AirGreen CEO, Pr. Gedalyahu Manor, 91 years old, tells us why he keeps creating startups in Israel
Professor Gedalyahu Manor, Jennifer Elias and Meryl Assayag
It was a great pleasure and a true honor to talk with Professor Gedalyahu Manor, Founder and CEO of Airgreen.
More than 70 years ago, Gedalyahu (literally) took part in the establishment of Israel that we now call the Startup Nation. And today, at 91 years old, Gedalyahu keeps contributing to its growth.
Founder of the agtech startup Aigreen, it is with his family, daughter and grandson, that Gedalyahu is revolutionizing the agriculture habits we know today to make them more sustainable and efficient.
It is a pleasure to interview you today. We would love to start with a short introduction about yourself.
I was born in 1931 in Haifa.
After the establishment of Israel, I moved to a kibbutz that we started from scratch. Back then, we did what we could to develop the land and earn some money through agriculture. That’s how I started and evolved. Then, I worked in a factory nearby and later I became the electrician of the kibbutz.
When I was about to enter university, I went to the Technion right when the engineering faculty was established. I switched from being an electrician to becoming an agricultural engineer. Upon graduating, I went back to the kibbutz and became the head of it!
I was asked to teach farm machinery to students in agricultural engineering. Then I went back to the Technion for my second degree. Upon completing my masters I continued with a doctorate in the 1970’s and taught farm machinery at the Technion between 1962-1970. I was teaching and instructing students throughout their projects in their final degree. Each project was new and innovative, nothing that was seen or known in the market.
Believe me or not, I am still doing it! I currently have 7 students in engineering.
You pitched your startup AirGreen at the competition Unicorn Pitches Israel organized by Tech It Forward. Can you tell us more about it?
I started AirGreen with my daughter and grandson. It’s an intergenerational family business! We are building and designing machines to better cultivate fields with half the energy that machinery is using now.
Thanks to our patented solution and our sprayers that cover both sides of the leaves, we allow farmers to save up to 60% of the chemicals used because there is no drift. Not to the soil and not to the air. Our goal is to change the agriculture system from using diesel oil to using electricity and have less needs for workers.
We also design farm machinery powered by electricity which can move in the fields by remote control like a robotic system.
For now, I'm in discussions with a very large farm machine contractor, hoping that we will work together.
You are a member of Israeli Association Agricultural Engineers, you have dozens of recognition awards, you are part of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, you went on tens of learning trips in all the continents…Wow! What drives you to do all that and to continue at 91 years and not simply retire and enjoy the Israeli sun?
This is indeed a very hard question!
What drives me is that I want to improve the use of energy to preserve the environment.
I read a lot of research from all over the world and I work closely with members of the standard committees of the ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers). I'm learning a lot from my friends and colleagues, and I google everything, and here I am!
How this works with my brain, you need to ask my doctors because I have no idea! I’m constantly thinking of new ideas, day and night!
There's no denying that in your 60+ year career in agriculture, you've seen Israel evolve both as a country and as a Startup Nation.
Can you tell us, from your point of view, when was the moment Israel started transforming into what it is today? A country with more than 9,000 startups, including 60+ unicorns, a must-see country for investors from all over the world. What do you think has driven the country to accelerate so much in innovation and how do you think the country will evolve in the years to come?
Israel is full of people like me who love to create from what they learn and I believe it comes from our ancestors back when the first book was written. With the Bible, people learned to ask questions and to try to find answers to these questions.
In Israel we still have this way of thinking: “how did it happen?”, “why did it happen?”.
We have a saying in Hebrew that Israel is “a station of patents’’. I can tell you that the students I work with and see launch their projects, do it because they have access to the information and knowledge for it, so they go for it! There are not so many people in the world who have the passion and support for learning new things.
We are a community with a history and the Startup Nation is a result of the education, experience, adventures… accumulated by our ancestors until us, that’s what we have! To live and survive, we had to guard ourselves, we had to be many steps ahead of everyone. And today nothing has changed. We do things that will keep us alive as a Nation.
In other countries you have people doing new things, but they are not the major part of the country. In Israel they are and everybody tries to make an impact, and that's what makes the difference.
Amazing, thanks for your answer! Let’s go deeper into it. I would like to understand, for you, how are research and innovation mindsets related and defined
Research is finding out what we have and what we need. Once you have the answers to that, you need to see the results. If the result is a machine, and most of my research projects over the years are machines, then you need to build it. And that’s where engineering and innovation come in.
Your career is truly impressive and you are even more so! What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career as an entrepreneur? What are the qualities it requires?
I’m trying to tell my students to learn from the field and put their hands deep down in the mud, to discuss with farmers so that they can understand their situation and needs better and therefore help them better. I hope they will go on doing the things I teach them. I am so happy and grateful to see what my students are already doing and it’s truly amazing!
Thank you Professor Gedalyahu for sharing with us your inspiring entrepreneurial story.
We wish you and Airgreen much success and growth!
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