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Israel’s fame as a startup nation, with its military playing an instrumental role in providing some of the country’s top-tier entrepreneurs, has attracted the attention of former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Schmidt, since leaving Google, has committed himself into bringing Silicon Valley’s innovation mindset to the U.S. defense community, which he regarded as lagging behind in technology capability. 

Schmidt also served as the chairman of the Defense Innovation Board – an independent advisory board set up exactly to increase the synergy between the U.S. military and Silicon Valley, reversing a post-Cold War trend when the military no longer leads cutting-edge innovations in the U.S. 

Most recently, Schmidt chaired the National Security Commission on AI, which released a report in March 2021 indicating that the U.S. was ill-prepared compete against China in AI development. 

Perhaps it was this recognition that drove the former Google chairman to Israel. “I can’t think of a place where you could see this diversity and the collection of initiatives aside from Silicon Valley”, remarked Schmidt in reference to Israel’s startup landscape. The man, who turned Google into one of the largest companies on earth, also observed that Israel’s culture “made it possible to question authority and to challenge everything”, something crucial to its thriving startup scene.

Above all, Schmidt attributed Israel’s vast engineering talent pool to the Israeli military, where people absorbed professional capabilities in intelligence, cyber, and data analysis. “The Israeli military has considerable data and it integrates between many types and sources of information,” commented Schmidt.

Supercharging the “Super Evolution”

In 2010, Eric Schmidt founded Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital firm headquartered in both Israel and the US, with Dror Berman, who previously served in the Unit 8200 of Israel’s military famed for the number of entrepreneurs it produced. Schmidt single-handedly financed the first two rounds of the VC firm dedicated to Israeli and American startups. After merging with Israeli VC firm Marker LLC in 2018, the firm completed its third funding round, raising a total of US$333.5 million. In its 4th funding round, it raised US$500 million. 

Even though the VC firm’s portfolio included globally renowned companies like Uber, according to Schmidt and Berman, Innovation Endeavors focused on cybersecurity in the beginning. Team8, an Israeli venture group with the same focus, was one of those cybersecurity-focused firms backed by Innovation Endeavors. 

Gradually, however, Schmidt and Berman turned their attentions to a new phenomenon. The “Super Evolution”, as they called it, captured the increasingly faster product development cycles – what used to take years can now take only several days – enabled by rapid advancements in data, edge computing and engineering. 

As understood by Innovation Endeavors, a proliferation of data from the physical and biological worlds enable us to measure things that we could never measure before. Simultaneously, machine learning and edge computing enabled us to derive insights from the these data with higher efficiency. Finally, advances in engineering have made it possible to translate these insights into action quickly and cost effectively. 

Consequently, Innovation Endeavors perceives the Super Evolution to ultimately enable startups to advance faster than incumbents, and fundamentally alter every industry in the process. Because of the enabling platforms currently under construction now, as Eric Schmidt put it, the next 10 years will see an acceleration of progress.  Driven by this conviction, the VC firm has started to zoom onto companies that drive the “super evolution”.  

Planet, one of the companies on Innovation Endeavors’ portfolio, is made up of former NASA employees who aspire to accelerate space economy via imaging all if Earth’s landmass daily. Using low-cost and off-the-shelf electronics, Planet can design and construct satellites within weeks, and now a growing number of customers are using its earth imagery and analytics service. Zymergen, another company on the portfolio, use machine learning and automation to engineer single-celled organisms that make molecules for a wide range of advanced materials, including electronic screens and plastics. Zymergen has accumulated more than two terabytes of physical and digital DNA data, so far the largest in the world.

 

References: Wired, Innovation Endeavors, Israel Defense

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