Ten Israeli companies advanced to the second round of the Grand Challenges (Israel) program, for creating technological solutions to health challenges in developing countries. As part of the program, the Chief Scientist and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mashav) will provide 10 grants of up to NIS 500,000 to each company. Among the winning companies are Biofeed, developing new methods of pesticide without spraying, and FIT, developing prosthetic limbs for children who’ve lost their legs, prosthetics that “grow” with the child and more. The Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Economy: “Much of the world’s population is suffering from lack of food, access to clean water and exposure to diseases. We call on Israeli entrepreneurs to develop technologies that will improve the quality of life for billions around the world.” Head of Mashav at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Gil Haskel: “This unique program is at the meeting point of diplomacy and Israeli technological innovation.”
The Grand Challenges program, an international initiative operating in countries such as the US, Canada, India, Brazil, China and others, has set as its goal promotion of innovative solutions to global health and food safety challenges, with an emphasis on developing countries. This week, ten companies and initiatives were announced as winners in the Israeli segment of the program, also known as “Etgar” run under the auspices of the Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Economy in cooperation with Mashav (the Israeli Agency for International Aid and Cooperation in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Each entrepreneur will be given up to NIS 500,000 as a development grant to prove the viability of a novel idea that would help solve problems in the fields of global health and food security.
One of the winning companies is Biofeed, specializing in the development and production of green, environmentally-friendly solutions to replace poisonous pesticides used in agriculture. The company achieved a technological breakthrough in the field of exterminating agricultural pests and may now help bring a solution in the fight against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus which is threatening Brazil and many other countries.
According to CEO and founder Dr. Nimrod Israeli, the threat can be met: “We have for many years recognized the great potential in harnessing the world of insect smells for the benefit of humans. Evolution has given insects an elaborate sense of smell, which they utilize to find mates, food, egg-laying sites and more. The company has developed a secret liquid formula that “knows” how to tie different kinds of smells to other materials, as the need arises. The result is a special “decoy” that draws the target insect through smell. The decoy is slow-released from a hanging device over the course of a year. The insect is drawn to the decoy, feeds off it and is eliminated. Thus, instead of repeatedly spraying chemicals on produce, we bring the pest to the lethal substance and eliminate it, and the environment remains clean and safe. In the same way, we can also draw and exterminate disease-spreading pests like flies and mosquitoes, including the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus.” Dr. Israeli added that “The breakthrough we made and winning Grand Challenges Israel opens up markets of hundreds of millions of dollars for us and has brought investors and companies from around the world.”
Another company that won funding is FIT, developing affordable, high-quality prosthetics tailored to children in developing countries. According to estimates, there are 14 million people with severed legs in developing countries, half of them children. Amputations are the result of unmarked landmines going off, accidents and subpar sanitary conditions. Most prosthetic limbs in the world are very expensive and unsuited to developing countries, their budgets and their existing health and social services systems. FIT was planned and designed to be adaptable to the limited conditions of countries in South East Asia and Africa and allows for the distribution of prosthetics that can be fitted in a home environment. The founders of the project are Dr. Chen Barak, an alumnus of the Technion in electrical engineering and a doctor of bio-medical engineering, and Oz Benderman, an industrial designer who graduated from the department of industrial design at Hadassah College. They say that with the prosthetic, young amputees will be able to return to their normal lives and their family environment.
Chief Scientist Avi Hasson said: “International ‘Grand Challenges’ and specifically Israel’s Etgar program bring to the fore Israel’s capabilities in technological innovation together with the well-known Israeli entrepreneurial spirit. A combination of doing good, contributing to global challenges and penetrating new markets, while gaining experience with initiatives aimed at atypical audiences with unusual challenges for Israeli industry may bring Israeli entrepreneurs to vast new business opportunities.”
Head of Mashav at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Gil Haskel, said: “This unique program reflects Israel’s determination to continue helping developing countries with relevant problems and constitutes the meeting point between diplomacy and Israeli technological innovation.”
There is a large community of developers and entrepreneurs in Israel focusing mainly on the Western European and North American markets. The program aims at directing Israeli entrepreneurs to also seek solutions for markets in developing countries — markets where there is an urgent need for solutions on the one hand and great unrealized potential for the Israeli industrialist and investor on the other. The fact that developing countries suffer from complex challenges of underdevelopment, lack of resources, technologies, skilled manpower and advanced infrastructure is fertile ground for Israeli innovation.