Outstanding technological incubator projects honored

The A-Trap device involves the fermentation of natural foodstuffs which is safe to use indoors and does not attract beneficial insects, thereby causing no environmental imbalance.A tiny robot that directs surgical tools with greater precision than a surgeon’s hand. An …

The A-Trap device involves the fermentation of natural foodstuffs which is safe to use indoors and does not attract beneficial insects, thereby causing no environmental imbalance.A tiny robot that directs surgical tools with greater precision than a surgeon’s hand.

An artery filter that helps prevent strokes.

A device that detects and destroys kidney stones.

And an environmentally friendly mosquito trap.

These were all innovative products developed by the winners of the Israeli Outstanding Incubator Enterprises for 2002.

Israel’s Trade and Industry Ministry honored four outstanding Technological Incubator enterprises in this year’s annual award ceremony at Kibbutz Shfayim: Mazor Robotics (from the Haifa Technion incubator), Mind Guard (from the Nayot incubator near Nazareth), Lithotek Medical and A-Trap – both from the Golan incubator Meytag.

“Hundreds of ideas have graduated the incubators into viable companies in the past few years,” Rina Pridor, the ministry’s Technological Incubators Program Director, told Israel21c. “The technological incubators are islands of sanity, positive thinking, innovation and belief.”

“The program gives a chance for an idea to prove itself. We provide a supportive environment for fledgling projects including logistical, financial and marketing support. The target is to attract private investment that will allow them to survive and develop once they leave the incubator.”

Israel’s 24 technological incubators house some 200 ongoing projects, with a success rate above 50 percent – high by any standards in the world.

“They continuously absorb, process and dispatch projects. Each incubator has about 10 ongoing projects, meaning that it absorbs five projects a year, while another five either graduate or are reorganized,” said Pridor.

“Investment in R&D is essential for Israel’s long-term economic prospects – especially as we have no natural resources other than brainpower,” said Eli Ofer, Chief Scientist at the Trade and Industry Ministry, in his address. “R&D is the most important aspect of infrastructure for future economic growth.”

“There are some fascinating projects under way in Israeli incubators in relatively new fields such as nano-technologies and more traditional communications and information management.”

“The technological incubators remain a ray of light in our economic murk,” said Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Michael Ratson.

The four winning incubators represent a wide spectrum of innovative technology.

** Mazor is perfecting a surgical device that may become commonplace in tomorrow’s operating theaters – a tiny robot attached to the patient’s body (usually to the spine) that directs surgical tools with greater precision than a surgeon’s hand.

“We saw the need to leave academia and develop into the framework of a private company,” said Mazor’s initiator, Profesor Moshe Shaham. “Our decision to apply to the incubator was definitely a good one – it saved many headaches in the early stages of the product.”

Within two years of its inauguration, Mazor has raised $4 million from Risk Funds and linked with several medical centers in Israel and abroad. The company’s first products are due to reach the market in about 18 months.

** Mind Guard, now a Caesaria-based company employing 30, has designed a revolutionary artery filter that helps prevent strokes – and could evolve into a permanent solution. “Everyone told us that our idea was impossible and hopeless,” recalled company chairman Dr. Ofer Yodfat. “Four years later, we have proved the efficiency of our products.”

Mind Guard’s filter redirects potentially dangerous brain-bound blood clots from major arteries into smaller blood vessels, and could prove a permanent solution for high-risk patients. The company has already raised over $10 million in outside investment.

** Lithotek has developed a medical device that complements endoscopes by detecting, destroying and removing kidney stones using a unique “basket” less than one millimeter in diameter.

“We are part of a cooperative program with incubators in Siberia,” explained Lithotek’s Dr. Valerie Diamant, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union.

Less than two years old, the company has already signed a worldwide marketing agreement with the US-based Cook Urological worth $3.5 million, and recently dispatched the first products from its new manufacturing facility in Katzrin.

** The brainchild of Prof. Meir Shinitzky of the Weitzman Institute, Dr. Gunter Muller of the Hebrew University and Miri Simchoni-Barak of Kibbutz Yiftach, A-Trap started as an experiment conducted in the kibbutz’s laboratory five years ago.

“There are several ways to attract mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects,” explained Muller, the company’s scientist. “They are drawn by Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in breath, the heat of warm-blooded animals, bodily odors and even shapes, movement and color contrasts. Our trap mimics all these with a heating device and our patented biochemical processes that emit CO2 and odors.”

The unique device involves the fermentation of natural foodstuffs. “Rather than smelling like old socks, it gives off a pleasant, fruity-beery odor,” said Muller. “Unlike most chemical- or UV-based traps, it is safe to use indoors and does not attract beneficial insects, thereby causing no environmental imbalance.”

A prototype trap was extensively tested in Florida, Israel and Germany, and the patent can be adapted to attract specific flies, insects or bloodsuckers. The company”s second product – a trap for flies only – is under development.
A-Trap recently signed a long-term marketing contract – worth $55 million over the next five years – with Florida-based Lentek International that manufactures and markets consumer products across the United States and in 67 countries. The connection between the companies was facilitated by Peformance Systems, which has helped over 100 Israeli companies penetrate US markets.

The moveable trap is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, and may soon become a fixture of every family picnic. “We expect to sell hundreds of thousands of dispensers and millions of refills,” said A-Trap’s Chairman Ami Regev. “We’re thinking in international terms. The company is currently negotiating a European distribution agreement with the German-based Neudorf, and our next target market will be Australia.”

A-Trap graduated from the Golan incubator last summer, and is to open a new marketing center in Kibbutz Hachorshim (near Rosh Ha’ayin) in April.