Maryland and Israel strengthen tech, investment ties

Dror Sharon places the meter his company SCIO invented on a pear to learn its exact ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Dror Sharon places the meter his company SCIO invented on a pear to learn its exact ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Dror Sharon placed a finger-sized meter on a pear, opened an app on his smartphone, and within seconds knew that each 100 grams of that green pear contained 72 calories and was 16 percent sugar.

Sharon, cofounder of the Israeli company SCIO, envisions a day in the near future when everyone will use his spectrometer to learn the chemical makeup of whatever they want – medicine they just purchased, food they are about to digest, chemicals they use, a flower growing in the yard, even the amount of THC in a bag of marijuana.

Sharon, along with other Israeli scientists and researchers and Maryland and financiers gathered Feb. 27 at the law offices of Crowell & Moring in Washington, has great ideas but not enough money to bring them to fruition. That could all change following the recent announcement of a new partnership between the Maryland/Israel Development Center and OurCrowd.

The goal is to strengthen technology and investment ties between Maryland and Israel, explained Barry Bogage, executive director of MIDC.

OurCrowd is an Israeli venture capital crowd-funding company that allows investors to sit on company boards and share in possible earnings. Started by Jon Medved in 2013, it has raised more than $100 million and invested in more than 100 Israeli startup companies. So far, 12 of them reached valuations greater than $100 million.

“It’s really a great natural partnership,” said MIDC chair Rob Frier. Both Maryland and Israel “are really hotbeds” in the field of start-up companies.

“Startup nation meets startup state,” Medved added. He encouraged anyone thinking about investing in an Israeli company to disregard “the People magazine” drama between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is driving the news these days.

“All I can say is bulls***. The reality is never before has the relationship between the two countries been closer,” Medved said. “This is a spat of personalities. What we are doing today puts the lie to” the fear that the alliance between America and Israel is fading.

Everyone thinks of Israel as a leader in defense products, but it has a large number of startup companies involved in technology and that number continues to grow even during last summer’s war with Gaza. For the last five years, Israel’s growth rate has risen 3.5 percent on the average, Medved said.

In the past two years, OurCrowd has invested in ReWalk, which manufactures an exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk and climb; Varigate, an irrigation management software that can save large farms up to 20  percent of their water usage; and nextpeer, which adapts any mobile game to be multiplayer.

OurCrowd has invested $3.75 million in SCIO, whose meter will cost $250 when it goes on the market in the near future — but someday may be so inexpensive that it will be a regular feature in refrigerators, blenders and other appliances, Sharon said.

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