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2017-12-15 digital edition
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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


December 15, 2017  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Vinik’s newest investment is Rad

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Smiling for the cameras in Tel Aviv, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, center, with Oren Milstein, founder and CEO of StemRad Ltd., left, and Jack Ross of Tampa, vice president of the company’s North American operations, at an event to recognize the success of the first cohort of Israeli startups taken under the wing of the Florida Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), the brainchild of the Tampa JCCs and Federation. Smiling for the cameras in Tel Aviv, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, center, with Oren Milstein, founder and CEO of StemRad Ltd., left, and Jack Ross of Tampa, vice president of the company’s North American operations, at an event to recognize the success of the first cohort of Israeli startups taken under the wing of the Florida Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), the brainchild of the Tampa JCCs and Federation. Less than 6 months ago, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik spoke at an event showcasing eight Israeli startup tech companies that were seeking U.S. investors. He told a crowd of about 350 at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC that, “We have to let it be known that Tampa and the Tampa Bay area is open for business in the innovation space.”

He added, “Tampa is one of the country’s best kept secrets. We need to change that.”

As the companies made their pitch at that meeting, one apparently stood out for Vinik – a company called StemRad that makes radiation protective wear for use by nuclear power plant workers in the event of a meltdown, first responders, military personnel in the event a nuclear radiation event and even astronauts.

The StemRad radiation shield as shown in promotional video The StemRad radiation shield as shown in promotional video Vinik met with the company founder and CEO, Oren Milstein, after the June 22 event, and began looking harder at the company.

Recently, he put his words at the JCC meeting into action by becoming the lead in a small group of Tampa investors that chipped in $6 million for a stake in StemRad.

The investors include Tampa radiologist Dr. Bruce Zwiebel, who is advising the company on development of a lightweight radiation shield for use in the medical field.

All eight of the businesses pitching their products the day Vinik spoke in June were in the first cohort (group) of Israeli high-tech companies to participate in the Tampa Jewish Federation’s Florida Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) program. In exchange for giving the Federation a small stake in the companies, FIBA offered the companies office space at the Glazer JCC, marketing assistance, introduction to potential investors and an array of other support efforts aimed to helping the companies establish headquarters in the Tampa Bay area and launching markets in the U.S. With the anticipated success of StemRad as well as other companies, Federation officials are hopeful of a huge return on their investment.

StemRad is still working out of FIBA offices at the Glazer JCC, but is expected to open headquarters in Tampa in the near term as FIBA lines up a second cohort of companies to work out of their offices in 2018.

In another sign of local interest in the future of StemRad, Jack Ross, who had led FIBA since its inception in 2016, left that organization on Sept. 22 and three days later became StemRad’s vice president of North American operations – and made his own investment in the company. Ross continues to be senior advisor to FIBA on a volunteer basis.

The announcement of the investment by Vinik and others came days before Florida Gov. Rick Scott recognized the first class of FIBA graduates during a reception in Tel Aviv on Monday, Dec. 4. It was part of Gov. Scott’s weeklong trade mission to Israel, where he was accompanied by about 70 business and education officials. Scott presented the Florida Governor’s Award to Ross for creation of businesses and jobs in Florida and presented Milstein with an award for StemRad’s work with Space Florida and with NASA in the development and deployment of the AstroRad vest to protect astronauts from radiation in space.

“Innovative partnerships like the Florida Israel Business Accelerator are helping bring global businesses to Florida, which ultimately leads to more job opportunities for Florida families,” Gov. Scott said, adding “… I look forward to seeing StemRad’s success in the Tampa Bay area.”

“I am pleased to see FIBA being recognized by Gov. Scott for the good work they are doing to bring innovative Israeli companies to Tampa Bay,” Vinik said in response to Scott’s stop in Tel Aviv. “FIBA and its participating companies, including StemRad, are an impactful addition to our local entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

If anyone can help grow that “ecosystem,” it is Vinik, whose local real estate company Strategic Property Partners is undertaking a $3 billion mixed-use project called Water Street Tampa that aims to revitalize more than 50 acres of downtown Tampa in the area near Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning.

When StemRad became a member of the FIBA inaugural cohort class, few could have anticipated the company’s meteoric rise in the U.S. in such a short time.

“FIBA provided numerous opportunities to engage with customer end-users, investors, subject-matter experts and with various professional service providers who proved to be an integral part of our community embraced StemRad as if we were family. With FIBA, we found a trusted partner.”

Milstein invented the 360 Gamma, the world’s first wearable protective radiological shield. After the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, he saw an immediate need for those first responders. Utilizing his PhD studies in bone marrow transplantation and anti-radiation models, Milstein developed a wearable vest to protect people from harmful gamma radiation.

While complete body coverage would be impractical due to how much it would weigh, the StemRad vest is a practical solution for those who need to move about, while still shielding “the bone marrow and other stem cell rich organs in the abdominal and pelvic regions such as the ovaries, colon and bladder,” the company’s website states, “This is the only way to provide meaningful protection while remaining mobile.”

StemRad makes a civilian product for just under $2,900, Ross said, declining to name prices of the company’s other products.

StemRad’s first responder protective shield for military, nuclear plant workers and first responders includes Kevlar and fire protection and dosimeters to measure levels of radiation. These products are already in use and the U.S. Army is doing tests to confirm its protective capabilities and to study when and where it might be used, Ross said, adding that a finding is due soon that could make it eligible for the U.S. military to purchase them. By law, if the military wants to buy them, they have to be made in the United States. To that end, Ross said StemRad is in advanced talks with a manufacturing company in Tampa.

Meanwhile the FBI is testing a lighter weight shield that only protects one side of the body at a time – to be used by agents approaching suspected bombs.

The AstroRad vest for protecting astronauts from radiation has been chosen to be tested on the next unmanned orbiting moon mission in 2019 – a project of the German and Israeli space agencies and NASA. Also, StemRad and Lockheed Martin are working on a project to send AstroRad vests to the Internationl Space Station next year for astronauts to wear and they will be the first component at the space station to bear an Israeli flag, Ross said.

“This is key technology to allow humans to go into deep space,” Ross said, adding that the AstroRad vest was made for use on NASA’s manned mission to Mars, set to happen in the 2030s.

While StemRad has received the most high-profile support, it is not the only success story to come out of FIBA’s first cohort of companies.

FIBA Executive Director Rachel Feinman gave an update on some of the other first cohort companies:

• Tevatronic just signed its first deal with a local Tampa Bay farmer and is in discussions with a locally based reseller. The company developed a system aimed at taking the guesswork out of irrigation and fertilization for farmers by using an algorithm to decide when to start and stop irrigation of their fields.

• EProc is a company that uses information technology services to help save companies time and money. EProc signed its first contract with a global business process outsourcer located in Tampa and is in active discussions with others in Tampa. They have also signed a deal with a local reseller.

• Blazepod has just started manufacturing its product and is fulfilling orders from two successful crowdfunding campaigns. Once that is complete, FIBA will begin to identify local strategic partnerships for the company. Blazepod makes an interactive and reactive fitness product that measures fitness results by reaction time, helping people get out of the monotonous gym routine.

• Weissbeerger is a beverage data analytics technology company that gives restaurants, breweries and bars a real-time understanding of their market in order to optimize pricing, manage inventory, and create unique promotions and experiences for the consumer. The company is in discussions with an international restaurant chain and a national concessionaire, due to introductions from FIBA.

• SkySapience is a defense and communications technology company that has created a tethered hovering platform that can support a variety of large payloads and used in multiple ways such as border control, military surveillance, agriculture/ national park monitoring and mass event monitoring. FIBA has succeeded in getting SkySapience entered into the SOCOM procurement database. This “makes the company accessible to all of the individuals and teams at SOCOM and other parts of the army looking for solutions to procure,” Feinman said.

“We are working with our Israeli partners to market Tampa Bay as a global landing pad for business so we can welcome more high-tech, high-paying jobs for Tampa Bay families,” Feinman said. “I am proud of the success of our first class of graduates and look forward to seeing their continued growth and commitment in Florida.”

FIBA is currently reviewing candidates for the next cohort, with plans for those companies to set up offices at the Glazer JCC in February and go through the same sort of launch process the initial eight companies did.

“Companies that are a good fit for the FIBA launch program have a product/technology that is ready for market, preferably with a customer-base in Israel or other countries and resources allocated to activities surrounding launch of the product in the US market,” a FIBA news release states.

To date the state has provided $1.4 million in funding for FIBA.

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