Climate-tech innovation blooms in Israeli heat: Conference highlights


A sweltering summer day amid a heatwave in Israel aptly set the stage for the coming event. As the heat intensified, it was impossible not to consider the worldwide concern about climate change. So those in attendance at the 2023 World Climate-Tech conference in Margalit Startup City in Jerusalem last week were ripe to invest in potential solutions.

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Participants ranged from fintech to foodtech startups, tech companies, government officials, ambassadors, and investors. They huddled together in the limited shade, discussing global environmental issues and innovative solutions.

The conference, in partnership with climate-tech accelerator Urban-X, a subsidiary of BMW’s MINI, and hosted by Dr. Erel Margalit—a former member of Israel’s parliament, business tycoon, and head of JVP investment firm—brought together thought leaders, CEOs, and diplomats from around the world. The primary aim was to address climate change and identify economic opportunities in sustainable, intelligent, and revolutionary technologies.

Event attendees came with the hopes of finding investment opportunities or partnering with the Urban-X or JVP accelerator programs. Among them was material science company Balena, which develops compostable and biodegradable polymers and duro-plastics for the fashion industry, and food-tech companies like Kinoko, which cultivates zero-waste food products using fungi and minimal water.

Meanwhile, other participants aimed to raise awareness of increasing waste culture. Bar Stefansky, founder of Creative Change, and a cadre of colorful models weathered the heat in clothing made from single-use food delivery bags, bottle caps, and even cigarette butts. The garments, designed by Chani Gal as part of Creative Change’s “Trash Parade” project, highlighted the issues of “fast fashion” and single-use waste.

“The things we’re doing today are impact driven,” says Margalit on the sidelines of the event. And the theme in addressing the climate crisis, he explains, is combining technologies and sectors. “Fintech and climate, AI and climate, food-tech and climate … and using city technologies that will allow us to manage climate better—all these things [put] together so that the world can have the hi-tech economy fighting for the planet just like in [the fields of] sustainability and alternative energy.”

Companies discussing their strategies

Several companies also attended to discuss their strategies for securing this technological future. As nations and the public increasingly transition to electric vehicles, new challenges in security and identity theft emerge.

Roy Fridman, CEO of cybersecurity company C2A, has partnered with MINI to protect against these threats. Fridman expressed confidence in his company’s abilities while painting a potentially frightening picture of the consequences of a lack of cybersecurity in these machines.

“Think about all the charging stations under a shopping mall and imagine someone hacking it and overloading the battery management system of a vehicle and blowing it up;” says Fridman. “What if by using the charging station, you can reach the grid and the distribution of electricity for a city and shut it down?” he continues.

Discussing the presence of global ambassadors and national leaders at the event, Margalit stressed the importance of governments enacting policies that enable and subsidize the free market to inspire younger generations to generate innovative ideas for new companies. Especially in cases of small nations such as Israel, “we have to cooperate [with other countries] to succeed.”

“Think about all the charging stations under a shopping mall and imagine someone hacking it and overloading the battery management system of a vehicle and blowing it up.”

Roy Fridman

EU Ambassador to Israel, Dimiter Tzantchev, discussed investment plans amounting to billions of euros and international partnerships, such as the memorandum of understanding between the European Investment Bank and Israel’s Bank Leumi, aimed at supporting Israeli climate-tech startups and reducing carbon emissions.

Margalit also highlighted the need for political stability for investors to feel confident. “The [Israeli] government needs to calm down and go back to normal,” he said. He noted that the high-tech sector in Israel, which has been protesting the Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms for the past seven months, is one of the most vocal oppositions to these changes.

“You have international investors asking questions … and you have people asking questions about whether the judicial reform will change the way you do business in Israel. So [companies] need to be firm and strong and say ‘no.’ Not just because the government will do this or that but because the high-tech sector is standing up and not allowing changes to happen. People are standing up in the streets and it’s important to say [to investors] that democracy in Israel is continuing.”

The primary driver for change still appears to be the private sector itself, however, where crisis makes for lucrative opportunity.

Michael Keller, head of brand and business strategy at MINI, underlined the importance of sustainability. He explained that MINI, as a brand, needed to contribute to society beyond just producing cars. “People talk about sustainability, and it’s become part of society,” says Keller. “So obviously as a brand we mainly produce cars. That’s why it was very important for us to do something on top [of this]. We needed to bring something to society and to urban cities where we are and where people are using our products so they associate MINI with more than just the products.”

The climate tech tour, which started in New York City, then moved to Jerusalem, will continue across Europe before concluding at the COP28 summit in the UAE. Urban-X and JVP are also set to commence their next cohorts in their respective accelerator programs, engaging hundreds of participating startups.