Food for thought: Florida, Israel can lead the way in agtech

Posted in Agricultural Technology

By 2050, the global population is expected to increase to 9 billion people — a dramatic increase of more than 35 percent. Given scarce natural resources and the uncertainties of climate change, feeding that growing population means food production will need to increase by 70 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Florida, where agriculture ranks as the second-largest industry, is perfectly positioned to take the lead in combating world hunger through investments in agricultural research. One strategy for doing so involves attracting innovative agricultural technology companies to the market. There is no better ally to enlist in such an effort than the state of Israel, which is known for its innovation in this area. Many of these Israeli food and agricultural technology companies are actively seeking opportunities for U.S. expansion.

Israel has been investing in food and agriculture innovation since its inception 68 years ago. The result: the country is a leader in this area, despite the fact that the geography of Israel is not naturally conducive to agriculture. Israel’s climate, geography and lack of water resources, provide many parallels that would be relevant to Florida. Those success stories include leading Israeli Agtech companies like Kaiima, a genetics and breeding company that utilizes technology to enhance crop productivity. The work of Netafim, a leader in smart drip and micro irrigation solutions, helps to reduce water usage and increase yields. And, Afimilk provides technology that helps dairy farmers increase yields and profitability.

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Incubator or Accelerator Program: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Posted in Start-up, Technology, Venture Capital

The past few years have seen an uptick in new accelerator and incubator programs that are focused on helping startups launch and grow. Participating in one of these programs can be advantageous for an emerging business looking for expert insight, seed money, venture capital, or market exposure. But not all are created equal. While most programs provide benefits such as funding, mentorship, and access to potential investors, they are not a guarantee of success. A positive experience depends on setting realistic expectations and understanding what these programs can and cannot do.

Choosing an incubator or an accelerator program depends entirely on you, your business, and what you want out of the experience. An entrepreneur should do proper research into the broad range of options to determine what program is the right fit and consult with counsel to ensure that an appropriate program is chosen.

Difference Between Accelerators and Incubators

Incubators and accelerators both prepare companies for growth. As a result, the terms “accelerator” and “incubator” can sometimes be used interchangeably. They both help companies grow by providing guidance and mentorship, but in slightly different ways, and there are subtle but important differences between these types of programs.

Incubators

As the term implies, the purpose of an incubator program is to “incubate” or nurture a startup from a very early stage, providing the young company with the necessary tools to develop, such as office space, business skills training, access to financing and professional networks, and advice. The goal is to help the company develop to a point that it can stand on its own feet. Incubators are typically sponsored or run by VC firms, government entities, or major corporations. Incubators can sometimes take equity in the venture, and if they do, it is usually a small amount, since they typically do not provide upfront capital.

According to the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), “The most common goals of incubation programs are creating jobs in a community, enhancing a community’s entrepreneurial climate, retaining businesses in a community, building or accelerating growth in a local industry, and diversifying local economies.” An incubator program typically does not have a predetermined end or a competition element, and tends to be less structured than accelerators. Overall, incubators are a longer-term proposition and take their portfolio businesses through all stages of their lifecycles. In most cases, startups accepted into incubator programs work with other companies in a co-working environment and may have a monthly lease program.

Accelerators

Accelerator programs usually focus on helping a business that may be beyond the incubator stage, and that may be ready for sustained growth. The accelerator program is usually set up to “accelerate” a business with an intense program (i.e., one to six months), through which many resources are available. The entrepreneur may receive a small amount of capital, office space, mentorship, and access to business and legal advisors in exchange for some equity in the company. The ultimate goal of an accelerator is to support the startup to the point of attracting venture capital and angel investment in a short period of time. Some common and increasingly popular accelerator programs include MassChallenge, TechStars, and Y-Combinators.

One of the best ways to find an accelerator is to explore platforms for startups such as AngelList. And, for a closer look at the data on each accelerator program, visit www.seed-DB.com, an online database which tracks over 200 accelerators worldwide and nearly 6,000 startups that have emerged from them. Among the listings you will find figures for dollars in funding, dollars in exits, and jobs created by each company.

Both accelerators and incubators want your company to succeed. For accelerators, this is especially important since they take a percentage of your business, and only make money if you make money.

Finding the Right Match

Finding the appropriate program can depend on what stage you are in your business. You should carefully consider where you are in your company’s evolution and do your due diligence before applying to any program. Consider the following questions:

  • What are your goals?

Consider why you are applying to an accelerator or incubator. Are you most interested in the mentorship, advice, and coaching, or the seed capital and access to follow-on investment? Does working in a community of fellow entrepreneurs appeal to you, or maybe you need more privacy? Understanding these primary drivers will help you choose the right program and get the most out of your experience.

  • Record of success

Research the program’s team. Who is running the program and who is backing it? You will want to know that the program has a successful track record in your industry sector. Additionally, you should consider looking for a program that has effectively helped similar businesses launch, secure funding, or ensure success.

  • Understand the niche area for the accelerator or incubator

Today, many programs focus on a particular sector, such as health care, biotech, or interactive media. Be sure the accelerator or incubator mission aligns with your business goals.

  • Do you need mentors?

Some programs offer a high level of oversight and mentorship, while others are less involved. If you are looking for access to business and legal advisors, then you should look for a program that has a strong mentorship element. And, don’t forget that advice and mentorship can come from other entrepreneurs, which is partly why you want to get into the best accelerators.

  • Are you willing to give up equity in the company?

An entrepreneur considering an incubator versus an accelerator should weigh the pros and cons of giving up equity in the company in exchange for the program’s services and support.‎

  • Geography

Consider the location of the accelerator/incubator in the context of where you want to build your business. If you are developing video gaming software, for example, you may want to explore programs in regions that are rich in interactive media innovation such as Austin, Texas, or Boston. Keep in mind that some programs have very specific “place of business” requirements.

Accelerator and incubator programs can give you much needed financial assistance, office space or equipment, and expert mentorship. In the end, whichever path you choose, it is important to remain committed to the program in order to reap the utmost benefit.

EU General Data Protection Regulation: What Impact for Businesses Established Outside the EU

Posted in Data Protection, Privacy and Data Security

The 261-page final draft of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which replaces Directive 95/46/EC (Directive), was formally approved by the EU Parliament on April 14, 2016. The document is expected to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union (EU) in June, and to enter into force 20 days thereafter. The GDPR will apply, and enforcement will commence, two years from the date of entry into force, i.e., approximately in early July 2018. The repeal of the Directive will take effect as of the date when the GDPR begins to apply.

The GDPR is not just an update of a 20-year old directive that was designed at the dawn of the Internet era, and that was based on privacy principles published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the early 1980s. The approval of the GDPR is a significant development in the shaping of the law of privacy and data protection in the European Union as a cohesive, homogeneous whole, where one single law becomes the primary vehicle to govern the activities of very diverse countries in a particular domain.

It is time for companies that fall within the scope of the new GDPR to start preparing for the transition. This GT Alert focuses primarily on the obligations faced by companies whose principal business establishment is located outside the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA).

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WP29: Thumbs Down to Draft EU-US Privacy Shield

Posted in Data Protection, Privacy and Data Security

In a 58-page opinion published April 13, 2016, the influential European Union Article 29 Working Party (WP29), which includes representatives of the data protection authorities of the 28 EU Member States, expressed significant concerns with respect to the terms of the proposed EU-US Privacy Shield that is intended to replace the EU-US Safe Harbor.

The WP29 made numerous critiques to the proposed EU-US Privacy Shield framework.  Some of which include, for example, the lack of consistency between the principles set forth in the Privacy Shield documents and the fundamental EU Data Protection principles outlined in the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive, the proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation, and related documents.

The WP29 group also requested clearer restrictions for the onward transfer of personal information that occurs after personal data of EU residents is transferred to the US.  The WP29 is especially concerned with the subsequent transfer of data to a third country, outside the United States.  In addition, the WP29 continues to be concerned about the effect, scope, and effectiveness of the measures proposed to address activities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, often described as a “massive collection” of data.

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Rise of the Machines: DATA vs. the Borg Collective

Posted in Artificial Intelligence

At the most recent SXSW, Hanson Robotics, based in Plano, TX, debuted its latest personal robot – Sophia. With lifelike skin that is made from patented silicon, Sophia can emulate more than 62 facial expressions. Cameras inside her “eyes,” sophisticated computer algorithms, and a combination of voice recognition technology and other tools enable Sophia to “see” and “think.” Sophia is just the latest example of major advances in the development of machines striving to attain human “characteristics,” “intelligence,” and “awareness”.

Creepy? Maybe. Predestined? Definitely.

Life Imitating Fiction

Arguably, the notion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Cognitive Computing has been around since Frankenstein was published in 1818. For example, consider the Star Trek series, especially The Next Generation, where AI is prevalent. The android DATA was imparted with human-level intelligence and expertise by his creator, Dr. Soong. Albeit fictional, DATA is an example of a machine achieving human-level awareness. Conversely, Seven of Nine (or more specifically the Borg/Borg Collective) is essentially a human or humanoid that has been assimilated and made more machine-like, striving for efficiency and perfection of a machine.  The Borg individual is given artificial limbs, eyes, and other body parts, as well as implants (for example, brain implants), so that each Borg individual can communicate with the Collective and the Borg Queen.

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Silicon Wadi: VC Business in Israel

Posted in investments, Tax, Venture Capital

Known to many as the “Start-up Nation,” Israel has also been dubbed “Silicon Wadi”; ranking 7th amongst all countries in venture capital activity outside of the U.S. In 2015 alone, there were 326 VC investments in Israel, approximately 60% of which were in the information technology sector. In a recent article entitled Inside Silicon Wadi: Why VC in Israel is a booming business, Kevin Dowd, a writer for Pitchbook, highlighted and explained Israel’s prominent position in the VC world.

Dowd pointed to two key factors in Israel’s success in obtaining such a large portion of VC investments. First, in 1993 the Israeli government implemented the “Yozma” program, which provided tax incentives to foreign investors and matched any foreign investment in an Israeli company with government funds. Subsequently, in the early 2000s several government reforms also helped in relaxing what was a more centralized economy, making Israel much friendlier to VC investment. Second, Israel’s high-tech market is constantly producing more companies with innovative ideas and products for companies to invest in. With the highest number of tech startups per capita in the world, Israel is ripe for venture capital activity.

Greenberg Traurig is the only major international law firm with a multidisciplinary, registered office in Tel Aviv and serves as a gateway for Israeli businesses and entrepreneurs seeking opportunities around the world, as well as for companies exploring opportunities within Israel. The Tel Aviv location offers clients the global reach of Greenberg Traurig’s international network, connecting Israel to major commercial centers across the globe. GT Tel Aviv is deeply involved in the venture capital world and has connected U.S. investors with Israeli companies as well as helped Israeli companies raise money and increase operations abroad.

DHS Set to Publish Final Rule Allowing Further STEM OPT Extensions for Foreign Students

Posted in Visas

Today DHS released an advanced copy of its final rule allowing foreign students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to extend their Optional Practical Training (OPT) for an additional 24 months. DHS will publish the final rule in the Federal Register this Friday.  The rule will go into effect on May 10. Beginning May 10, students who are currently in the U.S. under their 17-month STEM OPT extension will be able to file to extend their OPT for an additional 7 months.

This rule gives foreign students with STEM degrees the opportunity to work in the United States for up to 36 months.  The extended time period offers a number of benefits to foreign students and U.S. employers that wish to hire them.  By defining fields of study that qualify for STEM in accordance with the Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) categories, the new rule expands on the permissible fields of study that were authorized under the old STEM rule.  Notably, increasing OPT work authorization from 29 months to 36 months will give F-1 STEM OPT holders more chances at being selected for an H-1B visa number in the annual H-1B lottery.  The rule also redresses the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s vacatur of the 2008, 17-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM Extension rule, and part of the contentious legal battle surrounding the overall validity of the STEM extension program, which is expected to be decided by a Federal court in May.

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Greenberg Traurig Hosts First Annual International Entrepreneurs Summit of Philadelphia

Posted in Events

Greenberg Traurig will host the First Annual International Entrepreneurs Summit of Philadelphia at the International House Philadelphia on March 22.  The First Annual International Entrepreneurs Summit of Philadelphia is an opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs and international students, including scholars and researchers interested in starting a business, to learn about launching a venture in the region. The event will include:

  • A panel of leaders to discuss topics relevant to international entrepreneurs, including raising capital, immigration matters, local resources and more;
  • An opportunity to hear from international entrepreneurs who have already launched businesses in the region; and
  • Networking with local entrepreneurs, investors, government representatives and other professionals.

To register for this event click here.

To Patent or Keep Secret? That Is the Question

Posted in Data Protection, Patent, Trade Secrets

As an emerging technology company, maintaining an edge over your competitors may depend to a great extent on choosing the right strategy for intellectual property (IP) protection. The question is what kind of protection do you actually need, and how do you go about getting it? Two types of IP protection that most tech startups will want to consider are patents and trade secrets. Each offers different types of protection with distinct benefits and risks, so you will need to decide which path is right to meet your business goals.

Is Patent Protection the Right Option for You?

Patents can provide broad protection for invention and innovation.  They can cover almost any novel aspect of a technology, including hardware, software, compositions, materials, and business methods.  Patents can also be obtained on improvements to existing technology—the innovation need not be radical or revolutionary in order to be patentable, merely new and not obvious.  Many innovations developed by an emerging technology company can likely be patented, and patenting those innovations can create significant advantage in the marketplace.

For example, a strong patent portfolio can help attract investments for the emerging company.  Venture capitalists and angel investors often look to see whether a fledgling company has protected its intellectual property when determining whether to invest.

However, patent registration can take significant time and money to prepare and subsequently to process by the Patent Office, and this is often one of the largest obstacles for inventors. Patents should be viewed as a long-term investment in a product’s future, and the cost of filing is simply the cost of doing business.

Also, patents generally have a limited length of protection, with the patent owner receiving 20 years of protection from the time that the patent is filed or from its earliest priority date. After this period, anyone, including your competitors, can legally copy or reproduce your innovation.

Trade Secrets Offer an Alternative Route

Certain emerging technology innovations may be more effectively leveraged if they were held as trade secrets instead of being disclosed to the world through the patenting process. Trade secret protection can provide, in many situations, a viable option to protect the IP of the company when used in conjunction with or as an alternative to patent protection.

One requirement for trade secret protection is that the invention must be kept secret, as opposed to patent protection, where the innovative technology must be disclosed for the world to see.  The requirement that the IP remain secret, however, can make trade secret protection difficult to maintain.  Once a trade secret is divulged, it is no longer protected and can become part of the public domain.  It should be noted that even technology that is available for purchase on the open market can be held as a trade secret, so long as such technology is not disclosed, cannot be discovered, or reverse-engineered.

Trade secret protection involves protecting ideas simply by keeping them secret. It therefore avoids the effort and expense associated with filing patent applications. Protection can remain for as long as the underlying technology is kept secret. Trade secret protection, however, requires continuous diligence, since once the technology is revealed, it is no longer protected. So it is critical that employees are educated on keeping information confidential, and that a corporate program is implemented to maintain secrecy of the company’s technology.

Another advantage to pursuing trade secret protection is that it is often times easier to obtain an injunction for misappropriation under trade secret law. The chances of early success in seeking a preliminary injunction in a theft of trade secret litigation usually can be greater than in a patent infringement action. This is because, in the absence of a prior favorable court finding of infringement and validity of the same patent, courts may not be as willing to issue preliminary injunctions in relatively complex patent cases, thus allowing wrongdoers to continue infringing. However, courts might be more willing to issue a preliminary injunction in a trade secret case. Because of its potential to prevent wrongdoers from benefiting from a misappropriated technology, trade secret protection may be considered as a viable alternative or complement to protecting owners of emerging technology against infringement.

A Decision Matrix to Help You Choose

With the availability of both patent protection and trade secret protection, how does a company decide which strategy to pursue?  To determine which of the two may be a viable strategy, here are a few things to consider:

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Two Options Converge for Maximum Protection

In combination, patents and trade secrets are an important facet of IP strategy. Patents (which require full disclosure) and trade secrets (which are kept confidential) can complement one another: patents protect inventions and trade secrets protect collateral know-how. For example, as licensing has become the preferred approach for technology transfer, most technology licenses cover both patents and trade secrets. Using patent and trade secret protection together in a synergistic manner results in potent IP protection.

Whether you choose the patent or trade secret path, emerging tech companies should carefully consider each option in the context of their overall IP strategy to gain the edge they need to succeed against their competition.

Could Star Trek’s Replicator Become a Reality with 3D Printing Technology?

Posted in Medical Technology, Nanotechnology

The TV franchise Star Trek featured some amazing technological advancements that have continued to intrigue us for many years. For example, the “replicator” was a device that was able to instantly produce nearly any object, food or medicine on demand. Imagine how such a technology could change the way we live, the food we eat, and the medicine we need.

Well, we may not be that far away from inventing a real replicator thanks to 3D printing technology. Over the last few years, 3D printing has emerged as an innovation that can transform nearly everything, from manufacturing to medicine to entrepreneurship.

How Does It Work?

3D printing is the process of creating three-dimensional objects based on a digital map. 3D printers can print using a variety of materials which can include plastic, metal, carbon fiber, and printers are even being developed that can print sugar, chocolate, and even living cells. These materials are dispensed by layers either (a) from a printer onto a moving/rotating platform, or (b) from a rotating nozzle onto a platform in order to create a three-dimensional object. The industrial term for 3D printing is Additive Printing.  Unlike traditional printing, the 3D process no longer covers flat paper surfaces with a single layer of dots, but rather deposits layers of the material on top of one another to create a 3D object. The amount of materials being dispensed, the rotation of the surface onto which the object is being printed, the design of the object being printed, and many other parameters is controlled by software.

There are a variety of 3D printing processes, and not all of them use the same approach or technology:

  • Some cure or harden the materials with UV light, as each layer is being built (Vat Polymerization, Material Jetting)
  • Some use a melting or softening material to produce the layers to build the object (Material Extrusion, Powder Bed Fusion, Directed Energy Deposition)
  • Some glue or weld the layers of material in building the object (Binder Jetting, Sheet Lamination)

Numerous Applications Across Diverse Industries

With the rise of low-cost 3D printers in recent years, the technology has become truly disruptive to a wide range of industries and businesses. The applications for 3D printing are numerous.

Food. 3D printing has gained traction in the food industry, and has the potential to revolutionize food production by boosting culinary creativity, food sustainability, and nutritional customizability. Everyday foods such as pasta and candy can now be printed, which could have life-saving implications for hunger-stricken populations around the world. Similarly, NASA is exploring the possibility of using a 3D printer on deep space missions to produce food for astronauts.

Medicine. Medical science and research is another sector that is benefiting from 3D printing technology. Layers of living cells can now be deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form 3D structures. This bio-printing technology can potentially have significant applications in the area of tissue engineering to potentially replicate human tissues, organs, blood vessels, and can help many patients who are waiting for organ donation or eliminate such needs altogether. Bio printing can also be used to print artificial limbs and can customize it to individual patients. It is projected that by 2020 bio-printing can be used to produce functional human limbs and tissues.

Manufacturing. The aerospace and automotive industries as well as other types of manufacturing have been realizing the benefits of 3D printing technology for some time. 3D printing can be utilized to produce parts and components, can be used to generate an assembly of such parts and components in a single build, can reduce tooling, machining, can increase efficient designs and design changes for more effective prototyping and experimentation, and can lower the need to maintain inventory, as parts can be printed on-demand. Parts that once took a week to generate with significant investment, can now be done almost instantaneously with 3D printing technology at much reduced costs.

The consumer sector is another area that can greatly benefit from 3D printing technology. Initially, the domain of hobbyists and enthusiasts, personal 3D printing has gained much wider traction. With cheaper and cheaper 3D printers becoming more available, personal printing or fabrication can provide the consumers with the freedom never before experienced. The consumer can now reproduce, in his own home, a broken part/component of a device, replace a missing piece from a favorite game, design a toy model for play, and so many more uses and applications.

The Future Has Arrived

Current conventional wisdom is that 3D printing will eventually be able to physically replicate most objects that we can scan and digitally define. However, many of the 3D printed objects will not have the same functionality as the original object, at least not in the immediate future.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you can see that we are getting closer to making the show’s famous replicator a reality!

And finally, it is also worth noting that 3D printing technology companies should be on the lookout for regulatory and intellectual property issues that could arise as this technology develops.

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