What NZ can learn from Israeli innovation

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Bridgit Hawkins, Chief Sustainability Officer for CropX Technologies, NZ, has just attended the Agrifoods Week 2022 in Tel Aviv.

It was her first trip to Israel and was much as she expected, although “louder and bigger”.

For such a small country in size there is so much variation of landscape and people and cities.  As well as the time in Tel Aviv, I have been able to visit Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea, and to the Negev desert.  Each place has been different in so many ways, but the strong sense of what it is to be Israeli and a Jew runs deep in every person we have met.  Coming here and meeting the people – especially people I have worked with over Zoom for 2 years – and seeing places I have only ever read about has deepened my own understanding immensely. And the food – so much wonderful fresh food!

Hawkins was a participant in the NZ delegation to Israel. The delegation provided an opportunity for New Zealand leaders in business and innovation, governance, and agricultural and food technologies to gain an understanding of Israel’s AgriFood eco-system, emerging AgriFood trends, and to establish key relationships within the industry.

As well as CropX, the delegation included Zespri, AgritechNZ, Softbank Ventures and the New Zealand Israel Innovation Hub.

Here are Bridgit Hawkin’s takeaways from the week.

To sum up my impressions of the Israel ecosystem – purposeful chaos, to do out of the box thinking. The result – an amazing diversity of innovation that reaches out to solve global challenges, at scale and fast.

A couple of examples to illustrate what I mean. One of the start up pitches was SOOS that can change the phenotype expression of male eggs so when they hatch some of them lay eggs. No GMO or physical intervention, but using sound. What struck me with this company was not only the technology advance, but the initial market was in Europe – it might be many years before it is sold in Israel. 

Another example is from the Vidor Centre in Arava. They are evaluating an alternative way to grow peonies.  To start, I was amazed they could grow peonies in Israel as they need winter chilling of the plant – not natural for a desert area.  They had developed a way to do this in pots, but it was laborious. To improve on this, by thinking out of the box, they are working on a method to chill the soil – economically. 

For me this shows a broadness of mindset and approach, operating within an ecosystem of government programs to support each stage of start-up and scaling, that feeds into a private sector ready to invest in and adopt innovation. 

Finally, the formal presentations of Agrivest delivered lots of insights on a range of topics, including fundraising and exits. My take home is, although the market is flattening out, don’t be discouraged.  Now more than ever the world needs smart Agritech solutions for the food security and climate challenges our world faces. Israel is delivering to this challenge and New Zealand must also.

(CropX was founded in 2015, with a vision to revolutionize and automate farm management using advanced Ag Analytics. The company now has a team of over 80 employees based on four continents who contribute to an impressive multi-disciplinary skill set. The team includes expertise in agri-science, agri-business, big data, software and sensor technologies. These are the key disciplines that are required for product development and commercial launch and scale-up.)