Having put the Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) Technology Innovation Momentum Fund on fast-track, Shlomo Nimrodi, the force behind the fund and CEO of Ramot, TAU’s tech transfer company, is working overtime to ensure that the companies that have invested benefit from it. The principle investor in the fund is Indian biggie Tata Industries. Speaking to Maneesh Chhibber, Nimrodi, a former Israeli Special Forces officer, explains the rationale behind starting the fund and what it means for the Tatas to invest $5 million in the fund whose total value is $23 million.
What is a war veteran doing managing a innovation fund backed by a university?
I had spent my years — after leaving the Army — working with Israeli hi-tech companies, 15 of them in the US. After I joined, it struck me that in order for tech transfer to be successful, I needed to provide answers to three gaping factors, one of which was funding for professional research. Then there was the issue of skill set which was lacking in an academic institution and, thirdly, deal with the issue of lack of interest among academic scientists to do development by adequate resources.
When did you approach the Tatas for the Fund?
My first interaction with Tatas was in November 2012, with K R S Jamwal, executive director at Tata Industries, who was working directly with Ratan Tata —then Tata Industries chairman.
I believe he presented the idea of Tatas working directly with TAU to him as a gateway to our country and also to TAU, which is largest innovator in the state of Israel. In January 2013, I met the new chairman, Cyurus Mistry, and the board members and after due dilligence, it was decided that Tatas would join the fund as anchor investor through an investment of $5 million.
What does Tata Industries gain from investing in such a Fund?
A lot. From the fund itself, Tatas have right of first opportunity to negotiate licence agreement on areas that we have defined as start-up field like automotive, point of care for medical devices, cleantech, etc. Also, Tatas are represented in the scientific and investment committees where decisions are taken on what to invest in and they have voting rights in these committees. They also have the opportunity to provide guidance on the development course. Clearly, this is something that they like since they would also have opportunity to get access to the new technology when it is developed.
How does this system of right of first opportunity work?
It’s not right of first refusal but right of first opportunity. Whenever some new technology is developed by TAU in certain specified areas, the Tata Group is offered the first opportunity to negotiate a licence. The Tatas can either licence the new technology to one of its group companies or form a new company where Tata is an investor and this company can get a licence from TAU.