Over 23,000 people from 180 countries descended on Jerusalem on Thursday to attend the OurCrowd tech conference, one of the most unusual VC funds in the tech industry, founded by Israeli VC icon Jon Medved.
And everyone had one nagging concern on the back on their minds: the Coronavirus. Israel is one of the countries that has banned direct travel from mainland China. So delegations of hundreds of Chinese investors were unable to attend this conference dedicated to matching Israeli startups with investors.
China has been a major source of investment into Israeli startups over the years, even for OurCrowd, which is an unconventional VC. OurCrowd raises its funds — now more than $1.4 billion under management — from doctors, lawyers, anyone that qualifies as an accredited investor, in addition to institutional investors. Investors buy in at $10,000 minimum chunks and can then use the OurCrowd platform to decide which funding term sheets they want to support (or they for a $50,000 minimum, they can buy into a something that looks more like a mutual fund).
In the US, accredited investors means individuals who make more than $200,000 or couples that make more than $300,000, aka people weathly enough to invest in securities that are not public and subject to all the laws that govern public companies.
Medved even joked on stage about it during a Wednesday, pre-conference, invitational talk on stage to select investors. He dug up an old cartoon of the Swine virus which offered alternatives to shaking hands: the fully clothed elbow bump. Conference organizers also scrambled to add livestreaming to more of the conferences events to China, and to set up video calls between many of the startups what were hoping to use the gathering to pitch to Chinese investors.
“We want to send a shoutout to all of friends in China and Asia. Our thoughts are with you. This virus will be fought in all of the world. We are disturbed today by what happened in Barcelona, where they canceled the Mobile World Congress,” he said.
But the truth is, the worries about the impact of the virus runs even deeper than fears of contracting it by gathering together an international crowd, fresh from airports worldwide.
OurCrowd founder, Jon Medved
The impact of the virus on American business is already enormous, said Eytan Buchman, CMO of Israeli international freight and shipping startup Freightos in a press conference. Freightos is a platform that helps companies of all sizes find international shippers for the supplies they buy and products sell. The company is an Amazon shipping partner.
Through the $20 trillion of exports that flows across its platform involving 1,600 logistics service providers, it has collected so much data on worldwide shipping trends, and the business trends that power the need for shipping, that the company is working on creating a derivative investment market based on its data.
Here’s the type of data Freightos knows: Since the Coronavirus outbreak has hampered travel to and from mainland China and sickened tens of thousands of people, US companies have been madly searching for alternative suppliers outside of China. Whereas, 3-6% of American companies of the 8,000 companies using its platform typically search for manufacturing suppliers outside China, in the past couple of weeks, close to 20% of them are trying to find suppliers outside of China.
Israeli startups to the rescue?
Meanwhile, here in the Startup Nation, four startups have discovered that their technology may be help address the Coronavirus risk, Medved says.
They are MeMed Diagnosis a company that has developed a test that can instantly determine if an illness is a viral infection or a bacterial infection testing.
Sight Diagnosis known in Israel as the anti-Theranos, which sells an FDA-approved device that does full blood diagnosis from a few drops of blood, a device small enough and portable enough to be used in isolated, quarantined areas. “So you don’t need to take the blood from potential patients and move that into [blood testing labs] in the general blood supply,” Medved said.
SaNOtize a company that have found a way to make an aerosol and gel with Nitric Oxide gas (NO), with its anti viral/anti-bacterial properties, to make it a practical and more affordable medicine.
And the most unusual one is VocalZoom. This company is working on one of the world’s most sensitive vibration sensor, “able to pick up from distance your heart rate,” Medved said. The focus of it has been for IoT applications for remote monitoring in difficult industrial environments. But the companies are also working to integrate the sensor tech for airports to help detect if a traveler is ill.
Medved has also applauded the government of Israel’s decision to build a vaccine manufacturing facility as low-cost vaccines are the area getting the least amount of R&D funding he said. “The Coronavirus is is a world health emergency,” Medved said. “It’s not just about quarantined and travel bans. How do we stop this in its tracks?”