High-Tech Jerusalem

ASPER-HUJI Innovate Wins Prestigious International Award

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ASPER-HUJI Innovate receives award

ASPER-HUJI Innovate was thrilled to receive the Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center Award, bestowed annually by the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC).

The consortium comprises 300+ university-based entrepreneurship centers from around the world, who come together to collaborate, learn from each other, and jointly advance excellence and best practices. The Hebrew University has been a member of GCEC since 2018 and, two years ago, was a finalist for this prestigious award.

“Two years ago, we were proud to be finalists – this year we matured to be the winners!”

  • Dr. Amnon Dekel, Executive Director

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, this year’s conference took place in-person, in Baltimore, MD. ASPER-HUJI Innovate representatives, Ayelet Cohen and Yotam Zach, were in attendance and received the award on behalf of ASPER-HUJI and the entire Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Developing Innovative Methods for 3D Printing

Omri R
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Omri Rulf is studying towards a Master of Science in chemistry at the Hebrew University. As an undergraduate student of materials engineering, he explored 3D printing with conductive materials – research that left him hungry for more advanced challenges. 

At the Institute of Chemistry, Omri joined a laboratory that studies the application of organic and inorganic materials to the fields of 3D functional printing, solar energy, and bio-medical systems. 

Omri’s research focuses on developing new inks that can be used in digital light processing, a method of 3D printing that is activated by light. Current methods use photo (light) initiators, which are less healthy for medical purposes. Instead, Omri’s inks use thermal initiators, resulting in a healthier product.  

"My research is progressing nicely, and we’ve already achieved a proof of concept. I’m excited to be at the forefront of such an innovative field, knowing that my research will be applicable to bio-printing, drug delivery systems, dentistry, and more.

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At the Forefront of Computer Vision Research

Levi Kassel
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Even as a high school student, Levi Kassel was drawn to the sciences. He studied physics and math, and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. These years were both immensely stimulating and challenging, and Levi discovered the joy of grappling with theoretical questions. 

After graduating, Levi worked as a developer for Amazon Web Services (AWS) for nearly two years. Yet he felt that he still wanted to learn and began searching for graduate opportunities – specifically in computer science.

"I explored a few options and decided upon the Hebrew University’s MSc program in Computer Science. I am interested in computer vision, and the Hebrew University is at the forefront of this field. In addition, my scholarship wasn’t tied to any particular lab, so I could participate in smaller projects and gain experience before committing to my final project."

 A year into the program, Levi knows he made the right choice. The classes are challenging, the facilities are top-notch, and he’s already completed a small research project. He’s decided to conduct his thesis research under the supervision of Prof. Michael Werman, focusing on foreground segmentation – teaching computers to distinguish between an image’s foreground and background. This has many applications, including monitoring traffic and security cameras, e.g. identifying an abandoned bag in a busy terminal.

"The MSc program in Computer Science has exceeded my expectations. After graduating I hope to work in industry, perhaps in research and development. A friend and I have an idea for a startup, but I may also find myself back at the University, studying for a doctoral degree.

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Machine Learning and Verification: No Room for Error

Varda Zilberman

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Varda Zilberman always loved science. In high school she majored in physics and electronics, and later studied computer science and math at the Hebrew University, with the idea of pursuing a career in high tech. On campus, Varda felt that she’d found her place. As graduation neared, she deliberated whether to continue to a master’s degree or enter the workforce. She ended up working for a small tech company doing mapping for the Tel Aviv light rail. 

Yet Varda couldn’t ignore the lure of academia; after working for a year, she returned to the Hebrew University to begin her master’s degree. 

"I loved being a student and wanted to take my studies to the next step – conducting research. I wanted to push myself further and see what I could accomplish."

Now nearing the end of her first year, Varda has been working on machine learning in Dr. Guy Katz’s laboratory. More specifically, she studies the field of neural networks verification, i.e. verifying that a neural network satisfies some properties, and exploring ways to speed up the verification process – a computationally challenging task. Verification is crucial for many systems, such as self-driving car and airborne collision avoidance systems.

"I was always drawn to the more theoretical aspects of math, but there’s something immensely satisfying about practical research and getting immediate results, especially working in the field of verification, where there’s no room for error. I love my research and feel that I’m in the right place.

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Applying Machine Learning to Medical Image Processing

Avigail Suna

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Avigail Suna holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. After graduating she began working for Largix, a local robotics startup company, where she first discovered the allure of computer science.  

Working alongside a Hebrew University alumna who taught her to program robots in different languages, Avigail’s eyes were opened to the beauty and elegance of well-written code, and its potential to optimize teamwork. Today, Avigail is a MSc student at the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering.

"I’m really enjoying my studies. I’ve taken a few image processing classes, where my 3D background has been an advantage. The coursework is challenging and gratifying. I’m also amazed by my peers. We work together to succeed, offering a helping hand at any hour of the day (or night!). It is a creative and stimulating environment."

Before beginning her graduate studies, Avigail had met Hebrew University Prof. Leo Joskowicz at a conference. His background is also in robotics, and today he focuses on medical image processing. Avigail joined his lab and conducts research in this field, integrating traditional techniques with machine learning. Specifically, she’s working with Hadassah doctors on an algorithm that can assist in determining, based on an x-ray alone, whether patients with a fractured distal radius will need to undergo surgery.

"I greatly enjoy working alongside people with different professional backgrounds and feel that I am learning a lot. I’m enjoying the challenges and am satisfied knowing that I’m working on a real-world project that will help doctors and patients alike."

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Muna and Sarah, Biofilm and Endocannabinoid Researchers

Muna and Sarah

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Sarah Gingichashvili was born in Georgia, grew up in Jerusalem, and has spent much of the last decade and a half at the Hebrew University.  She earned a BSc in computer science before deciding to pursue a degree in dentistry. After three pre-clinical years, Sarah continued to an MSc, and then PhD, in bio-medical sciences. In 2015 she joined Prof. Doron Steinberg’s lab and began conducting biofilm research. In her spare time, she began an MSc in computer science, completed an MBA, and worked as a developer for a local health analytics start-up company. 

Muna Aqawi grew up in East Jerusalem and earned a BSc in Pharmaceutical Studies from the Jordan University of Science and Technology. After graduating she returned home and worked as a pharmacist. Yet her love of science lured her back to academia. In 2017 she began the Hebrew University’s International Bio-Medical Sciences Graduate Program and joined Prof. Doron Steinberg’s laboratory, researching biofilm, with the goal of earning a PhD. 

Muna and Sarah instantly became friends – within the lab and beyond. They often go together to the movies or to eat local street food. They have also presented at conferences and participated in faculty seminars together.

"We feel very fortunate to work side by side and to get to know each other through research and the beautiful city of Jerusalem."

This is Muna’s second year receiving the STEP-Sisters award. After her original partner graduated, Sarah was selected to join the program. Their project focuses on the cervix, investigating the potential anti-microbial effect of endocannabinoids (molecules that bind to cannabis-specific receptors) against cervical infections.

"Being part of a joint project has greatly benefitted both of us. Each of us brings different skills and methods to the project: Muna through her knowledge of pharmaceutical formulations and microbiology and Sarah’s ability to develop computerized tools for analyzing biological/microbiological data. By working together, we are able to provide new insights and research previously unexplored avenues."

Muna’s doctoral research, under the supervision of Prof. Steinberg and Prof. Michael Friedman, focuses on the use of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals to disrupt cell-cell communication, with the hope of reducing the virulence of bacterial biofilms. 

Sarah’s doctoral research, under the supervision of Prof. Steinberg and Dr. Osnat Feuerstein, focuses on developing computerized algorithms for characterizing structural aspects of biofilms, with the goal of understanding their resilience to traditional anti-microbial treatments.

"Scientific research is defined by its collaborative and interdisciplinary nature. We believe ourselves obligated to foster those relationships by sharing our research and supporting our peers. STEP does precisely that: pairing scientists from different backgrounds leads not only to short-term scientific collaborations, but to - long-term relationships that in our case will undoubtedly last for many years ahead. We are thankful for STEP-GTP for supporting young scientists and promoting Israeli-Palestinian partnerships – in these troublesome times their support is invaluable."

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Tzvi Michelson, Schulich Leader, Computer Science & Psychology

Tzvi Michelson

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Tzvi Michelson is a third-year student double majoring in computer science and psychology. At first glance, these fields seem quite distant, and Tzvi divides his time between the Mt. Scopus and Edmond J. Safra campuses. Yet he is fascinated by their overlap – namely, artificial intelligence. 

To gain hands on experience, Tzvi is involved in two research projects – one on either campus. On Mt. Scopus he works in Prof. Avi Kluger’s lab, conducting a meta-analysis of studies on people who listen to traumatic experiences, otherwise known as secondary trauma. Specifically, Tzvi is interested in how the extent of exposure influences the severity of secondary trauma. One hypothesis is that extensive listening would desensitize the listener, while another, competing, hypothesis is that listeners who perceive themselves as helpful or empathetic would experience more severe secondary trauma. 

On the Edmond J. Safra campus, Tzvi is involved in Dr. Guy Katz’s lab, working on machine learning and studying ways to make neural networks more efficient. For example, drones are capable of “reading” their surroundings to avoid crashes. But the larger the neural network the heavier the drone, and the more expensive the hardware. Thus, simplifying these neural networks has great potential in a variety of fields. 

For the duration of his studies, Tzvi has been a Schulich Leader, along with approximately 40 other Hebrew University students. A few years ago, the Leaders decided to hold tri-weekly meetings and take turns presenting ideas or experiences from their lives. When it was Tzvi’s turn to present, he led a discussion on fear, spanning the fear of failure, fear of success, and various ways to handle and leverage fear within the academic world.

In addition, Tzvi and his classmate Mohr Wenger founded Forstart, in response to two striking observations. First, most computer science students come from academic or high-tech-oriented families. Second, most computer science students were unable to apply for various scholarships, as these required them to volunteer for a high number of hours per week. This initiative, which operates in collaboration with the Jerusalem Education Administration and the Al Bashir Leadership Program, addresses both these issues. Twenty computer science students tutor fifty middle- and high-school students for three hours a week. These sessions take place on the Safra campus, close to their studies. Forstart aims to introduce the youngsters to academia and foster their sense of capability – inspiring them to consider higher education in the future. After the program’s first semester, the youngsters reported a staggering improvement in their technical skills and a dramatic increase in their academic self-confidence. 

Looking forward, Tzvi hopes to continue to a master’s degree in computer science – focusing on artificial general intelligence. This is a combination of many fields – image and language processing, along with modeling emotions. The Hebrew University is a leader in these fields, and Tzvi is plenty motivated – perhaps he will be credited with the next major AI breakthrough!

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Aya and Noa, Genetics Researchers

Aya and Noa

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Aya Awad grew up in East Jerusalem. She studied at Birzeit University, earning a BSc in biology along with a teaching certificate. She taught science to high school students from both East and West Jerusalem in various capacities, including the Hebrew University Youth Division. Aya aspired to an advanced degree but was worried about not fitting in at the Hebrew University, as she speaks no Hebrew and wears a hijab. Instead, she enrolled in Bethlehem University’s biotechnology master’s program, studying novel mutations that cause a rare genetic disease and working with affected families in Hebron. But when she wanted to bolster her laboratory skills, Aya knew she’d have to leave her comfort zone. She began working at the Hebrew University, in Prof. Dudy Tzfati’s lab – and never left. Five years later, she’s about a year away from completing her doctoral dissertation under his supervision. 

Noa Hourvitz grew up in central Israel. She’d always been interested in genetics and earned a BSc in biology at the Hebrew University. During her undergraduate studies decided to join Prof. Tzfati’s biology lab. After graduating, Noa began a master’s in genetic counseling, which she combines with research in the lab. 

When Noa joined Prof. Tzfati’s lab, most of its members were international, advanced degree students. As the sole undergraduate, she felt intimidated. And Aya, like many residents of East Jerusalem, hadn’t had the best of experiences with Israelis. Yet Aya reached out to Noa, and they instantly became friends, both inside and outside of the lab. Both women realized how precious their friendship was, both on the local and national levels, and decided to apply to STEP, a US-based program that pairs and supports Israeli and Palestinian graduate students who work and/or conduct laboratory research together.

"As scientists we are obligated to pay attention to details, open our minds to new ideas, and avoid prejudices. Therefore, we also should never judge people who, at first sight, seems different from us. The STEP scholarship has allowed us to be part of something pure, bringing together people from different backgrounds, religions, and genders, but who share similar interests and work. At the end of the day, we are all alike."

                  - Noa Hourvitz

Back in the lab, Aya and Noa are nearly inseparable. They recently published their first scientific paper and are working on another. They study telomeres, which are little “caps” at the ends of our chromosomes that maintain their stability and function. Telomeres gradually shorten with age. This can eventually lead to a variety of diseases, ranging from aging-associated pathologies such as diabetes and heart diseases to a heightened risk for cancer. In extreme cases, accelerated telomere shortening can cause a fatal genetic disease called Hoyeraal-Hreidarsson syndrome (HHS), which is the subject of Aya and Noa’s research. 

In their joint paper, together with other students and collaborators, they showed that mutations in a gene called RTEL1 cause HHS by preventing telomerase (a ribonucleoprotein) from doing its job, which is to elongate the telomeres to maintain their function. While each woman studies a different mutation of the gene, they complement each other, and their combined research contributes to a better understanding of telomere biology in health and disease. In the future, they hope that it will lead to the development of a therapy that will save the lives of children affected with this fatal disease.

"Science is the best way to remove boundaries between people from different backgrounds. STEP has given us a great opportunity – which we must seize, if we are to accomplish our goals, while also empowering more women to enter science."

                      - Aya Awad

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Kinoko-Tech: A Zero Waste Protein Source

HTJ Innovate Kinko-Tech

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With backgrounds spanning plant science, microbiology, and food science, Jasmin Ravid, Dr. Daria Feldman, and Hadar Shohat were perfectly poised to invent an alternative source of protein when they founded their startup, Kinoko-Tech

The trio came together around Dr. Feldman’s idea to develop a platform and method for growing mycelia for use in food production. They have developed a zero-waste method for growing a complete protein, with nutritional values on par with animal protein.    

In 2019 they completed Asper HUJI Innovate’s pre-accelerator program, OPEN AgFood.

"Asper-HUJI Innovate was precisely the push we needed to realize our idea and bring it into fruition."

Jasmin Ravid, CEO

Looking forward, Kinoko has secured initial seed money and plans on registering their method as a patent. This will enable them to scale-up production and began approaching food manufacturers in Israel and abroad.

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Dr. Yifat Brill-Karniely, Math Teacher-Scholar

Dr. Yifat Brill-Karniely

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Dr. Yifat Brill-Karniely loves the biophysics research she conducts at the Hebrew University — but the Teacher-Scholar program was a life-changer for her.

"Following my doctorate on the physical theories behind the biological properties of human cells, I immersed myself in my post-doc, investigating the use of physical insights for improving cancer therapies. However, I realized that, in addition to my scientific work, it was important for me to make a contribution to the community. I wanted to encourage young people to study math and science with enthusiasm, and to help them acquire academic ways of thinking. In this way, I would be expanding opportunities for them in the future. This program enables me to combine high school teaching with my lab research."

Yifat started her Teacher-Scholar training in 2016 and has been teaching mathematics at a large public high school ever since. What marks her out as an educator is the customized preparation she received that equipped her to deal with the ordinary challenges math teachers encounter, as well as ignite her pupils' passion for science. She prides herself on motivating those who struggle with math and boosting the abilities of the more advanced students. No less important for Yifat is to show them how math and science can be applicable to day-to-day life as well as to high-level research. For example, when teaching functions, she explained their major role in modelling systems from various fields such as physics, medicine, social science, and economics. 

Yifat's success as a teacher is not limited to math; her students know she is an address for assistance in their other science studies. She played a vital part too in connecting her pupils with University mentors, a lab, and funding for their capstone science projects.

"I feel I have the best of both worlds. I have helped my students not only pass their math matriculation exam, but also understand the glory of scientific research."

Comments from her students, like "thanks to you, I received 99 on my exam," and "your round-the-clock support and creative ideas made all the difference," make her feel she has accomplished her mission.

"At the same time, this personal satisfaction gives me the energy to pursue my research in order to uncover the biophysical properties needed to achieve greater efficacy of cancer treatment."

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Dr. Netta Bruchiel Spanier, Physics Teacher-Scholar

Dr. Netta Bruchiel Spanier

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When Dr. Netta Bruchiel Spanier finished her doctorate in electrochemistry, she found herself at a crossroads, with left leading to advanced research and right to teaching at the collegiate level. Yet neither fully attracted her.

"The Teacher-Scholar program found me at the right junction in my life, and gave me the direction I was seeking. Though I love research, I never planned on conducting full-time post-doctoral research. Though I wanted to teach, I was nervous about teaching in a high-school. This program allowed me to keep one foot in academia while giving me the skills and confidence to educate teenagers."

Netta has been teaching physics for the matriculation exam at the Beit Chinuch High School in Jerusalem for four years. Aiming to turn her pupils into people who think creatively, rather than study solely in order to pass exams, Netta exposes them to the theories as well as the processes behind scientific developments. In this way, they can test new ideas and work out their own solutions. One way in which she brings science to life for her students is by discussing problems that her research aims to solve and describing her findings. Stimulating their scientific curiosity in yet another way, Netta gave her class a challenge: to build a home-made model for measuring gravity, based on the concepts they’d learned in class.

"Because I love science so much, I provide my pupils with knowledge and inspire them to make their own basic discoveries. As a result, they ask me about science news they’ve heard and I give explanations based on my work in the lab."

The Beresheet lunar spacecraft was a fantastic opportunity for Netta to show the application of physics in real time. Throughout the months of planning and space time, her classes provided regular insights into Beresheet’s innovations and technology. “The students were totally engrossed. For its 2am launching, they woke up to film the event and chat with me about it on Whatsapp as it was unfolding.”

Netta is very happy with her Teacher-Scholar career.

"I wouldn't want it any other way now. One of my students told me, ’you made me think for myself and not take information at face value. Because of your teaching, I can now explore the how rather than just the what, and I realize that asking questions and working out solutions is what is important.’ That makes me extremely fulfilled."

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Smartphone Lessons for Seniors

Program Starters

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Gabi Arnovitz studies economics and business administration at the Hebrew University. A few years ago, he initiated a project bringing together student volunteers and seniors for smartphone lessons. Wanting to advance his project, he participated in the first cohort of Asper-HUJI Innovate's program, OPEN Social. While conducting market research, he came across Uriel Shuraki, who was independently teaching similar classes at community centers across Jerusalem. After completing OPEN Social, Gabi began teaching with Uriel. Along with David Suraqui, they got to work developing a start-up relating to smartphone lessons.  

Unfortunately, their classes were cancelled mid-spring, as the virus spread. Yet social distancing wasn’t going to stop them. Gabi, Uriel, and David realized that demand for their service would sky-rocket, as seniors found themselves feeling increasingly isolated. David suggested starting a digital course. They advertised and within ten days, 600 seniors had signed up. As of late May, the group had grown to include 1,700 people. The service is offered free of charge. 

Experience had taught them that most seniors are capable of opening Whatsapp messages. Thus, participants receive a daily instructional video via Whatsapp. The seniors need only to hit play, watch, and learn! The lessons range from 3-8 minutes long and focus on a specific function of their phones: adjusting the volume, forwarding images, silencing groups, turning on the flashlight, various apps, and more. 

To help solidify the seniors’ learning, they began holding weekly Zoom meetings. At first, these meetings enabled the seniors to practice opening and using the program. Later, these became opportunities to review lessons and ask questions. Now they are using Zoom to offer additional content. In mid-May they hosted a guest lecture on the topic of fake news, which was attended by 176 people. 

This project was the first to be awarded a 5,000 NIS grant from Asper HUJI Innovate and the Student Union, in response to a call for proposals that employed technology to alleviate loneliness during social distancing. 

Looking forward, Uriel and Gabi have begun translating their program into English, making it available to an even broader audience – in Israel and abroad. They are committed to keeping the program free of charge, and hope to develop brand name recognition that enable them to charge for more advanced or specialized courses in the future.  

Their website in English and Hebre

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A Platform for Workplace Mentoring

Staff Image

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Open X is one of Asper-HUJI Innovate’s pre-accelerator programs, helping teams develop a technology- or research-based product. The program provides tools and skills for transforming an idea into a minimum viable product (MVP).

The first cohort began the program in the spring of 2020 – just as Coronavirus shut down campuses and restricted mobility. Luckily, the program’s staff was able to adapt and adjust the program to digital learning platforms.

Muly Gelman, Guy Magal, and Ori Zifroni are one such group. Recent graduates, their backgrounds span computer science, design, law, advertising, the humanities, and strategizing. Upon entering the workforce, the three discovered a lack of employee growth and coaching processes at their respective workplaces. Guy says: “All three of us have a growth mindset. We’re lifelong learners. Podcast freaks.”

Ori adds: “From the perspective of career building and personal growth, our generation will have to constantly adapt and learn new skills, given our ever-changing and fast-moving world. Organizations and individuals will both adopt lifelong learning as a way to deal with future challenges.”

Guy, Ori, and Muly had been tossing around startup ideas and settled on a platform for organizational development and learning. Their mission is to help organizations unlock and scale up their inner growth learning and coaching capabilities.

"There’s so much organizational knowledge that gets stuck in the pipeline, due to the inability to share experiences, and that’s a pity. Organizations get less from their employees, and employees turn to alternative solutions to develop their skills outside the workplace."

Muly adds: “The current era has accelerated our understanding that an easier and faster connection between employees can benefit the organization, not only as a means of communication, but also for learning and career development processes.”

When Muly saw Open X advertised on a Hebrew University website, he knew they had to apply. They fleshed out their idea, identified opportunities and challenges, developed a rudimentary plan, and were accepted. 

In Muly’s opinion, the most important part of the program is feedback from the staff, mentors, and other participants. “It’s one thing to have an idea, but an entirely different thing to convince others that your idea is viable. We’re becoming entrepreneurs – learning the jargon, the skills, the market.”

Interestingly, they feel that the Coronavirus has only increased their networking opportunities. With so many people working from home, they’re able to video call with executives more easily, even if kids occasionally pop into the frame.

"We're passionate about bringing our initiative to fruition. The Hebrew University is providing us with excellent support, enabling us to create something on our own – entirely from scratch."

The program is scheduled to conclude with a demo day, in which teams present their product to local industry leaders, university representatives, and investors. Ori, Guy, and Muly continue to work hard, hoping that by late June they’ll be able to meet and present their product – face to face.


Their pitch can be viewed here.

Update: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Demo Day was held entirely online and can be viewed here.

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