Tech Roundup / Losing the Waze to a Better Place

Shai Agassi's electric-car battery venture implodes; Facebook veers away from Waze; oligarch invests in Israeli startup; Webcollage makes inglorious exit; mobiles move around and rumblings inside Kiryat Gat.

There was only one story this week in Israeli tech circles: the dog-bites-man implosion of Better Place, the electric-car battery venture founded by technology talent Shai Agassi.

A staggering $850 million had been sunk into the startup, quite a bit for a new company entering a controversial field – some had argued all along that battery technology isn't advanced enough to support a worldwide migration to electric cars.

Pundits loaded themselves with laurels for having presciently pointed out the weaknesses in Better Place's business model. Environmentalists bewailed the extinction of the electric car dream and the Israel Corp, which had shoveled hundreds of millions of dollars into the venture, took its lumps, though on Thursday it reported narrowing its first-quarter loss by half to $41 million. Ouch – but in the parallel quarter of 2012 it had lost $82 million.

Meanwhile, giants fought over the damsel Waze, Scailex will be selling more Partner shares as its fortunes wane on, and mobile operator Pelephone announced an upgrade despite having reform-related problems of its own – competition has been, shall we say, palpable.

Facebook forgoing Waze: Just this week reports surfaced that not only Google but Facebook were bidding to buy Israeli maps app company Waze, for as much as a billion dollars. Israelis shivered with national pride, but the war ended pretty fast, the U.S. technology website AllThingsD reported on Wednesday. Waze was insisting on remaining an Israeli company with staff located in Israel, which reportedly didn't suit Facebook. That leaves Google racing against itself, it would seem – Apple's Tim Cook put the kibosh on rumors that it wanted Waze itself, Mashable reported. By the way, think not that Waze's nationalistic ambitions are ridiculous. There's another Israeli company that has traditionally insisted on remaining strictly Israeli and did quite well. It's called Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Israeli company says made first smart bicycling helmet: See the video. A clip is worth a thousand words. The bottom line, according to Reuters, is that the Israeli startup Lifebeam made a sensor that sits in the helmet and monitors your vitals. The sensor sits on the front part of the helmet monitoring blood flow at the forehead, CEO Zvika Orron told Reuters .  

"It's wired, integrated into the helmet itself, and there is a processing unit, very small which does all the processing and transmits all the data to any cellphone device or any bicycle computer and it just fits on over here, it looks really nice, lightweight; the whole thing together weighs just 40 grams."

Richest Russian investing in Israeli startup: To be more precise Mail.ru, controlled by the richest man in Russia - Alisher Burkhanovich Usmanov, is the one investing in the Israeli startup Cortica. Mail.ru is putting in $1.5 million out of the $12.5 million Cortica began raising last August. Cortica was founded in 2007 based on technology that identifies objects in images and videos. The technology was developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.
Investors lose money on Webcollage: Not all exits are lucrative ones. The Israeli startup Webcollage, which develops e-commerce cloud solutions for retailers, is being bought by Answers.com at a loss, Geektime reports. The deal reportedly signed last weekend priced Webcollage at $37 million, the thing being that investors had put about $50 million into the company. The Webcollage technology enables manufacturers to update marketing information directly on retailers' websites.

Pelephone upgrading: Like all Israel's Big Three mobile operators, Pelephone has been feeling the bite of competition. It's still going to invest some NIS 100 million in upgrading its network infrastructure, the Bezeq subsidiary announced this week. It is increasing the capacity of its transponders, expanding its transmission network and improving data transmission speeds. The bottom line is that surfing from your smartphone should be smoother if you're a Pelephone customer.

Scailex sees Partner selloff to stay afloat: Still in the mobile world – in the wee hours of Wednesday night the holding company Scailex announced losing NIS 91 million in the first quarter of 2013. (For 2012, Scailex reported losing NIS 851 million.) At the quarter's end Scailex had negative equity (liabilities over assets) of NIS 376 million, a working capital deficit of NIS 295 million – and it's supposed to pay NIS 563 million by year-end.  Also at the quarter's end its nonconsolidated cash position was NIS 254 million. What's its plan? To sell 7.1% of the shares in mobile operator Partner for NIS 254 million in the last quarter of the year; and to sell 3.6% more in 2013 for NIS 130 million. Meanwhile, there's a going-concern warning on Scailex's first-quarter statement.

Intel may exercise right to Micron plant: Intel Israel may exercise its right to take over the Micron Technology microchip plant in Kiryat Gat, leaving another bidder, TowerJazz Semiconductor, out of the race. Intel had built the plant in the first place in 1999; Micron bought it in 2010 but Intel retains the first refusal right. Alternatively, Micron might just close it down. Upgrading the plant for its needs would cost Intel billions of dollars. Micron’s head office in the United States has until June 30 to decide on the facility’s fate.


With reporting by Amitai Ziv, Inbal Orpaz, Eran Azran and Geektime.

Daniel Tchetchik