It was Dov Frohman, an Israeli engineer working for Intel in California, who in 1972 invented the EPROM, the ultra-violet light, erasable, read-only memory chip that eventually led to the creation of flash memory. Frohman went on to convince his employer to create Intel Israel, which today is the country’s biggest private sector employer and its biggest tech company.
With some 10,085 people on the payroll locally, Intel Israel conducts R&D from four locations and manufactures chips from sites in Kiryat Gat and Jerusalem. Over the past decade, Intel has invested $10.8 billion in Israel. Between the intellectual property and chips it sends abroad, Intel is also Israel’s single biggest exporter. In its record year of 2012, it shipped some $4.6 billion worth of chips, equal to 10% of Israel’s non-diamond exports and a fifth of its high-tech exports. (The company shipped $4.25 billion worth of chips from Israel in 2014).
Some 30 new high-tech companies are launched in Israel every year by ex-Intel employees, according to a study conducted by the company. Examples include Mellanox, a NASDAQ-listed company specializing in Ethernet and InfiniBand computer network gear.
Intel has not only had an impact on Israeli tech, Israeli technologists have had a big impact on Intel itself. In addition to Frohman’s invention of EPROM, Israeli engineers at Intel in the 1990s convinced management to take a chance on MMX technology, an innovation designed to improve computer processing. It’s now considered a milestone in the company’s history. More recently Intel’s Skylake microprocessor architecture was developed mostly in Israel at the Haifa R&D center.
Informilo spoke with Intel Israel head Maxine Fassberg, a scheduled speaker at DLD Tel Aviv, about Intel’s relationship with Israel and some recent initiatives.
What are some of the ways that Israelis have impacted Intel’s direction?
There is no doubt that individual Israelis have had a big impact on the company. For example, Dadi Perlmutter, the former executive vice president of Intel’s architecture group, has had a remarkable influence on the company’s direction and so has Mooly Eden, general manager of the PC Group. Beyond that a whole succession of microprocessors were developed in Israel — some of them have Hebrew code names like Banias, Yonah and Merom. Intel is well known for defining the world standard of semiconductor manufacturing and Israel has been a big part of that effort.
I think the overarching impact of Israelis on Intel has both been in some of the thinking and execution and in setting standards for excellence both in design and manufacturing. Look at what is going on in some of our other businesses — things like the work that Intel and medical researchers have been conducting using wearables and Big Data analytics on measuring the progression of Parkinson’s disease as well as the work in our wireless connectivity group, such as new modems and LTE. A lot of that work is based in Israel.
In May Intel opened a dedicated Internet of Things lab in Haifa that is focusing on smart cities, smart homes, smart agriculture and smart transportation. Do you believe Israel has particular strengths in these areas?
What we are seeing is similar to what goes on in other segments. Israeli innovation and entrepreneurial skills are being put to good use in IoT solutions. If you go back many years the first agricultural drip system was developed by an Israeli company called Netafim and that changed the whole way agriculture was approached. Today we label it Internet of Things but the same principle applies: Israelis excel at doing more with less.
Since it began working in Israel in 1996, Intel Capital, the company’s investment arm, has invested in some 70 local companies. Beyond IoT what sorts of start-up technologies interest the company these days?
We look for things that are missing from our portfolio and technologies that are considered important to the future of our company such as cyber security. If you measure our investments in start-ups per country by dollar value Israel is the third-largest behind the US and China — an illustration of just how innovative Israel is. We have invested in a variety of Israeli start-ups in many fields — data centers, cyber security, smart phones, tablets.
What are some of the other ways Intel Israel works with start-ups?
In July we launched the Intel Ingenuity Partner Program, an initiative for nurturing and promoting Israeli start-up companies. Intel will provide start-ups with a mentor as well as access to various resources in its facilities. Nine Israeli companies have been chosen for the program’s first six-months cycle. By the end of this period, the start-ups will be able to demonstrate a proof of concept or joint project or demo of their idea.
Two years ago, Intel established the $15 million Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Computational Intelligence in Israel to explore technologies that mimic the human brain. The program brings together researchers from the Technion in Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with Intel employees. What has come out of that program so far? What does the company hope to ultimately achieve?
The Institute is doing basic research in an area that Intel is highly interested in — machine learning. It is going to have a multiplier effect because the IP is open, so more applications will be developed by other people. Some of the work has been incorporated into Skylight’s processor core; some of the other benefits will be seen in the next couple of years.
Are there enough women working for Intel in Israel and in the tech sector in general? What do you think should be done and can be done to increase the number of women working in the field?
When I joined Intel in 1983 there were something like 100 people in the engineering department and only two of us were women. I think today at least in the manufacturing division we are in a much better position. In the staff I am managing 40% are women. But I don’t think in general that enough women are choosing sciences and certainly not engineering. We are not where we should be. It is a long haul — we are going to be working on this for the next 20 years but it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You have to start at the high school level and Intel does that — we have funded a program here in Israel to increase the number of kids who choose science and math — both boys and girls.
What are your goals?
I want to ensure that we in Israel hold on to the leadership we have typically had — to maintain excellence and leadership in design, connectivity, networking and manufacturing and that we innovate in whatever direction Intel chooses to go. Green or clean tech is also a priority, particularly the application of technology to water conservation and waste treatment. And I want to ensure that Intel Israel is truly a place for everybody no matter what their race, gender, creed or religion, as we are a microcosm of what society can be and should be.