Not far from the Bloomfield stadium in Tel Aviv, just a step away from stadium traffic, prospers a start-up that combines research, technological development, and production. Instead of regular work tables, the tables here are made of boards, a recurring theme in a company that emphasizes everything that is innovative and revolutionary, even in relatively traditional markets.
Gauzy, a start-up based on material science and nano-technology, wants to combine the simplest raw materials with the most advanced technology. “We are making glass smart”, says Eyal Paso (38), co-founder, CEO and chairman of the board. “We are developing a type of smart nano-technology, chemistry with which one can control the light through a transparent key.” This super sophisticated product has a wide range of uses in countless industries: think of hotel rooms, meeting rooms, office towers and – cars. “Everybody has a window in their home, for instance, with blinds or a curtain, and we know how to insert the technology into the glass that will provide solutions from within the glass itself,” says Paso.
The science spans the world of construction to the world of cars: “Your car also has a lot of glass. Especially in Israel, where it is sunny and hot most of the year, you always see back windows covered with fabric or some type of screen to protect children from the hot sun. We are developing technology that will change everything – within the glass itself. While driving you could change the windows’ degree of transparency – whether just the side windows or every window in the car, as needed. Everything is done in an automatic or controlled way. Our technology can be embedded in the front windshield (a sensor that can recognize which direction the sun is coming from, and where the driver is looking) and through monitoring, can darken the specific area of the windshield. This is very important in the world of cars, because it contributes both to safety and to comfort – but that is just one example of the technology’s application.”
Light can be divided into three parts: UV, that is, radiation from the sun, is light that we try to avoid; there is “visible light”, which is everything that we see, and we control this light 100%; and the third component is infrared, warm light. “These days we are working on a way to control infrared light,” says Paso. “In cold places, like Canada for instance, where it might be minus thirty degrees outside (-30° C) but the sun is shining – there is a lot of energy being wasted. We are developing a smart filter that can let infrared in or out, as needed. In summer we need to stop it, and in winter we need to let it in.”
One Big Pixel
Paso grew up in South Africa and returned to Israel right after the second grade. He learned electrical engineering and electronics at Tel Aviv University, and continued on to a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Before Gauzy, he worked in telecommunications.
In 2007, he recalls, he was living in a small apartment in Tel Aviv on Reines street. “That street has some of the oldest ficus trees in Tel Aviv, with huge trunks,” he tells. “I lived in a renovated building that had a unified facade: all of the kitchens were in the front and they installed these frosted glass windows for privacy and because there was no space for blinds. I had beautiful trees just outside my home, but I couldn’t see them through the frosted glass. There were so many times when I wished I could see those trees from my home, that the window would be clear so I could see out, or to air out the house. I began to look for solutions and I saw that there were existing solutions based on liquid crystals, but they are very expensive, and it is impossible to bring them to Israel. What was available in Israel was not nearly robust enough, and could only be clear or opaque.”
Paso recruited two engineers from the company he was working for: Adrian Lofer, cofounder and CTO, and Dmitry Dobrenko, cofounder and engineer. “We started thinking – why is this so expensive? Why are there so few ways to make use of it? We bought a little raw material and set up an improvised lab. We began playing with the material, and discovered that there is much more you can do with it. One of the first things that we saw was that it does not have to be only “0” and “1”, that is, binary, transparent or opaque, but can be incremental. We built a dimmer which gave us full control of the light. We discovered that we could do this with different colors, with prints. It is actually like a type of screen with just one big pixel, that is able to be opaque or clear – but it can also actually be a screen, projecting logos or looking like blinds. We saw the huge potential of this material.”
Take, for instance, Gauzy’s project at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center’s Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital. They have replaced all the drapes with glass. This is an ideal solution for a hospital, always trying to minimize textiles, which retain germs. “Glass is the easiest material to clean, and accumulates much less dirt,” says Paso. “We realized that this can be great for lots of places, not just hospitals. It is also great for offices where they can use it as a screen.”
In the first two years, Paso and the two engineers that he recruited continued to work as employees in their previous workplace, while at the same time promoting the start-up. Only after they managed to raise money did they begin working for Gauzy full-time. “We had a project, one client, and a product that works,” Paso recalls, smiling.
In 2012, they raised pre-seed and seed investments. The first round happened in 2013, the second round in 2016, and a following round in 2017, with strategic investor Avery Dennison, a company valued at $10 billion. In total, Gauzy raised around 20 million dollars.
Paso, who lectures at an entrepreneurship course for entrepreneurs just starting out, puts great emphasis on raising funds. “There is an entire world of concepts and people come into it without knowing anything,” he says. “When they get to the point of raising money, people who come from the field of technology, and even those who did an MBA, do not necessarily understand the field of start-up investment. It is important to consult with other entrepreneurs and investors about the company’s investment structure, and it is important to plan the fundraising in advance. It is important to pay attention to what investors put in at each stage. There are companies for whom angels are not a good fit, and of course, one need not rush to take on strategic partners. It is important to properly check out who the investors that you take on are and also to consider not just the money that you got now, but also at the money that will come later.”
Technology with daily application
The company currently employs 61 people in offices in Israel, Los Angeles and Stuttgart, close to the auto industry. “We have been working with Daimler Mercedes-Benz for over four years already, so we decided to set ourselves up near them,” Paso explains. “The Stuttgart office is where our auto world development is happening. There is another office in Guangzhou.”
The company’s products are being sold today in over 40 countries: Australia, Brazil, Germany, China, USA, Canada, and others. “We have hundreds of clients, one of which is the Crown Plaza Hotel in Singapore,” Paso says. “That hotel has won prestigious design competitions three times in a row. In Israel we worked with the Ritz Carleton Hotel in Herzliya – our technology is embedded in every room. In hotels, we put our technology primarily in bathrooms, so that it can be clear or frosted, which also allows more space in the room, since glass takes up way less space than a wall.”
And like Paso’s story of wanting to let the trees into his home, without compromising privacy or darkness, Gauzy’s technology starts at home. “I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want some of our products in their home. Our tech touches nearly everyone,” he says. “It could be in your house or in your car. This isn’t some smart technology that sits deep inside the computer, this is something that you use daily. Moreover, we have gotten to the point where we don’t always know who our end customer will be, because we are often known as a company that sells glass – and does a lot of projects. We get to surprising places. We are proud of the fact that we have developed manufacturing capabilities, as well as a new industry in Israel, which did not exist. We are practically the only ones, certainly in Europe,”
From glasses to construction
Gauzy, with over thirty different patents and its trademark LCG – light controlled glass, is not the only company making the glass around us smarter. “There are technologies today that enable us to control light, almost entirely, but it is very expensive,” says Paso. “Now it is entering the world of cars and construction, but it will ultimately reach other fields because it is needed. It is a process that will happen.”
So what is special about Gauzy? “We don’t just develop the technology. Many start-ups develop a program, and it is very easy to develop a product, but there are not a lot of companies that do hardware or chemistry development, that both develop the tech – and produce it. We offer our product, which we built from nothing, and we are very, very proud of that. We control the whole process. Sometimes we synthesize our molecules, which we invented, and actually produce the product.” This is all done using the liquid crystal and SPD technologies.
Aside from the world of cars and construction, Gauzy is working with refrigerator companies that wanted to develop a door which you could see through. “It turns out that 80% of the time that a person leaves the fridge door open, he is just deciding what to take out of it, or he does not know what he wants. Many times you don’t even take anything out. All that door-opening makes the fridge motor work way harder, and for no real reason. In order to reduce the time that the fridge door is open, you could have see-through doors. With the press of a button, the door can turn clear, so that we only open the door when we actually want something.”
Another group that approached Gauzy was eye doctors. “They explained to us that after eye surgery, laser for example, you have to use an eye patch, and continually take it off and put it back on in order to help the eye become accustomed to the light,” says Paso. “This is a real prescription from the doctor, and a lot of people don’t do it properly, don’t put the patch on right, and it’s inconvenient. The doctors told us that they would want our tech within glasses, such that the lenses with the tech in them will know when to let light in and when to darken, according to the doctor’s prescription. And that is how we moved from the world of cars to the world of glasses.
“We have a wide range of products and we are working in a great variety of industries, and all of them encompass the same set of technologies,” Paso concludes. “Anywhere where light streaming through glass should be controlled – we are relevant.”
Translation: Zoe Jordan