The tech sector has proven its weight in Bitcoin over the past few years. Before we dive deeper into the possibilities of the virtual world (I’m looking at you Metaverse and Neuralink), it’s important to know where the next tech-based trends will come from. To answer this, I sought out some of the Israeli ecosystem’s leading minds, along with help from friends over at Netcraft, to understand which innovation sectors and startups we should keep an eye on in the coming years:
Keep an eye on AI - Tzahi Weisfeld, Intel
I started out by interviewing Tzahi (Zack) Weisfeld, Vice President of Intel Ignite – the tech giant’s startup accelerator program. Tzahi also commands a chair on the Forbes Technology Council along with a few other hats he wears on his head.
An entrepreneur at his core, Tzahi previously led the multinational Microsoft startup program before taking his talents to Intel. He strongly believes that the strength of giant tech corporations lies in their ability to identify the next industry trends and the startups disrupting them. “ Look, the one word or two character word everyone uses is AI, right? Everything starts with AI.”
“Now how do you take that phenomena that data is king, and crunch that data super super fast, to create value. How do we, as a company, help so that our platforms give the tools, software services, and hardware tools for people that want to disrupt the world as fast as possible.”
Tzahi goes on to discuss how there was a tipping point reached in this past year, in areas like e-gov, EdTech, and ehealth. The role of synthetic data, the new generation of SaaS companies as well as innovation in semiconductor. The companies that are coming new to this are leveraging new tools and new platforms and accelerating so much faster than before. “Leveraging these cloud, AI, acceleration technologies, everything that’s out there, lots of open source that helps. So you could actually, you could work so much faster today than any time before, any time in history. So I think that’s the beauty of starting a new company now, these days, a new tech company, trying to solve issues in these areas.
After identifying AI technologies as key for startups looking to disrupt their space, I urge him, as someone who is, and has been, in the heart of the startup game to name the next great disruptor. However, Tzahi, who is positioned as kind of a “father” to many startups participating in the Intel Ignite program can’t really choose his “favorite” child, leaving us only to wonder which startup under his guidance will be next to take the innovation sector by storm.
Healthcare in the virtual space - Gadi Mikles, eBay
Next, I turn to Gadi Mikles, Head of Innovation and Research Products at ebay. He also is a member of the eBay Israel leadership team, a senior lecturer for innovation and management and an advisor for startups. During his time at eBay he has led projects that leveraged AI to enable more visual and rich experiences as well as personalization of the ecommerce giant experiences, for its global customers over the world. Gadi also led many collaborations with Israeli startups, and took and an active part in several M&A deals as well.
When I ask him about the sector he thinks will see exponential rise in the near future, he offers up a few options including HR tech, FinTech, ecommerce post Covid and Metaverse. “Let me quote Andrew Ng by saying we are in the Data-Centric AI era. The key for the company success is the quality of its data, and this will be the main factor that impacting the revolution in these fields”. Where he sees the most importance is the Digital Health arena. “As the digital revolution continues to evolve, smartphone hardware continues to improve and much more data is collected, I believe we will hear more and more about technologies around medical self-diagnosis and home-care for different medical situations which are still diagnosed in relatively old fashion way – epilepsy seizures, concussions, mental health, brain activity, different types of viruses and more.”
“I want to mention one technology that is fascinating to me because I see how it can potentially save lives…”. For full disclosure, Gadi mentions that this startup called Bioeye and is one of the startups he consults to.
This is an Australian – Israeli company which focuses on concussion diagnosis with your smartphone, in the vertical of sports of any kind (school sports, rugby, football, basketball, boxing etc.). “This team is leveraging the latest scientific findings about brain activity and their reflection on eye biomarkers. Then by using artificial intelligence algorithms they aim to build an app that can be accessed by every person and run self-diagnosis on the brain, based on the patient's eyes biomarkers scores. This is something I see as part of a much wider tech trend that would continue to evolve and hopefully create better, more accurate and faster medical care for a wide range of severe medical situations.”
Born of Musk & Microsoft - Adir Ron, Microsoft
Jumping back on the AI train is Adir Ron, who is the Cloud Application & Innovation Lead at Microsoft for the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Adir is responsible for Microsoft's strategy in the world of cloud applications (Cloud Native) and drives innovation across Azure & GitHub, cultivating key partnerships for developers, entrepreneurs, startups and open source communities in the region.
“We are currently going through a fascinating period - a quiet revolution in the worlds of machine learning and AI. The democratization of these solutions, and their transformation from niche solutions that require in-depth knowledge and expertise of Data Scientists into a wide open API-based service space will make them accessible to every developer in the world. In the past, we were accustomed to the separation of the development and data analysis worlds, this new space allows for interesting models where developers are beginning to leverage automated data analysis systems already during the application development process.”
The company he proposes as a game changer may be familiar to many of you, due to its start as a collective not-for-profit AI research, backed by Microsoft and Elon Musk, among others. He’s talking about none other than OpenAI, an American company aspiring to develop social AI to benefit the whole of mankind. “The company produces a wide range of models that make AI accessible to everyone. One of the most intriguing parts is called OpenAI Codex, which scans billions of lines of code from open source public projects hosted in GitHub's database to enable free language translation into standard and secure code.”
To infinity and beyond - Lee Moser, AnD Ventures
I also wanted to get some perspective from the investor side and hear how VCs are approaching the new wave of technological opportunities, and where they are looking to plant their capital. Lee Moser, Founder and Managing Partner at AnD Ventures, was a good place to start.
She asserts that the space race is back on. “History has shown that what starts as science fiction, often becomes reality… I feel like we are now in the midst of the space industrial revolution. With the cost of both rocket development and launch capabilities being lowered drastically, thanks in large to the involvement of big names such as Bezos’ Blue Origin, Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Musk’s SpaceX, new avenues of investment opportunity are impossible to ignore.”
Lee believes that space technology will help solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges and is particularly interested in technologies contributing to the development of the low earth orbit economy such as in-space manufacturing, microgravity pharmaceutical research, and commercial space stations.
As with those before her, I ask Lee to name a startup she thinks will help lead the leap to space. “Axiom Space is a startup we've invested in, and believe will soon-become a market leader, among other companies we've identified as innovators in the sector. These space focused companies will create a strategic next leap for humanity to harness space and enable a space station as a platform for all aspects of space, from tourism to technology and research. We are eager to see Israeli innovation supporting this field as well.” Axiom Space was founded in 2016 with a goal to make the possibilities of Low Earth Orbit accessible to visionary governments, researchers, manufacturers, and individuals.
Fintech Innovation in the Tax Sector
- Ronen Assia, Team8
I then went to pick the mind of Ronen Assia, co-founder behind Israeli FinTech sensation eToro and current Managing Partner at Team8 FinTech - an Israeli VC think tank. He talks about the boom in the eCommerce space, however with a long history in FinTech, he also notes the rise of cryptocurrencies and gig-working. These two pandemic favorites have laid the groundwork for what’s to come, and Ronen highlights the underlying beast of them both, “with crypto trading, requisite tax obligations can be quite challenging. Similarly, new cohorts of freelancers need to manage burdensome tax reporting requirements, and online sellers must cope with complex, multi-country reporting frameworks. These tax-related challenges confronting different user profiles have spurred a vibrant phase of tax-centric technological innovation.”
With an advanced suite of technologies to leverage, Ronen comments that there are new FinTech companies sprouting up to launch new tax products, while many existing Fintechs are expanding their offerings to include tax services and data-driven tools.
When asked about the next game changer, Ronen chooses to focus on the crypto space, showcasing TaxBit as one of several companies trying to solve some of the most pronounced challenges around crypto taxation. “They've successfully figured out how to build a tax services interface that solves a major pain point for all stakeholders. By providing reporting and automated compliance services for both sides of the (crypto) coin, they serve both trading platforms and traders.”
TaxBit’s recent funding round of $130m is strong validation of the need for robust tax and accounting software that can accommodate a rapidly growing industry, as well as formal reporting practices required by regulators.
“Today, many jurisdictions view crypto gains differently from a tax perspective, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach being adopted globally. Recognizing this fragmented crypto tax landscape, TaxBit has its sights set on the international market, where it can offer its brand of automated crypto tax compliance to a global audience.”
Tech & Climate Change - Shelly Hod Moyal, iAngels
Shelly Hod Moyal, Founding Partner of iAngels, a female-led venture firm, seeks out novel solutions to the world’s existential crisis, climate change. She sees technological innovation in this space as not only critical but the path of least resistance to resolve the world’s energy predicament.
“To achieve cost-efficient renewable energy, hydrogen must be part of the equation. The challenge for this space, however, is the unit economics of renewable, “green” hydrogen and its entire value chain remaining incredibly expensive in contrast to existing production capabilities. Therefore, we see solutions enabling the economical production of sustainable hydrogen as a pivotal step towards a society run on renewable energy.”
One of iAngels’ portfolio companies, H2Pro, has developed an innovative technology called E-TAC (Electrochemical-Thermally Activated Chemical). It leverages the concept of electrolysis, and the splitting of water for hydrogen production – but with significantly lower production costs.. “We’re actively looking for the opportunity to work with companies that are not intimidated by the size of our society’s biggest and most urgent challenges. H2Pro is a prime example, and we’ve been inspired by other founders working on solutions in domains such as ESG data, AgTech and Digital Health.”
Accelerating applications - Ziv Gafni, J.P. Morgan
Ziv Gafni, Head of Digital Strategy, Fintech & Markets Innovation at J.P. Morgan, a techie himself, shared with me where he sees the next big trend in the tech arena – software apps. “Paradigms are always shifting in software development (containers, microservices, cloud computing), and applications underpin the global economy and each vertical (business, consumer, health, etc)."
He highlights the importance of technologies that accelerate the modernization of applications. “Some code refactoring technologies combine dynamic analysis, static analysis, data science and automation, to help developers and architects re-engineer their applications to a more cloud-native state. This means more scalable applications, faster releases to market, a better experience for users and improved innovation. With the centrality of applications, these types of benefits offer a real global advantage. In our Innovation Center here in Israel we implement these technologies and others, and are planning to expand our activities and collaboration with the Israeli eco-system." Interesting input, however, Ziv as well finds it hard to put his finger on just one rising startup in the sector.