When Renault and Nissan inaugurated a joint innovation laboratory in Tel Aviv last month, the 10 startups they recruited as partners covered the usual array of Israeli autotech expertise – computer vision, cybersecurity, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and the like.
The 10th, however, was IRP Systems, which is an unusual startup for two reasons. First, it’s headed by a woman, Moran Price. In fact, the P in IRP is her last name and the I and R are the initials of her two children.
The second reason is that IRP isn’t developing technology to help the next generation of vehicles, its focus is on the heart of the car itself and the part that often gets forgotten amid all the excitement over self-driving tech.
IRP is developing electric motors and it has made performance improvements beyond anything that exists now in the market, Price says. “We can almost double the ratio of speed and torque [power] with the same size motor,” she added.
Autotech has emerged as a hot new area for Startup Nation, especially after Intel’s $15 billion acquisition of Mobileye in 2015 attracted the world’s attention. Price calls the change nothing less than remarkable
“What’s happened in the automobile sector in Israel is without precedent,” she said. “We have no history in the industry and five years ago there was nothing here. All at once we became a magnet for auto-industry technology – everyone is coming here.”
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IRP’s history is unusual for a startup that typically follows the trajectory of idea, fundraising and then, hopefully, a product and sales. The company was formed in 2008 as a consulting firm called Nexus Systems by Price and her husband Paul.
Moran Price is an electronics engineer by training with an MBA who began her career at Intel. Paul Price, who is IRP’s chief technology officer, served in a technology unit in the Israeli army and then worked for defense electronics company Elbit Systems, where he specialized in powertrains.
In 2011, Nexus went from consulting to making high-performance motion systems for aerospace and industrial applications.
As Price put it, “We developed a technological solution that increased the performance of propulsion systems while keeping the size and weight small …. Then one day, two and a half years ago, we realized that what we did for aerospace we could do for electric transport – and that could also be attractive to the automotive industry.”
In both aerospace and automobiles, the price of an electric motor is directly correlated with its weight, she noted.
IRP came to the automotive market with the technology and a history with the aerospace industry, where systems need to operate at a very high degree of reliability.
That, she said, was an important advantage. “If you come to them just with the technology, as innovative as it might be, it’s very hard to get your foot in the door with these companies,” Price said.
IRP only raised its first capital last year in a round led by Entrée Capital. Including money invested in it by the founders, IRP has raised $9 million.
What’s the difference between the IRP engine and others? “We’re developing both the motor and the controller, which is the brain, the electronic unit that controls the engine,” she said.
“Not all the manufacturers work that way, and that gives us more freedom. We’ve stretched the limits of efficiency and have been able to reduce the motor by almost half and save about 15% in battery consumption.”
The company is focused on what Price calls the “micro-mobility segment” such as electric scooters and light vehicles like the Renault Twizy.
“It’s like a motorcycle with four wheels that can carry up to 450 kilograms and travel at speeds of up to 80 kilometers an hour,” she said. “The Europeans have wanted to encourage development of light electric vehicles like this and have defined standards for vehicles like this that have been adopted elsewhere in the world.”