In terms of funding, Israel follows closely on the heels of Silicon Valley-based Agritech companies. Most major investments seem to be largely attributable to reputation and prestige, rather than actual Agritech value – which does not belie the value of Silicon Valley-based Agritech companies; it is simply a more prominent deciding factor.
While the Agritech solutions that come out of Silicon Valley are no less interesting, innovative, or top-notch than those being developed in Israel, there are a number of characteristics which could identify Israel as the world’s leading hub for generating Agritech unicorns. According to Barak Hachomov, Co-Founder and Chairman of stealth Israeli Smart Farming start-up SeeTree, Israel presently has all the components required to make it a superpower of innovation, set to disrupt the world of agriculture, both in the long and short-term. There is precedent: long before Israel globally established its reputation as the start-up nation, it was renowned for its Jaffa oranges. The expertise of the Israeli startup ecosystem is unparalleled across numerous fronts – AI, ML, drones, robotics, advanced sensors and of course deep knowledge, intersecting across Agritech and agriculture as a whole. The elements which collectively make Israeli innovations unique all branch out of core sources with transferable qualities, many of which stem from the field of military intelligence, and the brilliant minds therein.
Israel vs. Silicon Valley – David vs. Goliath?
In comparing Agritech developments that originated in Israel to those from Silicon Valley, it’s important to examine where the differences lie. One of the elements that distinguishes Israel from Silicon Valley is that due to the compact geographical nature of the Holy Land, the Israeli center of knowledge is in basically the same place (or near as dammit) to the centers of high-tech, enabling a closer relationship on every level. While Silicon Valley is the greatest and most prolific global source of high-tech and expertise, the center of agricultural expertise does not reside there; rather it is spread out across the USA in such farm-heavy locations as Florida, Iowa and the rest of Middle America, which are all considerably reliant on crops as income. Not that this is the only source from which springs US Agritech innovation – as in Israel, there is also a certain amount of innovation deriving from military experience and corporate backgrounds. However, none of these are in the Valley.
Israel’s Unique Connection with Agriculture and Technology
Israel’s centers of Agritech expertise are an integral part of the innovation ecosystem – one could even say that they’re almost indistinguishable. Since many Agritech entrepreneurs and innovators come from a farming background, their involvement in the ecosystem is as personal as it is professional.
Much of this is due to the Kibbutzim – the Israeli residential farming communities, established pre-State, which have had an enormous impact on Israeli Agritech. Israeli Agritech start-ups have a direct connection with the Kibbutzim, which offer them personal and comprehensive understanding of farm life, access to Israeli farming insights, the potential for practical trials, and access to the greater network comprising corporates and the government. Various Israeli hubs of agricultural knowledge also have well-established relationships with the Kibbutzim. A prime example of this is the Agricultural Ministryfunded Volcani Institute, founded to conduct agricultural research to support farmers and Agritech innovators in Israel.
Another part of what makes Israel comparable to the Valley in terms of innovation is its experience with and proximity to tech corporates. Moreover, the enormous impact of the IDF on Israel’s cultural and professional life means that it naturally permeates business with the best of our homegrown technology spilling out into the corporate world. This is particularly the case with Agritech, specifically because of the aforementioned personal connection with disruptive and innovative agricultural techniques, that has existed since well before the State did. For example, SeeTree, founded by Barak Hachomov (quoted earlier) is a crop and tree management system, consisting of a developed intelligence network for farmers using machine-learning algorithms that provide actionable analytics to help them monitor their crops and evaluate the strength of their trees. Another example of a solution inspired by military technology is Taranis, which is a complex imagery platform for predictive crop monitoring, which recently raised a B round of $20M from several investors, including Viola. Incidentally, disruptive Agritech solutions influenced by military technology and know-how are by no means exclusive to Israeli Agritech. However, they are certainly more prevalent in Israel, due to the more societally interwoven nature of the relationship of Israel’s military to and with its people, culture and everyday life.