New Zealand is ‘near zero’ when it comes to commercializing innovation, Israeli entrepreneur says

June 3, 2016 by Keren Cook
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New Zealanders are well known for their ‘kiwi ingenuity’, but Israeli entrepreneur Isaac Bentwich, says our ideas have “near zero” commercial value.Bentwich’s latest venture, CropX, is based on technology from Landcare Research.  He says that New Zealand “reminded me of where Israel was 30 years ago.”

Isaac Bentwich

Isaac Bentwich

As founder and chief executive of CropX, the agritech company formerly known as Verigate, licensed research from the New Zealand crown research institute. Angel investors funded the first round including the NZ Venture Investment Fund and last year it raised US$9 million in a series A funding round, and a further US$1 million last month.

Two key investors include Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s venture firm Innovation Endeavors and US-based Finistere Partners, which includes Kiwi Arama Kukatai as a partner.

The agritech company aims to help farmers produce more food with less water and other resources. Innovations include: soil sensors and irrigation controllers for use on commercial farms and an app to assist farmers to interpret the data they gather.

Formerly, Bentwich is a medical doctor and a serial entrepreneur. His efforts with his previous three companies led to a Nasdaq initial public offering and two acquisitions worth about US$50 million. He discovered the CropX technology while living in Nelson a few years ago and the company now operates from Tel Aviv.

“It’s really a co-production of New Zealand technology, Israeli technology, and the US market,” he said.

Bentwich says he was blown away by New Zealand’s quality and quantity of innovation. Israel is well-known as a start-up nation, with more start-ups per capita than any other country and the second highest level of investment per capita in start-ups behind the US.

The New Zealand government recently introduced a new Global Impact Visa aimed at attracting global entrepreneurs to live and start-up businesses in New Zealand. The tender process for a private sector partner to run the four-year pilot programme will be offered next month.

The entrepreneur is positive about the potential alignment between New Zealand and Israel, and draws attention to their similarities: Both small islands with small populations far away from their markets that had to rely on their resourcefulness. “New Zealand is in a sea of water and Israel in a sea of hostility”, he said.

He promotes both countries, and likes the idea of the two countries setting up joint funding initiatives to commercialise technology, which would “bring together the mellow Kiwi nature with the caffeinated Israeli one and great things will happen”.

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