Team Fuel Choices (week 2 update) – From Presentations to Traveling Length and Breadth of the Country

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 team is back in the Bay Area after a great IBD experience in Israel. Here’s a recap of what’s happened since our last update. Week 2 – here we go.

Work harder

Week 2 came with it’s own set of meetings and visits to starts-ups, government agencies/officials, universities. Some of the key meetings are outlined below.

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Fuel Choices team visiting castor plantations of Kaiima

Kaiima – http://www.kaiima.com/

Kaiima is a next generation seed and breeding technology start up well funded by the likes of Kleiner Perkins and other large VC firms. The Head of Business Development and the Chief Breeding Officer/Scientist showcased the interesting work they are doing in the field of energy including the possibility to develop bio fuels from Castor Oil. We were privileged to get a chance to visit castor plantations and see the breeding varieties at work.

New CO2 Fuels – http://www.newco2fuels.co.il/ 

Of all the companies that we visited during our trip, New CO2 Fuels has the boldest vision. Creating fuel out of air – no literally. They have built technology, which lets them use the carbon dioxide in the air to create fuels, which can power your car, home. Now that’s innovation!

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Fuel Choices team with NCF CEO David Banitt

Play even harder

While we worked hard to get our final presentation in place, we explored the country on our own during week 2. This included a road trip across the length of the country. We visited the ruins of Masada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada) – forted town built on top of a rock plateau by Herod the Great around 31BC. We highly recommend a visit and if you happen to visit outside the summer months, the hike up to the top is a great workout which leads to amazing views of the Dead Sea – very rewarding. Masada also has significance to Israeli soldiers where the swearing in ceremony is held after the completion of their basic training with the fight that occurred there being a reminder of the never give up nature of the Jewish population.

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Fort of Masada with a backdrop of Dead Sea

After Masada, we did what everyone visiting Israel should do at least once – swim….ohhh, actually float in the Dead Sea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_sea). All we can say is – “it’s a surreal experience”. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do anything but float. It’s a great place for non-swimmers to enjoy splashing around without a worry. Be careful not get the water in your eyes or your mouth, else you’ll be in for a bit of pain or just a really salty mouth for a while. This was one of the best memorable experiences for most of us on the trip. The water is so rich in minerals that it doesn’t feel like water – it feels more like oil.

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Fuel Choices team floating in the Dead Sea

After the Dead Sea, we drove down to the southern most city in Israel – Eilat. It is a typical border town with a large migrant community. After a nightcap at the international youth hostel, we hopped on to our tour bus, crossed the border over to Jordan and visit Petra – one of the seven wonders of the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra). Just before we crossed the border, we realized that we all had a single entry visa in to Israel. This realization led to a very interesting conversation with immigration officials at the Israel-Jordan border. Their immediate advice was to not leave the country since they would not allow us to enter on the same visa. After a little bit of negotiations, their simple instruction was “as long as you get back today before 8pm you can enter since you would have not left Israel for 24 hours. If you don’t you will be stuck in Jordan.” With that strict instruction, our team decided to take the plunge and check out Petra. There was no way we had come all the way around the world and were not going to check out one of the better ruins in the world. In the end, we checked Petra off our list, got a glimpse of Jordan and made it back to cross the border before 8pm – a little nerve wrecking but a great experience in the end.

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Crossing the Israel-Jordan border on foot

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Petra (one of the 7 New Wonders of the World)

So what makes Israel tick?

What an eye-opening trip this has been? During this trip, CEOs, government officials, nutty professors and entrepreneurs. Through all the meetings and traveling, we have realized that Israel has some very unique attributes which make it the innovation hub and cultural powerhouse it is today.

The country is so focused on promoting innovation and driving the local economy through technology it’s no surprise how effective and successful Israel has been in the last 10 years in creating new technologies and companies.

On top of this we were amazed how effective the government is. Things move like a start up. Though Israelis say the government is bureaucratic and slow, in comparison to the US or India this is “government at the speed of a start up”. Policy changes, pilots and experiments being run and approved and acted on within 6-12 weeks. Can you imagine anything being done by the government in that time frame in the US or India?

Beyond the above observations, we think there are two specific things that make Israel uniquely positioned to innovate.

One, every Israeli (man and woman) goes through the military. The military duty is a core part of every Israeli’s life. At the young age of 18, Israelis are given very important responsibilities such as running intelligence on neighboring countries, building or working on new defense systems, etc. This tenure rounds them out by the time they finish their duty giving most graduates discipline, structure and training to work through large complex problems. They carry what they learn in the military and the relationships they build for the rest of their lives. Israel also spends a lot of money and time in research in the military. Hence it is no surprise a lot of the technology start-ups are based on concepts or research done in the military.

Two, the fact that Jews been persecuted over the last 1000 years with a lot of people wanting to eliminate their race has instilled an “impossible is nothing” attitude in the culture. If there is one unique thing you feel when you walk around the country and talk to Israelis, it’s this – the harder the problem, the more fun they have solving it. This is one trait, which is unique to the lineage and the geo-political situation they live in – something that would be really tough to replicate without living through it over generations.

Overall, it’s been an amazing IBD experience and it has given each one of us a unique perspective on the innovative spirit and the incredible work happening in the space of alternative fuels and technology in the country. We thank our hosts – the Fuel Choices team and everyone else who made our trip and stay in Israel something we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Until next time, shalom!

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