Team Fuel Choices Israel – Nish Mohan, Harsh Sinha, Jagadeesh Balasubramanian and Asif ETV – is working with the Fuel Choices Initiative, a cross-disciplinary group out of the Israel Prime Minister’s Office. The Fuel Choices mission is to reduce world dependence on crude oil by making available a wide variety of clean and renewable forms of fuel technologies for transportation. The IBD team is working on a marketing plan for the Fuel Choices team to raise global awareness on alternative fuel technologies. The marketing plan will include a detailed business plan for different marketing initiatives that are viral, cost-effective and repeatable.
The Fuel Choices IBD team has had an extremely eventful week 1 in Israel. The excitement started even before we reached Israel. The team decided to fly El Al, Israel’s national airline, considered by many as the world’s more secure airline. After clearing the regular security check, we had to undergo additional screening at the gate (before boarding the plane) that involved a 15-minute interview along with a 30-minute baggage screen. After clearing all the checks, we finally boarded the plane and 15 hours later landed in Tel Aviv, Israel. The long lines at the immigration made all of us very anxious, not knowing what questions we will be asked. We had heard stories about Israel immigration officials taking an interesting approach to the usual “Why are you here? Where will you stay?” approach that most countries follow and how a lucky few get to see the second room for more in depth questioning. When our turn was up to answer the questions, some of us were lucky to get the quick nod while some others had the pleasure of visiting the second room. All in all it took us two hours to clear immigration.
To put this in perspective, the geopolitical situation in the region warrants this extra security. Yes, there was a little bit of stress, a slight inconvenience but throughout the process, the Israeli officials were professional, interviewing us with a smile, and explaining why the process was more rigorous. The entire process was efficient. Splitting up our group, asking us similar questions and then reconvening amongst themselves to check if our stories lined up seems like an effective intelligence method and we all agreed that we all felt more secure on that flight once we finally boarded.
We got in to Tel Aviv three days prior to the start of our project to settle in and get some sightseeing in before we started work on Sunday – the workweek here runs from Sunday through Thursday. We explored the local areas the first day including Jaffa – a natural harbor and a city inhabited for over 7500 years BCE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa). After walking almost three miles, we decided to savor local Mediterranean cuisine at a local eatery. Our criteria for restaurant selection was that it had to have the look like where locals ate. We assumed this way we would get good food at reasonable prices. It surely had the look of a local restaurant, but prices – definitely not! Till this day, it was the most expensive meal we had in Israel. Lesson learned – never walk into a restaurant without looking at the menu and prices.
Our Jaffa city tour was followed by our first in-person client meeting at the Tel Aviv port over beers overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. What a way to start a trip?
We met up with the fuel choices team on Sunday and very quickly saw the passion and the commitment this small team of five brought to the cause. We were handed an updated schedule of various meetings and field visits the team had set up for us and it was clear that we were going to learn more about alternative fuels and the startup nation called Israel.
During the course of the first week, we met people ranging from entrepreneurs, policy makers, professors and researchers. Some of the more interesting meetings are outlined below.
Eugene Kandel – Head of the National Economic Council, Prime Minister’s Office
This was an enlightening discussion which gave us perspective on the macro economic climate of the region, and what makes Israel the epicenter of innovation.
CellEra – http://www.cellera.biz/
CEO, Ziv Gottesfeld gave us a tour of the research facilities of CellEra, a startup that is looking to revolutionize the fuel cell industry with its innovative approach of platinum free fuel cells. With CellEra’s technology, they can use cheaper metals as the ingredient leading to major cost reductions.
Elbit Systems –http://www.elbitsystems.com/
Senior Director of Research, Erez Schreiber, Elbit Systems, a defense contractor in Israel, explained how they are looking to make a foray in to bringing its technologies to commercial, civilian applications. They are putting a lot of research into charging electric buses superfast using their super capacitor technology. Using their technology buses will be charged at every stop for 30-45 seconds, enough to drive to the next stop. A very unique solution!
Bar Ilan University – Algae based fuels
Researchers in Bar Ilan University explained how they are going back to nature for new fuel sources. We toured the production labs of Algae, a renewable source to produce bio diesel.
Gil Shaki – Office of the Chief Scientist – Ministry of Industry, Labor & Trade
Gil walked us through the investment program the government has in place to foster innovation by funding and helping bootstrap companies or ideas, which might be a little too early for VCs or other investors to fund alone.
Israel is a living museum. I think you could throw a stone in any direction and have a very high probability of hitting something that is over 1000 years old. We took the “I” in the IBD to heart and explored a lot when we had time away from work.
Our first trip was to Jerusalem where we visited the old city and Yad Vashem – the holocaust museum – http://www.yadvashem.org/. Jerusalem was an amazing experience. Being at the holy place for three different religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and seeing how people from all over the world flock to this place and the effect it has on them is something one has to experience. It was also very interesting to see how people from all three religions lived together in different sections of the old city within 0.9 square kilometers. This exploration included the walk from station to station that Jesus took before his crucifixion.
On day two of our first weekend, we made the trek up north of Tel Aviv to Nazareth – the site of the annunciation (when Mary was told she would have Jesus as her son) and the Sea of Galilee – where Jesus walked on water. These towns up north are designated to be either Jewish or Arab settlements with folks mixing less, very different than our previous visit to the old city in Jerusalem.
So far we can safely say that though we have learned a lot about Israeli business, the economy and the innovative spirit, this trip has been culturally incredible for each member on the team. For example, did you know that to be a Jew, you need your mother to be Jewish – not the father? The lineage is passed on through the mother – very unlike other religions.
All in all it has been a hectic first week at the end of which we have learned more about alternative fuels, Israeli innovation and business, Israel culture and history than we had ever imagined at the beginning of this trip. That’s week 1 and we can’t wait for what week 2 has to offer. Stay tuned for updates…