The CleanVest Summit held at the Sheraton Tel Aviv on October 21st, brought together leading international investors in the water arena, some of Israel’s most seasoned entrepreneurs in the sector, and cleantech start-ups.
Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett opened the event with his perspective on the nature of the Israeli start-up scene. In his presentation he countered the claim that Israel’s “exit culture” was problematic, and said that if innovating is Israel’s strength, rather than transitioning and managing major corporations, this is a valid positioning and Israeli companies should continue doing what they do best, innovating.
The unique format of the event, which included alternating round table discussions, in addition to the more traditional pitch presentations by start-ups, enabled attendees to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the water arena with some seasoned experts.
Eytan Levy, who successfully founded and led two water technology companies, Aqwise and currently Emefcy, headed the “Go to Market Plan: Crossing the Chasm – Selling to Mainstream Customers” round table discussion. There he discussed the challenge of retaining focus in a start-up environment. “When we began with Aqwise, the tendency was to ‘shoot in all directions’ and never miss an opportunity. But what I learned was the critical role of marketing, long before beginning sales efforts, and the need to focus on one market. I know how difficult it is to say ‘no’ to opportunities as a start-up, but small companies don’t have the capacity to see through a lot of projects. The right thing to do is to identify the right market and customers, and to focus all efforts on them.”
Oded Distel, Director of Israel NewTech and Invest in Israel in the Ministry of Economy, headed the “Stimulating Water Entrepreneurship” round table. One of the challenges discussed there was the difficulty in drawing talent to the water sector. While in the hi-tech sector 3-5 years to exit is not unusual, in the more conservative water sector, where projects take longer to be tested and implemented, 10-15 years is more the norm. Participants from government organizations in the U.S. and Singapore discussed the challenges this fact poses in drawing talented technology developers and entrepreneurs to the sector.
Boaz Albaranes of Israel NewTech, who was responsible for organizing the CleanVest Summit, summarized the event: “This year what stood out was the quality of the participants, with major international investors attending. There was a predominance of ‘hi-tech’ style cleantech companies amongst the start-ups, which provide high technology, programmed solutions, and this reflects one of the trends in the water industry overall. But in the end of the day, a great idea will still be the best draw for funding, no matter what form it comes in.”