The technology commercialization arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yissum Research Development Company, has launched an agriculture technology fund. Dubbed Agrinnovation, it has raised $4 million so far and is targeting $6 million overall to invest in agtech coming out of the university.
Investors in the fund include Victor Smorgon Group, an Australian conglomerate, and the $360 million Provident Fund of the Employees of the university. Yissum, which currently generates $2 billion in annual sales from the technologies it has commercialized, has also invested in the fund.
“Israel was one of the first countries that understood the big amount of technology coming from universities, so in order to commercialize and protect it, we established an arm to take these technologies to the market,” said Dr. Ido Schechter, CEO of Agrinnovation. “We have just celebrated 50 years and have 11,000 patents. And now we’ve decided to launch a venture capital structure for agriculture.”
The university has a very large agriculture faculty with over 100 professors dedicated to it, and several centers within it looking at the intersection of food, environment and technology. The fund will invest in 10 projects that have gone through comprehensive research and development and that can be commercialized within about two years, according to Schechter.
“Is it very early stage? Yes and no. We are not taking ideas. We only invest in those where the research has been done. These are very mature ideas that usually come with some IP and patents registered or pending,” he said. “We are taking the best projects and investing in them to do market feasibility tests. I want to take our wonderful academics one step further into interesting, commercial projects.”
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Announcing the launch of the fund at a special event at the University yesterday, Schechter and his colleagues presented two investments the fund has already planned to make.
The first is an innovative protective coating for extending the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables. Developed by professors from the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition and the Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture, the edible biodegradable film can be used on fresh produce such as bell peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic.
Another technology to be funded and commercialized by Agrinnovation is for the livestock industry and the controlled release of drugs. Developed by professors from the School of Pharmacy – Institute for Drug Research and the School of Veterinary Medicine, the technology aims to replace the need for recurrent injections of drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers, which will save time and money for producers, and reduce the stress on animals.
Schechter imagines that there will be a large second fund later.
“We didn’t have any trouble getting investment,” said Schechter. “Money is not the problem. But what I want is good technologies to invest in. We might raise $20 million but not have anything to do with it.”
Schechter spent most of his career working for a software company called Image Systems, where he worked for 18 years, and spent 12 of those as CEO. But he did his bachelor of science degree in horticulture at the Hebrew University, before doing a PhD in the same subject at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He returned to Hebrew University to build this initiative in January 2015.