There are many reasons Israel has been an innovator, including, in part, because it has to be. Now, Sustainable World Capital's Shawn Lesser highlights the history of innovation, access to capital, scarce resources and other factors propelling cleantech today in Israel.
Here are the Top 10 Reasons Israel is a cleantech leader:
1. Israel is the Silicon Valley of water. Relative to its small size, Israel has devoted more resources to the development of waste water treatment and reclamation than any other country in the world. Seventy percent of its waste water is recycled, three times the figure of number two: Spain. Israel is the birthplace and world leader in drip irrigation, which has literally turned deserts into farmlands. The Israeli firm Netafim, a $500 million high-tech drip-irrigation giant, is a world leader in smart irrigation technology and has been credited with starting the drip irrigation revolution. Israel Newtech, which promotes Israeli clean energy and water technologies, has identified hundreds of water companies. It’s estimated that Israel’s water industry was valued at $1.4 billion in 2008 and could reach $2.5 billion by 2011.
2. Brain trust. Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to population in the world. Within its small borders is an enormous concentration of PhDs and engineers, bolstered in large part by the large immigration from the former Soviet Union. This concentration of minds in a relatively small geographical space creates a country-wide incubator where ideas are constantly tested in the coffee shops of Tel-Aviv and the hallways of universities.
3. Necessity as the mother of innovation. Due to its location and terrain, Israel is a country that has had extremely limited natural resources since its inception. Israelis have therefore become experts at getting the most out of limited natural resources. Confronting adversity has trained Israelis to think outside of the box. “Israel is poor in natural resources and rich in brain capital. Clean energy bridges that gap. What Israel lacks in the ground it makes up with its people,” says David Anthony from 21 Ventures.
4. Leveraging tech expertise to cleantech. “Israel’s tech sector has flourished through the creation of core technology competencies that are world leading,” as Glen Schwaber, Partner at Israel Cleantech Ventures, wrote in his article “The Quest for Smarts.”
“Israel’s tech sector has flourished through the creation of core technology competencies that are world leading,” according to Schwaber. These include, but are not limited to digital printing, semiconductors, power electronics, optics and software. Over the last two decades, multiple billions of VC dollars have poured into Israeli companies in these sectors, market leaders have emerged, and many of the world’s largest multinationals have bought companies and set up shop in Israel as a result.”
5. Capital. Just about every major US VC firm in Silicon Valley, from Battery Ventures to Greylock to USVP to Sequoia Capital, is prospecting across Israel for cleantech investments. All told, at least 40 venture funds, several of them American, manage more than $10 billion in Israel, with an increasing share of their allocations devoted to cleantech companies.
6. The Better Place Factor. Better Place is Israel’s best known cleantech company, and it recently raised a further $350 million (see Better Place deal bested by Airtricity). Founded by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, the company is developing electric vehicle battery swapping infrastructure.
7. The sun shines brightly over Israel. The solar radiation Israel receives is a driver of solar thermal companies. Siemens bought Israeli solar thermal pioneer Solel for $418 million, while BrightSource Energy has raised more than $160 million from investors, including U.S.-based VantagePoint Venture Partners, Google, BP’s investment arm, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase. Other notable solar thermal companies include Heliofocus, ZenithSolar, and AORA.
8. Kibbutz Pioneers. The foundation of Israel’s cleantech industry was laid with the beginning of the kibbutz (collective communities) movement at the start of the 20th century (see Israel’s cleantech kibbutzim pioneers). At that time, the land was mostly semi-arid, with a scarcity of water and pockmarked by mosquito infested swamps, so principles of sustainability and self-sufficiency were adopted from the outset so as to “make the desert bloom”.
9. Home grown Israeli VC community. Israel has a vibrant local VC community which includes Israel Cleantech Ventures, AquaAgro and Terra Ventures—three firms dedicated to investing in Israel’s cleantech sector. Having a vibrant local VC community also draws foreign money.
10. Momentum. Israel is fast becoming the cleantech incubator to the world. In proportion to its population, it now has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world except the U.S., with 3,500 companies, mostly in hi-tech. Exciting new cleantech startups to keep an eye on, in our opinion, that haven’t been mentioned already include Bio Pure Technology, BioPetroClean, CellEra, Emefcy, Enstorage, Greenlet Technologies, GreenRoad, GreenSun Energy, IQ Wind, Linum, Panoramic Power, Phoebus Energy, SolarEdge, Takadu, Technospin, Transalgae and Variable Wind Solutions.
As Al Gore siad in a recent visit to Israel, “the people of Israel can lead the way to renewable energy. With its unique geographical position, and cleantech know how, Israel is a natural leader in the field.”
Cleantech could well become Israel’s biggest export market. Other countries should take note.