Toyota Scouts Smart-City Startups In Israel

Woven City

A dozen automakers operate R&D or “innovation offices” in Israel. Toyota, somewhat surprisingly, isn’t among them. But that doesn’t mean it’s ignoring what the Silicon Wadi has to offer.

Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures, came to the OurCrowd Summit last week in Jerusalem. We caught the panel discussion on the challenges of developing autonomous vehicles, in which Adler took part. But what he was really there for was to scout new startups.

And not just any mobility-related firms, either. What Toyota AI Ventures is looking for are early-stage startups focusing on smart and connected cities. The Japanese automaker’s technology-funding arm first issued the “call for innovation” at CES in Las Vegas last month, and is now hitting the world’s foremost meccas of new technology to find new companies to bring on board.

“Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas today, and that trend is expected to increase in coming decades,” said Adler on the CES announcement. “As cities become more populated and dense, technology has a key role to play in addressing challenges like congestion, housing shortages, and pollution. We see cities as a platform for innovation, and we’re searching for startups building real-world, scalable solutions to improve the quality of life in urban communities, now and in the future.”

It’s the second such “call for innovation” that Toyota has issued, following 2018’s tender for robotics companies specializing in mobile manipulation technologies. This time, they’re looking for early-stage startups tackling problems related to congestion, pollution, accessibility, and construction.

Potential candidates can have raised no more than $3 million, have a working prototype, and a viable business model. Those selected will receive between $500,000 and $2 million in funding, and the chance to test their technologies at the Woven City (pictured) – the new experimental model connected city that Toyota is building at its Higashi-Fuji plant in Susono, Japan.

“We really act like a financial VC, looking, scouring the world for the best companies and the most innovative, disruptive startups,” Adler told CTech. “And Israel is the place with the most innovative, disruptive startups.”

Of the 27 companies in the Toyota AI Ventures portfolio, 3 are Israeli: Intuition Robotics, scent-startup Moodify, and computer-vision specialists Cartica AI.

Unlike many of its competitors, Toyota does not have an R&D or tech-scouting office in Israel. Among those that do are General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.