Incubating the Negev: The Tech Incubator That is Turning the Negev Into a Technology & Innovation Hub
A startup incubator dedicated to the Negev region aims to boost Israel’s southern periphery and supports early-stage technological ventures associated with the region
The geographical and human diversity characterizing the periphery , coupled with a strong impetus on part of the government authorities to drive change in the country’s northern and southern regions, have given birth to new tech incubators in these areas – many of which enjoy the full support of the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA).
One of the most prominent and outstanding of these programs, awarded the IIA’s tender for its Peripheral Incubators Program is the InNegev initiative, launched in 2020, supporting and guiding some of the leading companies and anchors operating in the Negev in the fields of Agtech, Cleantech, Foodtech, and Industry 4.0.
The InNegev incubator brings together some of Israel’s most influential movers and shakers in industry, academia and finance, which became the incubator’s industry and financial partners. Among these are the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, SodaStream International, Netafim, Dolav, kibbutz Hatzerim, Shamoon College of Engineering and the Alpha Capital investment fund. InNegev prides itself on its stellar management team of highly experienced technology and entrepreneurship professionals such as Chairmen Eli Ben Shimon, Mr. Kobi Liberman – Managing Director, CEO Dror Green, Mr. Amir Tzach - VP Business Development and Mrs. Noa Isralowitz – Project Manager.
InNegev is located in the industrial park Idan HaNegev – near the Trans-Israel Highway and the Lehavim-Rahat train station – a strategic location that provides a perfect environment with easy accessibility to the venture’s core partners.
“The incubator’s partners and professional team provide entrepreneurs with a full range of tools and means – from laboratories and production lines to international connections and experienced engineers and managers, and are on hand to assist in every step of the product development – from concept to shelf. The InNegev venture’s foremost goal is to become an innovation hub in the Negev region and as such, to support ventures that are pertinent to the region”, explains InNegev’s VP Business Development, Amir Tzach.
“As part of the tender awarded by the IIA, InNegev made it its paramount mission to drive real change in entrepreneurship and innovation in the southern periphery of Israel”, stresses InNegev CEO,
, himself a native and resident of the area.
What are the qualifications needed to join InNegev?
“In order to join the incubator, ventures are screened by the investment committee and the IIA committee. The investment committee, composed of InNegev partners and professionals, examines a number of key criterions: cohesiveness of the team, innovation and technological depth, business potential, how firm the technology is anchored in the Negev area and its marketability. In addition, an initial feasibility test is conducted,” explains Tzach. “Since kickoff last year, we’ve already evaluated more than 250 companies and projects, and currently we have 3 portfolio companies with another 2 on the way”.
We also look into early-stage startups, and those admitted receive a special introductory and training course wherein they learn what being a startup venture entails, and in particular – an InNegev startup.”
What does the incubator offer qualifying entrepreneurs?
“Entrepreneurs enjoy an equity investment of up to NIS 2 million on part of our business partners and companies, as well as professional guidance on all things business and technology, connections to relevant strategic partners and access to core capabilities in the region that can help them down the road grow their ventures into strong Negev-based companies.”
Baby Steps: The Start-Negev Pre-Incubator Program and Competition
One of InNegev’s original initiatives was a two-month pre-incubator program named Start InNegev. This short and intensive program mentored fledgling startups from the incubator’s fields of activity. It provided entrepreneurs with the essential preparation and basic toolkit they need to get started with their venture and pitch it to investors and to better their chances of becoming part of the InNegev family.
“We’ve recruited a very professional and skilled program manager – Tal Catran – and designed a complete and comprehensive mentoring scheme encompassing all topics and areas that a budding startup needs”, says Tzach. “From creating a business plan and achieving technological depth through opportunities in the Negev region, available anchors, connections with the incubator’s partners, understanding the incubator’s eco-system, and up to preparing for meetings with investors. The entrepreneurs received around-the-clock support from our excellent team – Noa, Dror and myself – and mentoring from our partners: Bank Hapoalim, BDO and Luzzatto Group, which provides consultancy sessions and lectures and offers legal assistance for patent registration. The 17 qualifiers received step-by-step guidance throughout eight sessions that prepared them for creating a business plan and pitching their venture to potential investors”.
What was the DEMO DAY competition at the end of the pre-incubator program?
“It was a prize-winning concept competition that we’ve created especially for the 17 Start InNegev participants, selecting three winners. The award ceremony was broadcasted live online on April 7. Aside from the competitors, the event was attended by the InNegev team, judges from the incubator’s partner companies, IIA representatives, the program partners and external investors, and was open to the public. Each company got to present its initiative to the judges and audience, and explain how it ties into the Negev, what challenge it addresses, the solution and its business model. The three winners were to receive cash awards of 15K, 10K and 5K dollars and a fast-track to the InNegev admission process, potentially landing them equity investments of up to NIS 2 million and access to the incubator’s support and consultation services. However, there were so many brilliant ideas that we ended up voting two companies for the third place.”
Who were the winners?
“First place went to Fungit Biosolutions, which develops agricultural solutions for pathogenic fungi, which is installed in irrigation systems to prevent the destruction of up to half of the crop due to fungi. Second place went to Follo, which offers digital enterprise project-management systems that use motion sensors to track and streamline project execution in real time. Third place went to efCut – a developer of smart cutting solutions for customizing products, and to Optify that offers sensor and monitoring systems for identification and prevention of potential malfunctions, streamlining maintenance costs. The winners received their cash prizes, were exposed to potential investors and increased their chances of joining InNegev.
“The program and competition were a huge success and received a lot of positive feedback, so there is no doubt that we will consider turning it into a yearly program.”
What have you learned in the pre-incubator about the potential of technological innovation in the Negev region?
“We’ve learned a whole lot of things – both in terms of the enthusiasm and commitment of the startups to the program – not only on part of Negev-based companies but all over the country – and in regard to the feasibility of our goal of driving innovation in the Negev, to foster companies from the Negev and the rest of the country and help them on to the path to success. Ultimately we aim to make InNegev a hub of innovation and development in the region and this program is one of many means that we are developing towards that goal”.
InNegev CEO, Dror Green says: “Congratulations to the winners. We are excited to provide an excellent opportunity for technology entrepreneurs in our areas of expertise, who wish to make their base in the region through the incubator. InNegev, which drives innovation in the southern region under the auspices of the Israel Innovation Authority, will act to advance the startups and bring them under the wing of the incubator, where they will receive the full support they need to become successful, Negev-based startups”.