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A-Wa performs Tel Aviv Creator Awards

“Let’s throw inspiration around like it’s confetti!” read the gigantic poster, the last message people took in before heading home after a surprising night at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards. An hour earlier, confetti had rained on all of our heads as Dror Tamir bagged the grand prize in the Scale category, for—get this—growing grasshoppers.

In his one-minute presentation, Tamir, co-founder of Hargol FoodTech (“hargol” means “grasshopper” in Hebrew), the world’s first commercial grasshopper farmer, convinced the judges and the audience that this seemingly disgusting insect is the protein source of the future.

“Grasshoppers are the most widely eaten insect in the world, being considered a delicacy in Africa, Asia, and Central America,” Tamir told the crowd of 3,500. Be that as it may, convincing the Western world to digest grasshoppers is no small feat, and for this, Hargol FoodTech received $360,000.

Tamir laid out two goals he intends to achieve with his winnings: to increase production capacity to meet the demand and to accelerate the development of grasshopper farms across Africa. Tamir’s vision is far-reaching, and he hopes to “provide a healthier and more sustainable protein while providing employment and additional income to locals.”

Hargol and the 19 other winners took home more than $1.3 million Thursday night at the sixth regional Creator Awards event. The global competition, which started this year when WeWork committed more than $20 million to fund innovative projects around the world, heads to New York City next on Nov. 16, and the global finals will take place in January 2018.


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Even though Hargol was the evening’s big winner, the international fare served at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards did not include any insect products. Once the doors of the Tel Aviv Convention Center opened at 5 p.m., the casually dressed crowd happily nibbled on Thai chicken, Indian curry, Italian bruschetta, and British fish and chips, before the ceremony started. On the left—a pop-up market full of handmade wares, offering everything from Dollka’s handmade cushions inspired by Russian Matryoshka dolls to Kalimba’s ethnic musical instruments. On the right—a job fair where you could potentially find high-tech employment or a job at the US Embassy. In the middle—many culinary options as well as stalls serving beer that is inspiration in itself: behind Israel-based Jem’s Beer lies the story of an American expatriate who realized his own personal dream.

And in the large back hall—a series of masterclasses, including a futuristic keynote from the man who became synonymous with electric cars, Shai Agassi, and a discussion on contemporary design with Danish celebrity architect Bjarke Ingels, Israeli fashion designer Sharon Tal from Maskit, and Nir Zohar from Israel’s cloud-based web development platform Wix.

Excitement grew as the visibly pregnant Israeli model Adi Neumann—WeWork Co-founder Adam Neumann’s sister and greatest champion—took the main stage in a white evening gown to host the ceremony. Soon she invited her famous brother on stage. “Israel is special,” he said of his native country as he delivered his speech in Hebrew. “We’re called ‘startup nation’ for a reason. Everybody here has energy. Everybody here has love. People here do things from the heart.”

“We’re called ‘startup nation’ for a reason. Everybody here has energy. Everybody here has love. People here do things from the heart.”

Neumann spoke of his childhood in Israel, one of moving around a lot and always being the new kid in class, as well as his first five years in New York City, in which his sister supported him financially.

“But I always felt part of a community, and that community is called Israel,” he said. “We are so lucky to have this. Sometimes we don’t even know it.” With this sense of community, Neumann built WeWork. The theme of community was also prevalent in the intimate discussion about family and creativity that Neumann held on stage with Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen.

WeWork Co-founder and Israeli Rock Star in conversation
Adam Neumann and Aviv Geffen

Apart from the grasshopper sensation and Neumann and Geffen’s one-on-one, the evening’s favorite was undoubtedly a fresh-faced entrepreneur named Yasmin Dunsky. Together with Noga Mann, Dunsky founded the nonprofit QueenB, an organization that teaches young girls hardcore coding. QueenB uses a teaching method created especially for Generation Z girls, with lessons taught by female computer science students that act as mentors for the teenage girls and achieve a deep personal connection with them. The whole crowd fell in love with Dunsky, who delivered her pitch wearing shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “I teach code.” Her impressive pitch earned QueenB a $72,000 prize in the Launch category.

Yasmin Dunsky of QueenB

“We recently completed our first year of activity in which we operated in Jerusalem, reached hundreds of teenagers in the city and offered scholarships for students from the Hebrew University,” Dunsky said with a beaming smile. “The Creator Awards prize will allow us to expand to other areas in Israel by opening activity centers in each of the four big universities.”

Her partner, Mann, added: “What I love about QueenB is that we don’t only teach girls how to code but also teach them how to take on challenges and face them, something that we believe will give them an advantage, no matter what they will do later in life.”

Photos by Eyal Marilus

 

Winners of the 2017 Tel Aviv Creator Awards

Scale

Hargol FoodTech (for profit) – $360,000

She Codes (nonprofit) – $180,000

Tovanot B’Hinuch (nonprofit) – $180,000

 

Launch

Eyefree Assisting Communication (for profit) – $130,000

ReSymmetry (for profit) – $72,000

Voiceitt (for profit) – $72,000

QueenB (nonprofit) – $72,000

Itworks (nonprofit) – $72,000

 

Incubate

Blue Fairy Med (for profit) – $18,000

Collective Onya (nonprofit) – $18,000

Eyegetby (for profit) – $18,000

FT Fashion Tape (for profit) – $18,000

HackJLM by Made in JLM (nonprofit) –  $18,000

Nationlab (artist) – $18,000

RenewSenses (for profit) – $18,000

Siraj Technologies (for profit) – $18,000

Synesthesia (artist) – $18,000

 

Community Giver Award

Adopt a Safta – $36,000

Assaf Luxembourg – $36,000

Elevation Academy – $18,000

 

When Raffi Rembrand’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, it was not the worst news the family received that day. The biggest blow came when their doctor said it was too late for the earliest treatments.

So for Rembrand, a chemical engineer by training, finding a way to detect autism earlier became his life’s mission.

Now, more than three decades after his son was diagnosed with autism, Rembrand has founded an Israeli company, SensPD, which he hopes will accomplish just that. 

SensPD, a finalist in the WeWork Creator Awards that will be held on June 20 in Jerusalem, is developing a way to detect autism based on physiological signs. The company uses an existing device commonly used to check the hearing of newborns, but has modified it to check for sensory perception. One of the major components of autism, which affects one of every 59 children born in the U.S., is its effect on the sensory system.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel,” says Maayan Shahar, SensPD’s CEO.  “But we have altered a very known device used in all hospitals that will hopefully provide a standard screening process for all babies.”

The goal is for such a test to eventually become standard for every baby born around the world, allowing the various treatments for autism to start as soon as possible. When started very early in life, some therapies have a success rate of up to 90 percent.

“It’s been known for a long time that it’s early intervention that makes all the difference,” Shahar says.

But the standard diagnosis of autism based on a series of evaluations often comes after a children has reached the age of 3 or 4, which is too late for some treatments.

SensPD is currently preparing to start clinical trials in Israel. It hopes that if all goes well it will get regulatory approval for its device within three years.

Rembrand’s son, now 35 and living in a group home in Israel, remains an inspiration for the company.

“We want to bring this to market as soon as possible, but in the most professional way,” Shahar says.  ”So that instead of being isolated, children with autism can be a productive part of society.”

While Yehudit Abrams was working as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, her job was to research the potential use of ultrasound to monitor astronauts on long missions to the international space station. But when her cousin, a gynecologist and breast cancer survivor, was killed in a car accident in 2011, Abrams started thinking of other uses for the medical device.

“She was so passionate about the early detection of cancer, and I wanted to honor her for that,” says Abrams, a physician and mechanical engineer who immigrated to Israel last year from California. “That is what got me thinking about using some sort of portable ultrasound for early detection of cancer.”

Abrams founded MonitHer, a Jerusalem-based startup that is developing a handheld ultrasound device that women can use at home to monitor their breast tissue. The device and its potential to change the way breast cancer is detected is why MonitHer was named a finalist in the WeWork Creator Awards, which will be held in Jerusalem on June 20.

An early prototype of the MonitHer scanner.

Women using the device will scan their breasts once a month for about 10 minutes. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved software program then scans the images for any changes over time. If the software detects any potential problems, users will be advised to consult a physician.

By monitoring breast tissue over time, Abrams says women will be able to detect cancer earlier than the traditional method of self-exams where women feel each breast in order to find lumps or swelling.

“We are changing the paradigm from breast cancer screening to breast health monitoring,” Abrams says.

Once more than 100,000 women begin to use the device and upload their scans to the app each month, artificial intelligence and machine learning methods will be used to evaluate tissue changes.

While mammography has long been the best way to diagnose breast cancer, it is less effective on certain women, especially those with dense breast tissue. And the current protocols for breast cancer detection have recently been questioned for resulting in the unnecessary treatment of tumors that may never grow in size or harm a women’s health.

“We are wasting billions of dollars of year treating cancer that women don’t have, and this is because we have stopped innovating,” Abrams said. “Medicine is a dinosaur.”

Changing the system of breast cancer detection will not only save lives and money, but will give women more control over their medical care.

“We are empowering women,” Abrams says. “We are empowering the individual.”

When his friend Joshua Altman suggested that they could help provide clean drinking water to whole villages, Moshe Tshuva was dubious.

“When I first heard his idea, I told him it couldn’t work, because it wouldn’t produce enough water to be worth it,” says Tshuva, who has worked in the solar energy industry for more than three decades. “But it turns out that I was wrong and he was right.”

Together, the two engineers started Tethys Desalination, an Israeli company that aims to turn salty or polluted water into crystal-clear drinking water by harnessing the energy of the sun. Their easily installed device, which fits into a box that’s about a square meter in size, can produce up to 50 liters of drinkable water each day.

The system is scalable, so one device can meet the needs of a family, and a cluster of units installed together can sustain an entire village. Altman says the device could help save the lives of children in drought-stricken areas of Africa.

One device can meet the needs of a family, and a cluster of units installed together can sustain an entire village.

“And ultimately, it will allow those places without water to come back to life,” says Altman.

The device, which is being tested on a kibbutz in northern Israel, was recently named a finalist in the WeWork Creator Awards, which will be held in Jerusalem on June 20.

The idea for the device came to Altman back in the 1990s when was teaching a university course about water desalination techniques. He found himself frustrated by the limitations of desalination techniques.

“All of the processes use a lot of energy and are very aggressive toward the environment,” says Altman. “I thought there had to be a better way.”

Altman, who has co-founded several other successful startups, envisioned a cheap, simple, and energy-efficient desalination technique. The idea has garnered a lot of attention in recent months, with cities like Cape Town, South Africa, seeing their water supplies nearly run out.

The device is basically a weather system in a box, Altman explains. The sun causes the dirty water inside the box to evaporate. It then turns into mist and eventually drips down, producing clean water. This process, which mimics how clouds work, is repeated four times per cycle to maximize the amount of water produced.

“Basically we see how clean water is created in nature, through the water cycle of evaporation and rain,” Tshuva says.  “So we want to use this to solve the water shortage problem in a natural way.”

About 20 years ago, a group of Jewish and Arab parents whose children had attended the same private nursery school in Jerusalem wanted their children to continue to study together rather than be separated by Israel’s religiously segregated education system. So rather than sending their children to the usual Jewish and Muslim public schools, they started a new school called Hand in Hand.

At first there were fewer than 20 children, all in kindergarten, who studied in a spare room in one of the city’s schools. The school grew along with the children, adding a grade as they got older and bringing in a new group of kindergarteners each autumn. It now welcomes kids up to the 12th grade.

To help build relationships between Arabs and Jews, the nonprofit organization Hand in Hand now runs six schools with more than 1,800 students around the country. It has been selected as a finalist in the nonprofit category for the WeWork Creator Awards, which will be held in Jerusalem on June 20.

“We are not going to wait until peace comes to live together,” says Noa Yammer, who oversees international engagement for the non-profit organization. “We are just going to do it now.”

Rather than send their children to the usual Jewish and Muslim public schools, parents started a new school called Hand in Hand.

Besides six schools (and two more in the planning stages), the organization offers a variety of community programs for children and adults.

“We realized that we can’t just build a shared society through children,” says Yammer. “Adults also need to interact.”

Yammer says that the segregation within Israeli society — which is about 20 percent Arab — takes its toll on the country. It helps fuel the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which made headlines again in May during protests around Israel Independence Day.

But Yammer acknowledges that the intensity of the conflict isn’t going to go away overnight. The anger on each side is too entrenched.

“We live in a violent conflict,” Yammer says. “There’s a reason people are afraid. Our project is not an easy project. It’s actually a really hard thing to do in the conflict we live in, but it’s important.”

Dahlia Peretz, a principal at Hand in Hand starting in 2001, says that the school is designed to help students see past the conflict.

“In our divided society, relationships between Jewish and Arab children can succeed only if parties meet as equals, without any feelings of alienation,” she says. “We created a school where all children feel their languages and cultures have a legitimate place, a school where intercultural exchange can take place despite the unequal balance of power in our society.”

In addition to expanding its network of schools, Hand in Hand is developing a curriculum that any school — regardless of religious affiliation — can use to better educate children about tolerance.

The organization sees a growing interest all over the country, with more than 1,000 children on the waiting lists for the Hand in Hand schools. A win at the Creator Awards could help expand the program.

“This really needs to be a project in every city in Israel,” Yammer says. “We just need more resources so we can say yes to those asking us to come.”

Photo by Craig Stennett