showed an example of action moves), child learning, disability management and messaging applications.
Voiceitt’s engine also translates sound and intonation patterns into speech. Danny showed an example of a speech impaired individual using a communication board they developed to “speak” through voiceitt and “never struggle to be misunderstood again”. Voiceitt recently signed a partnership with a leading disability and education group to develop a pilot. They are currently fundraising and developing their test alpha.
Team – Danny Weissberg, Stas Tiomkin, Orna Luz, Ori Schecter, Chen Broder
Web Video – simpler & still innovating
Since YouTube popularised online video, this space has developed in sophistication and at pace. The growing use of smart devices is creating opportunities for novel video apps, the latest being six second “Vines” being promoted by Twitter as a new means to connect. SBCIsrael selected two teams developing novel video apps targeting both small business applications and new ways of business networking.
VideoStir – A virtual spokesperson on any site.
Videostir lets anyone create a floating clip on a website in five minutes. Opening his presentation, Videostir’s Shy Fenkel teased us by “hacking” into Startupbootcamp’s website and posting a floating clip of him speaking to the audience from the site.
Team – Shy Fenkel, Israel Goldwasser, Alexey Bass
Thename.is – Real Time Video Profiles
“We make anybody a somebody AND we are going to conquer the world!” Brave words from Dror Galis of Thename.is, a service to automatically generate videos of individual profiles extracted from info on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social feeds. A hybrid between video clip and business card, thename.is offers real-time aggregation of a person’s social feeds, analyzed, filtered, and presented in a sleek, visually appealing and informative way. Dror presented a demo of a sales exec on his way to a meeting checking Google, LinkedIn and others to assemble bits and pieces of info for his meeting. With thename.is he views a narrated profile of the person he is meeting in seconds along with background context and possible ice breakers from fb & twitter updates.
The app is targeted at networking & intel requirements of business professionals and customer management in corporates. Data sources can include both social media sites and public data feeds or data retrieved from Businesses/Enterprises Cloud/Private Cloud CRM/ERP systems. Currently in private beta. Be amongst the first users of the app by signing up
Team: Dror Galis, Dovev Goldstein, Roee Lotan, Aviad Eshed
Crowdfunding & startups
Crowdfunding has grown considerably in the last couple of years. The latest tally from Massolution’s Crowdfunding Industry Report states over $1bn has been raised to date with the fastest growing segment in equity investment crowdfunding.
Startupmotion – Powered by SushiVC
Kalam Ali presented Startupmotion, a startup investment service being developed locally in SBCIsrael. Currently in prelaunch, it is powered by SushiVC and features information on SBCIsrael’s teams and their investability. The site will shortly be rolling out features offering a new mechanism for equity investment into Israeli startups. Startupmotion is targeting accelerators and will offer highly vetted and selected first round teams seeking investment for product development. You can view the current teams and sign up for more info on Sushi.VC
The Next Program – Sneak Peek
SBCIsrael also featured a selection for the next program addressing streaming technologies in the music industry. The music industry is evolving at an accelerated pace. It has gone from CD to digital download and now streaming in just under a decade. New services such as Spotify and Deezer are proving to be very popular with a simple model of all you can listen to streaming music at an affordable price.
StreamIT – Whitelabel streaming music player
According to Scott de Mercado presenting StreamIT a new streaming music startup, in the past year the music industry has embraced streaming and is now at a tipping point. Audio streaming is set to become a $500m market. He provided a sneak peek of StreamIT a startup targeting new opportunities in this emergent space. StreamIT is an end to end turnkey solution for any brands and retailers seeking to use music streaming in their product offering. Currently they are limited to services such as Spotify and Deezer for example who have the tech and complex licensing wrapped up in a subscription with limited or no customisation options. StreamIT will offer a customisable whitelabel musicplayer prepackaged with negotiated music deals combined with built-in industry standard reporting and analytics – making it simple for brands and retailers to embed and use music streaming in their offerings. As an example of applications., Scott went over a global campaign HP and Universal ran last year using a custom player and emerging opportunities with hotel brands, mobile operators and travel companies amongst others. StreamIT has spent the last year bringing together key execs from the music industry together with a strong Israeli development team to create this exciting new service in Israel.
Team: Scott de Mercado
Afterword & Thank You
We’d like to thank Haifa University and IBM Labs for their support throughout and assistance in making our first Israeli accelerator and Demo Day a huge success. We’re very grateful for and very much appreciative of the time put in by our mentors and partners, GKHLaw, Deloitte & Donna Abraham, who collectively played an important role assisting teams to advance product development and be market ready. Many thanks also to Vova Soroka, Leader of the Global Technology Unit in IBM Israel for briefly speaking about IBM’s targeted initiatives for entrepreneurial tech companies.
We were delighted with the attendance & it was great to see everyone. We spent nearly six months choosing teams for the first program, it was an intense and rewarding experience for all of us.
Speaking at the event, Paul- René Albertini Chairman SBCIsrael & SushiVP discussed the last three months. “The acceleration process has shown us and the teams that when you develop products and align them smartly towards your users, funding becomes a consequence of your efforts rather than simply an outcome of joining an accelerator. We’re very much looking forward to working with the teams as they grow and we’ll be doing it all over again later this year in our next program.”
We will be back this autumn for the next round of acceleration.
Please direct all queries in the meantime to Shahar Namer, CEO SBCIsrael
Haifa Beach – April 2013
Bunny’s Burger Bar in Haifa (ref: opening paragraph)