CA investors turn to Israel’s clean tech sector

The Pope was in Israel earlier this month, bringing with him thousands of Catholic pilgrims. A week later 40 investors from the California region came on a different kind of pilgrimage to Israel – to see the world-famous clean technology …

The Pope was in Israel earlier this month, bringing with him thousands of Catholic pilgrims. A week later 40 investors from the California region came on a different kind of pilgrimage to Israel – to see the world-famous clean technology opportunities Israeli entrepreneurs have to offer.

 

Despite the poor US economy, American investors see the down market as a business opportunity, and Israeli clean technology companies in renewables, water and energy are on their radar.

Among the participants in the clean tech mission to Israel are some of the biggest names in the California investment community including Atiq Raza, former COO of AMD and now at Khosla Ventures; George Coelho a managing partner for Good Energies; Josh Green, a general partner for Mohr Davidow Ventures; and Michael Allman, the CEO and president of Sempra Generation.

Giving event organizers – the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC) – their wish list before hand, the visitors met with dozens of Israeli companies. The guests, representing 25 different companies, landed in Israel on May 18, and for four days explored collaboration opportunities with Israeli firms and co-investment opportunities in this growing sector.

Some of the companies they met with included Metrolight, an energy saving electricity ballast company, and Better Place, the electric car sensation. Younger companies such as GreenRoad Technologies, an energy efficiency company, water tech innovators TaKaDu and AquaPure; and solar energy companies HelioFocus and ZenithSolar were all on the agenda.

Young, clean and green

An event including 20 promising research projects from Israeli universities was also a highlight, says Shuly Galili the executive director of the CICC. “The big highlight will be the start up companies that they are going to see,” Galili tells ISRAEL21c. “The selection was done by them,” she points out.

“It’s a good mix from various sectors,” she adds. “That’s a big part of it. They want to see a variety of companies that are potentially fundable.”

The CICC office is based in Silicon Valley in California – an interesting place in a down economy, according to Galili. “Investors are excited to make investments because valuations are down, and there is less noise in the market. We tend to see good entrepreneurs at these times,” she explains.

Interest in clean technology continues to run high, despite the economic downturn. “Both the Obama administration and governments worldwide are pouring money into this sector. It won’t be an area that investors will neglect because there are other partners in this area,” says Galili.

Some of the delegates on this new mission have already invested in the clean tech arena, while for a lot of the guests, it will be their first trip to Israel. Beyond onsite visits to research facilities, the group will also see a number of showcases of innovative clean technology companies, and will meet with President Shimon Peres, an advocate of pushing renewable energy into the mainstream.

Making green inroads

This will be the CICC’s fourth delegation from California to Israel. Last fall, the group sent Israeli entrepreneurs in clean tech to California where they met investors and utility companies and more. Over the years the CICC has brought over more than 100 funds to Israel interested in the cleantech sector.

Eric Weiss, the senior VP of marketing at GreenRoad decided to join the CICC as its entrepreneur in residence last fall to help bring the cleantech delegation to Israel. “I come from industry so I understand the VC world, industry and the corporate world both as an entrepreneur and as a large corporation,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“Bringing these together is salient for clean tech because unlike any other industry, clean tech requires cooperation in policy, in academia, entrepreneurship and investment in large companies.”

While Israel is well known for its activities in solar power and water, Weiss was surprised to see many other layers to the sector in Israel, he says.

“One thing that pleasantly surprised me in our network is that the diversity is very profound: from fuel cell storage to wind, to solar and energy efficiency like Metrolight and Green Roads, to smart grid solutions,” he says.

A clean tech Petri dish

Israel has so much to offer, “not to mention water,” continues Weiss, who is based in California.

One attractive element to working with the country’s clean tech entrepreneurs, he adds, is that Israel has made a lot of policy progress in the last year. Such a revolution could never happen so quickly in America, Weiss believes. “The turnaround happened fast. That’s why Israel is an amazing Petri dish for clean tech.”

Chaired and founded by Zvi Alon, an Israeli high-tech entrepreneur and the co-founder of ISRAEL21c, the CICC is a non profit, non-governmental membership-supported organization strengthening business and trade relations between California and Israel since 2001.

The CICC has been working with global technology investors and companies to discover Israel’s breakthrough technology innovations, resulting in millions of dollars in new venture and M&A investments.

The clean tech delegation to Israel was sponsored by the companies Perkins Coie, Jeffries & Co, Vantage Point Venture Partners; Silicon Valley Bank and Israel Cleantech Ventures.

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About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.