You may think of Silicon Valley as the start-up capital of the world but if you look at it acre-for-acre, person-for-person, no place is innovating more than Israel. This small strip of land on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea attracts nearly twice the venture capital per capita as the U.S. and has more start-ups, patents, and inventions than all of the European Union. It earned the moniker "Start-up Nation" in 2010 when Dan Senor and Saul Singer published their book of the same name which told the story of Israel's economic miracle.
More recently Marcella Rosen's "Tiny Dynamo" is a must-read for anyone passionate about entrepreneurship and technology. In her book--which reads like a compilation of Inc. stories you could breeze through in a couple of hours--she profiles 21 fascinating Israeli start-ups churning out inventions that solve real, global problems. Here's a taste of what she found.
Clean Fish Farming
As the world's population continues to grow it's widely understood that the availability of clean fresh water will increasingly be a major issue not only in terms of drinking water but food, as well. Considering that it takes 500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, fish farming has the potential to provide a less water-intensive way of growing protein. But keeping large quantities of fish together in nets offshore or in large aquariums on shore is dirty business that can pollute the ocean with copious amounts of ammonia and nitrogen.
Enter Grow Fish Anywhere which uses anaerobic bacteria to get rid of noxious compounds in water, resulting in a closed system that can be used anywhere, can stay clean indefinitely and only necessitates two gallons of water to produce one pound of fish protein.
Endoscopy--using cameras and lights to see inside the body--has been around for decades but seeing the entire length of the small intestine has traditionally been difficult because the anatomy is curvy, winding and more than 20 feet long.
"You could put a scope in the top and see that half, and in the bottom and see that half. But getting the whole thing at once--forget it," says Homi Shamir, CEO of Given Imaging, a company that created a pill-sized wirelessly-connected camera and lights combination that a patient swallows. In the eight hours it takes to pass through a person's body it takes around 60,000 photos along the way.
Next on the company's radar: capsules that can be steered with a magnet to let an operator hover within or go back to certain parts of the body, as well as miniature devices that can conduct tests, take tissue samples, and deliver medicine while traveling inside the body.
Saving the Bees
The cover of Time magazine recently featured a photo of a honeybee along with the dire headline, "A World Without Bees: The Price We'll Pay if We Don't Figure Out What's Killing the Honeybee." It's true, a malady called colony collapse disorder (CCD) is responsible every year for the disappearance of 30 percent of professionally maintained hives. This is a big deal, considering one-third of the food we eat depends on the pollination accomplished by bees.
While the causes of CCD appear to be multifold and experts can't agree on exactly what's causing it, Eyal Ben-Chanoch, CEO of Beeologics, thinks viruses are much to blame. His company has created an immunizing additive called Remembee which beekeepers add to the syrup they feed their bees. It appears to work. Not only are many beekeepers who have used it reordering Remembee, the company was recently purchased by Monsanto.
Breathing Like a Fish
Alon Bodner and his son were watching a "Star Wars" movie in which characters used only a small mouthpiece to breathe underwater. It got the engineer and Scuba diver thinking--could humans extract dissolved oxygen from the water in the same way fish do? Nuclear submarines do it, but it requires a tremendous amount of energy.
His invention called Like-A-Fish uses a centrifuge to spin water, capture dissolved air, and turn it into a breathable gas. While his original intent was to find a way to rid divers from the tanks of air on their backs, his work is attracting interest from the Navy, diving equipment manufacturers, and academic institutions that could use the technology in their underwater research facilities.
Earth-Friendly Food Packaging
Waterproof and airtight, plastic as food packaging performs well. However, not only does plastic packaging in landfills result in biotoxins such as PCBs leaching into the water supply, manufacturing it creates a lot of pollution and requires an immense amount of water and energy.
Tipa Corporation discovered it doesn't have to be so. Its 100 percent biodegradable food packaging materials are designed to imitate the orange peel. If you leave them out in the open they'll be completely gone in as little as a few months with no harm whatsoever to the environment. The company took second prize last year at the packaging industry's 2012 SusPack (Sustainable Packaging) Awards and has signed deals with some of the largest U.S. food companies.
In "Tiny Dynamo" Rosen profiles 16 other start-ups doing pretty amazing things, such as one that uses hidden biometric sensors that work in conjunction with unnoticeable psychological triggers in public settings to identify terrorists--basically reading their minds before they can take action. Another created a pea-sized telescope that can be implanted in an eyeball to counteract age-related macular degeneration. Yet another invented a pilotless drone that can carry people and supplies and get to places helicopters and ambulances can't reach.
Rosen says these stories represent only a fraction of what's going in Israel, and that for every company she profiled there are dozens more like it.