The International Center for Automotive Research — the Clemson University research park in Greenville — plans to launch a business incubator for “mobility” startups and is networking with Israeli firms as a first step.
ICAR doesn’t yet have funding for the proposed incubator, according to Fred Cartwright, the research park’s executive director.
But he said some companies and nonprofit organizations have shown interest in supporting the plan, and ICAR has already begun looking to Israel for potential tenants.
Plans call for the incubator to be housed in an existing office building at ICAR at first and later move into a different building that would be constructed as part of an expansion of the research park, Cartwright said.
He said he wasn’t at liberty to name the companies and nonprofit organizations interested in supporting the incubator plan.
“We’ve got some potential founding partners of this that we’re talking to at the moment, companies and other organizations, so we know there’s interest,” Cartwright said. “I think we need some early successes, and we need to show the excitement that exists around this space right now and build upon that.”
Interaction between ICAR and Israeli mobility startups began when Tal Cohen, an Israeli and former Georgia Tech faculty member and Atlanta entrepreneur, helped form an organization in Tel Aviv called Drive to support Israeli entrepreneurs focused on the emerging trends of shared mobility and self-driving vehicles.
Drive is supported by Honda, Volvo, and Hertz, as well as two Israeli companies: a car importer called Mayer, and a telematics firm called Ituran.
Cohen said he asked ICAR to be one of the Drive “partners” and hopes the Greenville research park can be a “bridge” for the Israeli startups to enter the U.S. market.
Cartwright said he attended the official opening of Drive in Tel Aviv in February and helped pick eight of the most promising startups associated with the organization for a networking tour of the United States.
That tour began in Atlanta on April 23 and continued at Palo Alto, Calif., and Detroit before arriving in Greenville on May 3.
In Greenville, the delegation ate dinner downtown at Nantucket Seafood Grill and four of the startups made presentations at ICAR the next day.
One of the startups is applying radar technology to make cars safer, and another says its software makes GPS positioning more accurate. Another that’s focused on “deep learning” computer technology asked not to be identified in the press.
Among those listening to the presentations were Greenville Mayor Knox White, Greenville City Councilman George Fletcher, Greenville Chamber President Carlos Phillips, and Catherine Hayes, executive director of the South Carolina Automotive Council, an arm of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance that organizes an annual auto-industry conference in Greenville.
One of the visiting entrepreneurs, Nuri Golan, co-founder of Exo Technologies, which offers software to improve GPS accuracy, said his firm has already picked the Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto for its U.S. office.
But Golan said he thinks collaborating with Clemson University’s automotive engineering department to validate his firm’s technology could be helpful.
“I think that academic validation is a huge piece, especially for deep core technology companies,” he said. “So for me that’s really one of the main things I’m looking to get out of this.”
Cartwright said ICAR’s partnership with Drive is the first step in a new initiative called the Global Mobility Network in which the research park hopes to become a vehicle for connecting mobility innovations anywhere in the world with customers of mobility innovations anywhere in the world.
“These ideas for the future of mobility are coming from everywhere in the world, and ICAR can be at the hub of that,” Cartwright said.
Israel’s reputation as a center for technology innovation was reinforced in March, when Intel, the big U.S. computer chip maker, announced that it would pay $15.3 billion for Mobileye, an Israeli maker of cameras and sensors for computer-driven cars.