May 1, 2015, 3:32pm EDT
Jeff Berman, Contributor, Bizjournals.com
Israeli technology startups continue to see New York as the perfect place to tout their new products and services as they seek U.S. funding.
The latest evidence: six new Israeli companies pitched their plans to investors last week at a “Series A Demo Night” event hosted by the Jews For Entrepreneurship (JFE) Organization, the Israel Economic Mission and Zalman Kogan, a veteran technology business development and marketing manager.
The startups presenting at the Impact Hub at 394 Broadway highlighted the sheer diversity of what Israeli startups are offering, ranging from an automated in-call interpretation service to a device that controls irrigation scheduling based on current and forecasted weather to save users money.
Of the six, two stood out, largely because they had more consumer-focused products and services while the others had a more enterprise focus — Lexifone, which offers a new approach to language translation; and greenIQ, which has a product to cut back on outdoor water consumption.
Lexifone. Started in 2010 in Haifa, Israel, by Itay Sagie and his father, Ike Sagie. The goal was to offer a superior alternative to existing call translation options,Â Itay Sagie said Thursday. Thereâ€™s the traditional human option, for example, but that tends to be high-cost and a person isnâ€™t always available to take a call when a customer needs it, he said. That option â€œcosts twenty times more than what we cost,â€ he said.
The total U.S. translation market is now more than $3 billion and is heavily concentrated on the human option, although there is a growing shift to technology-enabled solutions like Lexifoneâ€™s, said Sagie, who serves as its vice president of business development and strategy. Microsoft recently launched its own solution for Skype, but itâ€™s only available in a limited number of languages and is a closed system to developers, he said. In contrast, Lexifone offers a software development kit (SDK) for developers and had a big head start, already attracting large customers including Intel and Sony, he said.
Lexifone has also already started expanding globally, with an office in Foster City, California. Another office is now being opened in China to meet increased demand there, said Sagie.
Lexifoneâ€™s service is already available on Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as on landline phones. Itâ€™s fully commercial so far in 16 languages across 100 countries, including English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, said Sagie. Languages expected to be added soon include Arabic and Hindi. Developers who opt for the SDK can tailor their own offering by using Lexifoneâ€™s technology, he said. Lexifone is looking to raise a total of $5 million in its current funding round that will be used to, among other things, expand to new revenue generators including advertising and licensing, he said.
GreenIQ. The startupsâ€™s Smart Garden Hub, meanwhile, is a $249 six-zone irrigation controller that its maker claims saves up to 50 percent on outdoor water consumption. The device connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi or 3G, and can be controlled from anywhere using an app for Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as Mac and Windows PC computers. It can also be connected to various other smart devices and sensors, including soil moisture sensors.
The device recently won its first big retail account, Home Depot, which â€“- for now, anyway â€“- is only selling it online. In addition to consumers, greenIQ is also targeted at professional gardeners, irrigation companies, the commercial real estate market and municipalities.
The U.S. markets being targeted by greenIQ the most for now are California, Florida and Texas, said CEO and founder Odi Dahan. The current water crisis in California makes that market an especially attractive one for the device.
â€œWater is becoming more and more important and we need to find ways to preserve this resource,â€ said Dahan. â€œAbout 60 percent of the water we use is being used outdoors to water our plants,â€ and about 50 percent of that water is being wasted due to overwatering, he said. An average American family is spending $170-$300 annually just on overwatering, he said.
Part of the problem is that most consumers are using â€œcutting-edge technology of the 80sâ€ for irrigation control, he said with a laugh. â€œThis industry has been stagnated for decades,â€ he said.
GreenIQ is looking to add other major U.S. retailers to carry its device and is also in talks with AT&T for 3G cellular service, he said. Pricing for the 3G service wasnâ€™t decided on yet, he said. The five-employee company was started two years ago and raised $1.7 million in seed money from November 2013 to February 2015, he told us after his presentation.
Like the other presenting startups, Petah Tikva, Israel-based greenIQ faces challenges. For one thing, its device is obviously going to be most appealing to U.S. consumers who live in a small number of states. But the company is also targeting markets outside the United States, said Dahan. Also, â€œthere is a competitive landscapeâ€ for such products, with a few others on the market costing about the same price, he conceded. But he expressed confidence that his deviceâ€™s features are superior to what rivals are offering, pointing as an example to his product being fully waterproof while competing products require a protective case that adds cost to those devices.
The rest of Thursday night’s companies. Also presenting were Avanan, a company offering a cloud-based security platform for public software as a service applications; CloudEndure, a cloud technology company providing live migration and disaster recovery;CommuniTake, a provider of mobility management and security solutions; and SecBI, a company whose technology enables security analysts to investigate and respond to breaches.
â€œIt was a well curated group of companies,â€ said Lou Kerner, an attending investor. â€œI thought CloudEndure was particularly interesting given the significant and prevalent pain point they’re addressing,â€ he said. Kerner stopped short of saying he will invest in the company, saying he planned to learn more about CloudEndure and a few of the other presenting startups.
Users of CloudEndureâ€™s service select a computer application they want to replicate, as well as the targeted cloud location for it. CloudEndure then copies the entire application stack and data. The process takes its business customers much less time than doing daily backups of data, according to its website.
CloudEndure was started in 2012 and raised $5.2 million in a 2013 financing round led by Magma Venture Partners and several private investors, it said. The startup is now looking to raise a total of $10 million in a new funding round to expand its sales and business development team in the U.S., invest in marketing and hire a research and development staff, said CEO and founder Ofer Gadish. The company has offices in Ramat Gan, Israel, and â€“- like more than 250 other Israeli startups â€“- New York.
Jeff Berman is a Long Island-based freelance reporter, who has also contributed stories to publications including TheStreet and the consumer electronics magazines Dealerscope and TWICE. He previously worked as a senior editor and deputy managing editor of the trade newsletter Consumer Electronics Daily, published by Warren Communications News.