These Israeli startups aren’t just doing well – they’re also doing good
This week, Israel goes from mourning the 23,447 fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism since the founding of the state to celebrating its 68th Independence Day, all in the span of 24 hours. This rapid shift from sadness to joy might be jarring for many, but it is part and parcel of a very special culture that has gained Israel the moniker of the startup nation and has produced some of the biggest technology startups, such as Wix, Waze, IronSource, and Viber. Israel itself can be considered the original startup success, growing in less than a century from a being small, poor, and underdeveloped backwater into a world leader in technology, innovation, and a member of the OECD.
But Israel and Israeli startups are not only world-leading in terms of financial metrics. Israelis are routinely ranked among the happiest people on earth, despite the many lingering problems of inequality, poverty, and violence that still afflict the country. A strong sense of shared identity and a can-do attitude toward tackling problems are commonly cited reasons for both Israel’s economic and social successes, and when combined with a desire to do good, Israeli startups often create some truly inspiring solutions to major social problems.
Here are five companies that have found innovative solutions to serious societal problems that don’t just work, but also benefit the world.
1. BioBee: From the Kibbutz to startup nation
The story of Israel is also the story of the Kibbutz movement, the agricultural collectives founded before the state with the goal of bringing Jews back into connection with their ancestral homeland. Although it became increasingly difficult for these communist micro-societies to survive economically as privatization swept over Israel in the ’80s and ’90s, some Kibbutzim adapted and even flourished in the new capitalist economy.
Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border with Jordan, leveraged its knowledge in organic agriculture by founding BioBee in 1984. Now, it is one of the leading international firms doing biological pest management, operating in four countries outside of Israel and selling products in more than 50 countries. It specializes in developing and selling bugs and bees for use as pesticides and pollinators, a much more sustainable and organic approach than traditional chemical pesticides.
BioBee stands as an example of how the roots of the entrepreneurial drive and startup mentality that spurred the Israeli economic miracle stretch beyond Silicon Wadi and the shimmering skyscrapers of Tel Aviv.
2. Blue Sphere: Endless supply meets endless demand
Since Israel has never been particularly rich in natural resources, working toward sustainability and recycling has been a necessity for Israel throughout its existence. Sustainability is a watch word for Blue Sphere, a developer of international waste-to-energy projects that convert regular organic garbage into electricity, biogas, and fertilizer.
Although now based in the U.S., the company was originally located in Even Yehuda and has raised more than $27 million since its founding in 2010, including major investments from York Capital Management and Helios Energy Investments. It is currently building company-designed waste-to-energy plants in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Johnston, Rhode Island, as well as operating several already constructed plants in Italy.
The potential of turning organic waste into energy is huge not only for its potential in reducing the usage of fossil fuels but also for removing the methane that is produced by food rotting in landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas several times more powerful than CO2, and reducing emissions is crucial if we are to limit global warming, one of the greatest threats facing our planet.
3. O’Daddy: Put down your phone, spend time with your kids
All over the developed world, it’s often lamented how our mobile, plugged-in culture has made it harder for parents to spend quality time with their children. Anyone who has visited Israel, or knows Israelis, will be aware how family-oriented they are. But many Israelis also find it challenging to balance an increasingly lopsided work-life equation.
Israeli startup Parento developed the app O’Daddy – released in March on iOS and Android – to help parents disconnect from work and their phones and spend more time with their kids. Some of the app features include measuring quality time spent with your children and blocking distracting notifications and traffic so your playtime won’t be disturbed, giving tips and ideas for age and location appropriate activities and games, and sending tailored push notifications to remind you to leave the office so you’ll be home in time to interact with your child.
Co-Founder and CEO of O’Daddy, Oded Israeli, said that the inspiration for the app came after the birth of his daughter when he was forced to leave his smartphone out of the hospital nursery. In a statement, Israeli said, “It was clear to me that nothing is more important than my kids, and that when spending time with them, everything else can, and should, wait.” This is an inspiring sentiment that, thanks to O’Daddy, more people may be able to live up to.
4. Vitalitix: Volunteering gives a sense of meaning
Another problem associated with economic development and societal and technological change is the breakdown in family and community bonds that used to provide a safety net of care and companionship for the elderly and infirm. This is another field where Israeli society stands out, marked by a high degree of community engagement and volunteering ethos.
Vitalitix, a startup founded by CEO Yoel Lavian in 2013, wants to harness the sense of meaning that many feel from volunteering to recreate this safety net and raise the quality of life for seniors. The company’s trademarked concept “crowd caring™” brings together seniors with family, caregivers, and so-called “social angels,” or people who want to help but have a hard time fitting volunteering into their busy schedules.
By using smart devices and a dedicated application, the company wants to create a seamless circle of people who can be mobilized to assist with caring for the elderly in whatever way they can, getting notifications if a senior in their area needs help with taking their pet for a walk, getting home from the bus, or simply are in need of company. This technological, community-centric approach to strengthening the fabric of society is quintessentially Israeli, and another example of Israeli startups doing good, not just doing well.
5. AngelSense: Keeping special needs kids safe
Israeli ingenuity also lies behind AngelSense, a GPS tracker and application combination specially designed for preventing abuse of special needs children. Founded in 2013, Doron Somer came up with the idea after his 17-year-old son, who has autism, was again mistreated by his caregiver.
The application aims to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society by giving their parents detailed information about their movements and well-being, and whose Customer Support Team is staffed by work-from-home parents of special needs children who themselves are users of AngelSense.
A concrete example of the good the product can do is the role it played in finding a 15-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome who was abducted and sexually assaulted. Her mother stated that, “We would have not been able to save our daughter without AngelSense’s unique capabilities – the automatic alert that our daughter is in an unexpected location, the ability to immediately listen-in, the wearing accessory that kept the device on her which deterred the attacker, and the real-time updates to quickly find her.”
Featured image credit: Corinna Hitzig / EyeEm / Getty Images Israel