Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Israeli cleantech startups to visit Silicon Valley

The California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC) has just announced a "Call for Companies" for its inaugural "Israel Cleantech Tour 2008".

The tour is part of the CICC's Cleantech Initiative and aims to introduce Israeli cleantech companies to California's key cleantech industry players -- "customers, investors and technology and channel partners." Joining the CICC in hosting the
delegation are General Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Google, Applied Materials, California Public Utilities Commmission (CPUC), and The Cleantech Group.

Companies interested in joining the delegation should check out the CICC Cleantech Initiative's web site and download an application form. Only 15 companies will be selected to participate, and applications are due no later than September 20!

Eric Weiss, the Chair of the CICC's Cleantech Initiative, graciously agreed to an interview with "Cleantech Investing in Israel." What follows are his answers to a series of questions about the CICC, the Cleantech Tour, and Israel's cleantech-related connections to Silicon Valley.

JS: What are the origins of the CICC's Cleantech Initiative and 2008 Tour? What other industries has the CICC worked with?

EW: The CICC has always focused on programs that matter to its investor and corporate members. Cleantech is becoming front and center to its membership and is a vital strategic industry in both California and Israel. California is the #1 U.S. state for cleantech investment, has the most aggressive renewable energy policies and has a consumer base predisposed to buying “green”. Meanwhile Israel has over 400 promising cleantech companies and world class scientific research institutions. Creating this initiative was a “no-brainer.”

Over the past 8 years the CICC has successfully worked with a variety of technology industries – semiconductor, software, telecom, Internet/web. Each time we have employed a strategy of partnering with the industry leaders. For example, in the Internet/web we worked with Google, Yahoo, Adobe and Microsoft; in semiconductor it was Motorola, Intel, Applied Materials and Texas Instruments. In cleantech we’re similarly working with leaders in the industry, though we also included policymakers and academia in addition to industrial players. Some of our cleantech partners include: PG&E, GE, California Public Utility Commission, Applied Materials, Google, BrightSource, US Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Israel Cleantech Ventures and Perkins Coie.

JS: What are the goals of the tour?

EW: The goals of the tour are to bring together entrepreneurial, investment, corporate and policy leaders from Israel and California, enable sharing of ideas and ultimately facilitate business between the groups. In prior tours, the results were tangible -- terms sheets and contracts for equity investments, acquisitions, joint R&D and channel partnerships. Also, Israel and California have complementary strengths which can be the basis for collaborative information sharing during the tour – Israel brings leading edge technology and California offers capital and a large market. The format of the tour enables this variety of goals to be achieved – we go far beyond just Powerpoints -- with interactive roundtables, panels, private meetings and company/facility tours.

JS: What is the perception in Silicon Valley, among investors and entrepreneurs, of Israel's cleantech sector?

EW: Silicon Valley knows that Israel is a leader in technology with numerous Israeli success stories including SanDisk, Checkpoint, Mercury and Amdocs. Major companies such as HP, Cisco, Qualcomm, Oracle and Intel have invested accordingly. Israel also has the 2nd largest number of companies in the world listed on the NASDAQ. Many California cleantech leaders have not made the connection that Israel has a technology braintrust that is translating into breakthroughs beyond water and solar, but also in biogas, battery technology, waste treatment, pollution control, wind turbines, and other environmental technology. In the case of Israel, necessity has very much been the mother of invention. When you point this out, it clicks for people and they get it. And that is why we are having this tour and conference, to make it abundantly clear to Silicon Valley how Israel’s technical leadership can help them make money in cleantech.

JS: What cleantech-related connections already exist between Silicon Valley and Israel?

EW: There are many connections besides the obvious ones, such as BrightSource and Better Place. Applied Materials has been active on CICC’s Cleantech Steering Committee and their CEO, Mike Splinter, is on the CICC advisory Board. Intel, as well, is very active in Israel and Intel Capital has been getting quite active in cleantech. PG&E not only works with BrightSource, but also Solel. Ormat is actively growing its geothermal plant in California. GE’s cleantech investment arm is in San Francisco but also has a thriving presence in Israel. Moreover, many of the same entrepreneurs and investors who were active in semiconductor, software and other technology in both Israel and California are still working in both geographies, but now in cleantech – examples include Sass Somekh and Eric Benhamou, and investors from Greylock and US Venture Partners.