When I first attended the Greencircle NY-Israel food tech conference in New York City last year, I never imagined that I would be living in Israel just a year later, exploring the food tech ecosystem for myself. I relocated to Tel Aviv in mid-January for an exchange program and have since been discovering the richness of Israel’s culture, language, cities, people, and places. While the high-tech innovation was a significant draw, my primary goal was to immerse myself in the culture and history of Israel as a whole. In the short time I’ve been here, I learned that the country’s foundation lies in its entrepreneurial mindset.
As I met more local Israelis, I was struck by the sheer number of people working in the high-tech industry. It makes sense considering Israel’s startup history dates back to the country’s founding. As a young nation facing existential threats, Israel’s defense system has always had to adapt to new scenarios, avoiding heavy reliance on conventional methods. There is a strong culture of questioning everything, evident in both political protests and companies that foster a climate of critical thinking. This environment encourages innovation not only for entrepreneurs but also for intrapreneurs, who develop new ideas and frameworks within existing organizations.
Food tech and ag tech are thriving industries in Israel, driven by the nation’s limited natural resources, water shortages, and a broader global climate crisis. According to the Good Food Institute Israel, alternative protein startups in the country raised $454 million in 2022, making up 30% of climate tech investments. Moreover, Israel ranked second globally, only behind the US, in alternative protein investments. The Israel Innovation Authority, an independent publicly-funded agency, is a significant driver of the country’s food tech advancements, offering a variety of practical tools and funding platforms to meet the needs of local and international innovation ecosystems.
Leading universities such as Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Technion University in Haifa, and Tel Aviv University also contribute to food tech innovation through academic research. However, beyond government funding and academic research, I am particularly interested in the intangible aspects of Israel’s culture that foster a high concentration of founders and an environment conducive to risk-taking.
Roee Nir, the co-founder of Forsea, a cultivated fish company making an eel product, told me what sets Israeli founders apart is, “We are Israelis, and we are very communicative within ourselves. We like to meet, we like to share ideas, and we love that this is a very central industry that is erupting from Israel.”
Similarly, Anat Natan, the co-founder of Anina Culinary Art, credits the Israeli mindset of daring, inventive, and non-traditional thinking. When asked where this mindset comes from, she told me “If you look back, the Jewish needed to survive. Even though we’re very advanced as a country in a lot of aspects, we’re a startup nation. We’re only 75 years old. We’re still establishing (ourselves), and when you’re building something, you have to do more than when you maintain something. We’re still in the building phase of the Israeli country.”
In this series, I will continue to explore that startup mindset and developments in Israel’s food tech industry through interviews with founders and investors. I will delve into how startups are established, the groundbreaking innovations taking place, and the implications for Israel’s agricultural sector, environment, economy, and even its conflict with Palestine, because no analysis of food technology in Israel would be incomplete without considering the complex political environment. The food chain is an intricate web that intersects all aspects of society, which is especially true in a region as diverse and multifaceted as the Middle East.
Stay tuned for my first interview tomorrow!
Joy Chen is a contributor at the Spoon and has been writing about robotics and alternative proteins for the past year and a half. Although originally from the United States, she is currently studying at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.