“The first time I tasted grasshoppers was also the first time I ever touched one,” remembers Dror Tamir, co-founder and CEO of Hargol FoodTech—the world’s first commercial grasshopper farmer. “It was at a tasting event we held three years ago with representatives from Uganda and Japan. A CNN crew filmed the event, so I tried to be cool and funny. I was sure I nailed my performance… until I saw the photos of me eating a grasshopper. I was terrified and my face said it all!”

That was three years ago. Today, Tamir eats grasshoppers without hesitation. Even his two young sons eat them African style—fried in a pan with a little oil and salt. “And they love it!” Tamir says.

Hargol FoodTech Creator Awards Tel Aviv WinnerHargol FoodTech was born in 2014 while Tamir—an accountant by profession, who for the past 13 years has been an entrepreneur working on food and nutrition ventures—was working on his second startup in this field, Plate my Meal, which strives to solve world’s obesity epidemic.

“While working on Plate my Meal, I also learned about malnutrition and the lack of protein in children’s diet,” Tamir says. “As an entrepreneur, when you see a big problem, you start looking for solutions and grasshoppers are that solution.”

“As an entrepreneur, when you see a big problem, you start looking for solutions.”

When Tamir started looking for alternative protein sources for malnourished populations in Africa and Asia, he focused his research on existing protein sources. He learned about insects being an important part of billions around the globe’s diet and that grasshoppers were the most widely eaten insect in the world. He was surprised to find out that 99.9 percent of supply comes from collection in the wild with a very limited seasonal availability of four to six weeks a year. Realizing this led to a clear understanding that a grasshopper farm providing year-round production would have a high demand for its product while also helping to feed the hungry world.

Insect magician Chanan Aviv, who for over 30 years has been growing, breeding, and eating insects, and operations specialist Ben Friedman joined Tamir on his journey. Aviv, the company’s CTO, went out to the fields and started collecting dozens of grasshopper species. Then he started acclimatizing them, breeding them, and hatching their eggs.

“Over phone calls and email, it sounded almost like the poultry industry, but when I went into the facility itself and saw the cages filled with grasshoppers, I was shocked,” Tamir recalls. “It was a completely new scene for me and still every time I go into one of our growing rooms it feels like stepping into a sci-fi movie.”

Hargol FoodTech’s head office is located in Misgav in northern Israel and the grasshopper farm is located in Elifelet, just over the sea of Galilee. At the moment, the company has seven employees and hundreds of thousands of grasshoppers, and it is growing on both counts. The first three years were hard, as Tamir and his team found it challenging to convince investors to believe in their unique product. However, in the last year, they felt a change: Investors are reaching out, leading food and beverage manufacturers are approaching them, and just last month they scooped up a victory at the 2017 Tel Aviv Creator Awards, in which they won the top prize in the Scale category and pocketed $360,000. “After a long walk in the desert, we feel like we are starting to see the first signs of success,” Tamir says.

“We feel like we are starting to see the first signs of success.”

There are no food products containing grasshoppers yet, as there is no grasshopper supply—Hargol FoodTech is a first mover—but there are many food products containing crickets and mealworms: energy bars, protein shakes, pasta sauce, pasta, cookies, chips, beer, and ice cream, to name a few. Tamir is certain that grasshoppers will soon be on that list, too.

“The wonderful thing about grasshoppers is that there is no need to extract the protein. The nutritional content of a grasshopper is so good, all you need to do is dry and mill the whole animal—meaning minimal processing,” Tamir explains. “There is high demand for whole grasshoppers from the USA and European restaurants and snacks producers, so we will be selling whole grasshoppers as well,” Tamir says. “But most of our sales will be of grasshopper protein powder sold to food manufacturers.”

“When everyone tells you you’re strange, when no one wants to invest in you, when everything looks dark—if you believe in what you do, and believe that you can change the world—do it.”

With help from the winnings at the Creator Awards, the future looks green and jumpy. “In five years time, we plan to establish industrial scale grasshopper farms across the globe with local partners in each market,” Tamir says. “We expect to provide better protein to humans, pets, and animals. I see the potential of grasshoppers becoming as common as sushi. Thirty years ago, eating raw fish also sounded disgusting in the West.”

Tamir’s message to other creators working in fields that are new and uncertain? “Never give up,” he says. “When everyone tells you you’re strange, when no one wants to invest in you, when everything looks dark—if you believe in what you do, and believe that you can change the world—do it.”

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