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From Science to Solution: AgTech and FoodTech at Bar-Ilan

UnBox, BIU’s research-based entrepreneurship center, empowers researchers to impact the environment


Since the advent of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century, the world has witnessed numerous waves of innovation that have propelled humanity forward in great strides, albeit accompanied by intricate challenges. The key to overcoming these challenges lies in the forthcoming wave, characterized by interdisciplinary research conducted in academic institutions.

In line with this vision, Bar-Ilan University established the UnBox Ventures Entrepreneurship Center. The primary objective of this center is to empower the research community to impact the future today, with a specific focus on the realms of health and sustainability. By fostering collaboration between academia and entrepreneurship, UnBox provides an environment that nurtures innovative ideas and offers comprehensive support throughout the entire process, from conceptualization to securing funding.

To date, UnBox has successfully launched numerous research groups and facilitated the establishment of ten start-up companies. Noteworthy among these ventures are DriftSense and Malanta, exemplifying the untapped entrepreneurial potential within research institutions when it comes to tackling contemporary and foreseeable challenges. Through their innovative approaches, these companies demonstrate the transformative power of research-driven entrepreneurship in addressing pressing issues of our time.

DriftSense: Cleaner, Healthier, Efficient Agriculture

DriftSense specializes in pesticide spraying and drift reduction techniques for agricultural purposes. Unlike other companies that offer partial solutions to enhance accuracy, DriftSense's approach relies entirely on precise calculations, locating optimal treatment timings, and crop targeting. This highly effective solution not only outperforms alternative methods but also significantly reduces costs. The company was founded by Dr. Elad Segal, Dr. Ran Shauli, and Dr. Pavel Kunin.

Conventional pesticide spraying methods suffer from substantial material loss, with estimates suggesting that at least 75% of the sprayed substances fail to reach their intended targets. The detrimental consequences of imprecise spraying in the short term include increased expenses for farmers, both in terms of materials and labor hours. Moreover, certain substances, like herbicides, can immediately damage neighboring crops, compromising their yield and functionality. In the long run, imprecise spraying contributes to the development of pest and weed resistance, similar to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It also poses threats to biodiversity, including vital pollinators like honeybees and natural predators of agricultural pests. Residues of sprayed materials in soil and water can persist, affecting future crop seasons and the surrounding flora and fauna.

In contrast to other partial solutions that require expensive hardware, DriftSense's computational approach provides farmers across all plant sectors with substantial and immediate cost savings on inputs. The solution has already been successfully implemented by major agricultural companies in South America, the United States, Europe, and Israel. Recognizing the escalating issue of pesticide resistance due to climate change, the world's largest pesticide producers are keenly aware of the necessity to combat this problem.

DriftSense's solution complements other pest monitoring methods in the industry. Currently, continuous monitoring coupled with accurate identification of sprayed substances remains unavailable, and assessing substance presence in the field or plant tissue requires time-consuming sampling and costly laboratory analysis. Innovative modeling provided by DriftSense enables effective risk management and enhances treatment efficiency, particularly in the early stages of pest control.

"Malanta" - Meat for a Healthier World

Malanta is a pioneering company dedicated to developing substitute meat cuts that closely resemble animal cuts in terms of appearance, taste, texture, and affordability.

The traditional meat industry has been associated with significant environmental damage. Animals, functioning as inefficient "machines," consume vast amounts of resources such as vegetation, water, and energy while producing relatively small amounts of protein. For instance, the utilization rate of cows is estimated to be a mere 3%. One of the prominent concerns surrounding this industry is the emission of greenhouse gases, resulting from animal breeding, which directly contributes to climate change. Approximately 15.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the meat industry.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the meat industry also contributes to water pollution and deforestation. The extensive use of antibiotics in animal agriculture has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing a threat to human health. As the global population grows and living standards improve, the demand for animal protein has surged (with an annual growth rate of around 2.7%), resulting in further environmental degradation. In recent years, increased awareness of environmental issues and climate change has fuelled the demand for alternative meat products.

In the traditional meat market, whole cuts comprise approximately 60% of sales, while ground meat products account for only 40%. However, current plant-based meat substitute companies primarily focus on producing substitutes for ground meat and its derivatives, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, kebabs, and meatballs.

The disparity between these markets stems from the technological challenge of producing alternative cuts. The appeal of meat cuts lies in their visual presentation, which arises from the composition of their various components, such as muscle, fat, and blood, as well as their distinctive texture. While the texture of traditional steaks is naturally achieved, creating alternative cuts requires the precise assembly of muscle, fat, and blood-like components into natural formations. Present-day approaches to assembling alternative cuts predominantly rely on 2D (inkjet) or 3D (single nozzle or multiple nozzles) printing techniques. However, existing methods fail to meet the demands of industrial production in terms of production rate, cost, process reliability, and product appearance.

Malanta leverages a ground-breaking technology developed in the laboratory of Prof. Hagay Shpaisman, the company's co-founder and CEO. Together with Dr. Udi Greenberg, Malanta filed a patent that enables the mass production of alternative cuts meeting industrial standards, with an emphasis on their appearance and texture, at minimal additional cost. Their technology overcomes the limitations of existing methods by providing precise control over material flow and variety.

Supported by UnBox, Malanta recently entered into a joint development partnership with a leading company in the food industry to create plant-based steaks. The objective is to produce vegetable cuts that are on par with animal-based cuts in terms of quality and price.

In the future, this technology could even be applied to cultured meat-based cuts. By expanding the range of alternative products, Malanta aims to contribute to a sustainable and healthier world by reducing reliance on animal-based meat consumption.