College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering

Changing The Frame -- Haifa

Haifa IDT 18:00

We started our day with breakfast at Ruth Daniel Residence before driving out to Emefcy(sounds like M.F.C.), a startup in Caesarea.

One of the themes throughout the trip, so far, is that in Israel adversity and challenges are framed as opportunities. Urban Aeronautics, from yesterday, did not come up with the idea for their aircraft from scratch. Actually, the United States Air Force had a program called the Air Jeep. The program was cancelled because of aircraft instability, limited range and an inability to fly in wind gusts. These issues, enough to deter USAF researchers, were taken head-on by Israeli entrepreneurs on a lean budget. Today, our first stop was Emefcy. It is another great example of this mentality.

Freshwater is scare in Israel. In addition, treating sewage is fairly expense because it is energy intensive. Emefcy has solved both of these problems at once by viewing the organic material in sewage as an energy resource. They can clean sewage and produce electricity by using the combination of a semipermeable membrane, an environment that encourages the growth of electron producing bacteria, and a special cathode(the bacteria are the anode). Surprisingly, the system produces more electricity than it consumes and "eats" the organic material in the sewage. The Emefcy modules, when combined with the current methods for cleaning inorganic material from sewage, create a cost-competitive replacement, against the current pond based systems, with an ROI of 5 years. In addition, the modular structure and lack of odor of the modules opens the possibility for cities to have distributed water treatment facilities. The advantage of this, beyond the savings in requiring less piping, is that the grey water(non-potable water), produced by the modules, can be used to water local gardens. The distributed water treatment facilities would further reduce the water consumption.

After the visit to Emefcy, we made a quick stop at the remains of the aqueduct at second part of a port built for ancient Caesarea. It was breathtaking to see that a long strip of the aqueduct remained strong after 2,000 years. King Herod, who ordered the aqueduct's construction, must have had some good ancient engineers working for him! The aqueduct was needed to bring freshwater to Caesarea. In this way, the ancient aqueduct is related to modern work of Emefcy because this area has also required innovation to mange it's limited water resources.

The stop at the aqueduct was a short drive from ancient Caesarea. Caesarea was the sole vision of King Heord. To strengthen his bond with the Romans he fitting named the city Caesarea after Agustus Caesar. In addition the location, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, was the prefect place for a port. However, at the location all that lay was a sandy beach. King Herod ordered the construction of an artificial harbor(the biggest of the time), roman baths, and the aqueduct to make life possible. Jerusalem was the one of the wealthiest ancient cities and the taxes allowed him the budget to create a city out of sand (not to mention the cheap labor available in those days). Caesara was completed in 12 years-- impressive from an engineering and management standpoint.

The military was named as important experience from many people at the startups we have seen. After Lunch we did some Outdoor Training (ODT) at Dani-Hi on the edge of Caesarea. The activities we did were team puzzles. For example, as a group we had to cross an imaginary moat in 15mins. It was interesting to see our group settle into different roles. In the end, we learned the importance of communication, teamwork and even how sometimes leadership requires one to follow. This gave us a peak into why many startups are founded by people who served together. I learned a lot about the others people in our group through ODT and can only imagine how well we would be able to work together after 3 years of similar situations.

Before our drive up to Haifa we made a stop at Given Imaging. They produce the PillCam, an alternative to modern endoscopy. It is a pill-sized device that takes pictures every 4 seconds. The data is transmitted to a receiver, worn around the waist, that a doctor later analyzes. The main technology behind the PillCam was adapted from Israeli smart missiles. Given Imaging provides doctors with software that searches the 5,000 pictures taken in the bowl and identifies those that look "interesting". The patients are provided with a procedure that is not invasive and doesn't require any anesthetics. All these reasons contribute to Given Imaging's worldwide success.

Today we all experienced a change in location but also a mindset change. In a subtle, way over dinner, the strength of our group bond, the questioning of Steve on his experiences working at Intel Capital, and even tossing around ideas for our own startups show that Israel is changing us. After a long day, some went directly to sleep after arriving at Mount Carmel Hotel in Haifa.

-Daniel Worku


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