Episode 21: Inna Braverman, named one of the most influential women of the 21st century

Having survived the Chernobyl disaster, Inna Braverman set her sights on reinventing the energy industry.

The guest: Inna Braverman was named one of "10 of the most influential women of the 21st century," alongside Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Her story starts in the Ukraine on April 11, 1986. Two weeks after her birth, the nearby Chernobyl Power Plant exploded and sent radioactive material across the landscape. To this day, it remains the biggest nuclear disaster worldwide. Less than 200 miles away, baby Inna had trouble breathing from the pollution and went in respiratory arrest. She was announced clinically dead. Luckily for Inna, her mother is a nurse and rushed to the crib to help. She gave her baby mouth to mouth resuscitation until the ambulance arrived just in time. Inna survived.

The gist: She's is now doing something quite remarkable and is using her second chance at life to give back. Learning from the Chernobyl disaster, Inna has launched a company that harnesses energy from a totally unique place. Sure, we've heard of wind energy and solar energy, but Inna has found something she claims is even better: Wave energy. She launched Eco Wave Power, a company that has figured out a way to take the energy from ocean waves and convert it into electricity. Her drive, passion and clever thinking have made her a celebrity. She's given a Ted Talk and was named to Wired Magazine's list of “Females Changing the World." CNN chose her for their "Tomorrow's Hero" series and she named one of the world’s “100 Makers and Mavericks." On today's episode, 32 years after the seminal disaster that forever changed her life, we chat with Inna about her upbringing, about wave energy and about the responsibilities of being a role model for today's young female entrepreneurs.

Further reading:

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Inna Braverman has figured out a way to harness energy from ocean waves. Inna Braverman has figured out a way to harness energy from ocean waves. (Photo: Courtesy)

Transcript

Benyamin Cohen: On this episode of Our Friend From Israel.

Speaker 1: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

Ted Koppel: For the first time ever, the Soviet Union admits it has had a nuclear accident, and it's clearly a major one.

Speaker 2: Far worse than the Three Mile Island incident of 1979, but as the Soviets treat an unknown number of casualties, there's no way to say how much lasting damage that cloud may have already caused.

Benyamin Cohen: Inna Braverman was born in the Ukraine on April 11, 1986. Two weeks after her birth, the nearby Chernobyl Power Plant exploded and sent radioactive material across the landscape. To this day it remains the biggest nuclear disaster worldwide.

Benyamin Cohen: Less than 200 miles away baby Inna had trouble breathing from the pollution, and went into respiratory arrest. She was announced clinically dead. But luckily for Inna, her mother is a nurse and rushed to the crib to help. She gave her baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the ambulance arrived, just in time. Inna survived.

Benyamin Cohen: She's now doing something quite remarkable, and is using her second chance at life to give back. Learning from the Chernobyl disaster, Inna has launched a company that harnesses energy from a totally unique place.

Benyamin Cohen: Sure, we've heard of wind energy and solar energy, but Inna has found something she claims is even better: wave energy. When Inna was just four years old, she and her family moved to the small coastal town of Acre in Northern Israel. Growing up, surrounded by the ocean, she would watch as the waves crashed onto the beach near her house. She wondered if there could be a way to harness the power of those waves and actually turn them into usable energy. Her hunch was correct.

Speaker 3: What if the power of ocean wave could solve the world's clean energy problem? Our next guest is doing exactly that. Inna Braverman co-founded Eco Wave Power, a company that's developed technology revolutionizing the field of renewable energy, with several power plants already operating in countries around the world. She joins us in studio. Hey, Inna.

Benyamin Cohen: Inna's drive, passion and clever thinking have made her a celebrity. She's given a TED Talk and was named to Wired Magazine's list of Females Changing the World. CNN chose her for their Tomorrow Heroes Series, and she was named one of the world's 100 Makers and Mavericks.

Benyamin Cohen: And earlier this year, Inna was named one of the 10 Most Influential Women of the 21st Century, alongside Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Benyamin Cohen: On today's episode, 32 years after the seminal disaster that forever changed her life, we chat with Inna about her upbringing, about wave energy and about the responsibilities of being a role model for today's young female entrepreneurs. Stay tuned.

Benyamin Cohen: Welcome to Our Friend from Israel, a podcast brought to you by fromthegrapevine.com. I'm your host Benyamin Cohen, and each week we'll have a conversation with an intriguing Israeli. They'll come from all walks of life: actors, artists, athletes, academics and other news makers.

Benyamin Cohen: On today's show we chat with Inna Braverman, who's on the verge of introducing the world to an entirely new energy source.

Benyamin Cohen: Testing, testing, one, two, three. Testing, testing, one, two, three. Can you hear me?

Inna Braverman: Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?

Benyamin Cohen: Yes.

Inna Braverman: Okay.

Benyamin Cohen: Let's just test one more time here. Tell me what you had for breakfast this morning?

Inna Braverman: Zero calorie yogurt.

Benyamin Cohen: Hello everybody, and welcome to today's show. Today we are joined by Inna Braverman. Thank you for joining us today.

Inna Braverman: No problem.

Benyamin Cohen: I want to start with the Chernobyl disaster. After that happened, you were pronounced clinically dead. Is that right?

Inna Braverman: Yes.

Benyamin Cohen: Wow.

Inna Braverman: Luckily for me, I'm able to speak to you today due to the fact that my mother is a nurse. She came to the crib to check on her baby, right on time, and she saw that I had no pulse and I'm not breathing. She kind of freaked out and she forgot she's a nurse. So she ran to my father and she was crying and screaming that "my baby's dead, my baby's dying, what do I do, what do I do?"

Inna Braverman: And my dad [inaudible 00:05:03] "you're a nurse, do something," and she remembered she's a nurse and she gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and actually saved my life until the ambulance came. So, that's my personal story with the impact of the standard energy generation and a disaster caused by energy.

Benyamin Cohen: So when you were growing up, is that something that you knew that you wanted to fix in the world? To try to find alternatives sources so we're not relying on nuclear?

Inna Braverman: First of all, as a child growing up with a story like this, you feel extra special. You definitely say I was given a second chance in life and I want to do something that would leave a mark, and something that would change the world for the best, so I was always striving to do that.

Inna Braverman: I didn't know exactly what would be the best doing, so whether it's for politics or whether it's for some other engine for change for the world for the best, that somehow life has led me to renewable energy, which is an interesting twist of fate, I hope.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah. So you moved to Israel when you were how old?

Inna Braverman: Four years old.

Benyamin Cohen: And where in Israel did you move to?

Inna Braverman: A small little town called Acre in the north.

Benyamin Cohen: So you still grew up, you went from one small town to another small town.

Inna Braverman: Exactly! My influencing possibilities were pretty limited, because you know when you're in a big town where everything is happening, you get all the contacts, and all the financial districts are there, then I think you have much more of a chance to make and influence. But, no, I was a little girl from Ukraine, and then I came to Israel and I was a little girl from Acre, striving to make a change.

Benyamin Cohen: So where did that change take place? Was it when you went to college?

Inna Braverman: I went to Haifa University, which is also in the north of Israel, and then when I finished my university I felt that I want to be in a bigger place, so I moved to Tel Aviv, where most of the Israeli startups are located.

Inna Braverman: I guess the change started here.

Benyamin Cohen: So how did you get started in this line of work, then? What was the first thing that happened?

Inna Braverman: So actually it happened completely accidentally, because as I said I had no money no contacts, no nothing actually, no bases needed in order to be an entrepreneur, to start a business.

Inna Braverman: When I finished the university I was studying political science and English with the hope of becoming this great political leader of the future, but when you finish university and you're 21 years old you find out that no big political party is looking to recruit somebody fresh out of university, it's pretty hard to get into the political world like that.

Inna Braverman: So I started to look for a job, because I knew I wanted to move to Tel Aviv, which was a bigger city, and is a bigger city. All found work as an English/Hebrew translator in a renewable energy firm. There, I found out that there are different types of renewable energy: there's solar energy, which we have commercialized, especially in Israel which has a lot of sun. There's wind energy, and there's wave energy, that's like, the whole world is limitless potential, and the whole world is trying to develop it, but with no success.

Inna Braverman: So this is something that really drew my attrition. I said to myself, "okay this huge energy companies, huge investment banks, huge entrepreneurs: everybody is trying to develop wave energy with no success. They cannot do it but I can do it!" You know? The overconfidence of a 20-year old person.

Inna Braverman: I started researching the subject and checking out where other companies have failed, like what was the main reasons for their failures, and started thinking of an idea, how to do it differently.

Benyamin Cohen: So what gave you that confidence, as a girl growing up in a small town, to come to the big city and say "I can do it better than everybody else?"

Inna Braverman: One, I guess it's the innocence being young, you know? When you were young, you believe that everything is possible.

Benyamin Cohen: Right.

Inna Braverman: This is something as adults I think we kind of lose faith, or this characteristic in ourselves and that's too bad. So, that's one of the things. Two, I always had a burning passion and need to do something to change the world for the best, to kind of give back to whoever saved me and gave me a second chance in life.

Inna Braverman: So, I think the mixture of the passion that I feel along with the innocence of being young and combined, probably, with the Israeli chutzpah, which is something that the young generation here possesses a lot of, I think that kind of was the driving factor in my belief.

Benyamin Cohen: There's a startup atmosphere in Israel, that you kind of couldn't done this anywhere else, I'm guessing.

Inna Braverman: Israel is the startup nation, so definitely many good ideas come from here and rise from here. I guess it was also an important factor, but growing up in Acre back then, or in small city of Ukraine, there wasn't so much startup atmosphere, so I guess it was a mixture of my personality and passion toward the field together with the possibilities.

Benyamin Cohen: Right, right, right. So, you have the idea and so you're doing research on how to harness wave energy, and so what happened next?

Inna Braverman: So I did the research, I came up with my own little idea or little solution, but of course the path from having an idea to actually realizing this idea is completely different. As I said, I didn't have the contacts, I didn't have the money, so I couldn't just open a company. I couldn't really do anything with my idea, it was just an idea.

Inna Braverman: Then one day I went to a social event and next to me sat a guy, his name is David, which is my business partner today. He's a serial entrepreneur, and one of the investment that he made is investment in a surf camp in Panama.

Inna Braverman: He also, because he was spending some time in the surf camp he actually got exposed to the power of the waves and to the ocean, and completely on another side of the world, he was thinking also wave energy and it's possibilities, and researching.

Inna Braverman: So when we were in this social event he's next to me, completely by coincidence, and he started talking to me, asked me: "what's your passion?" And when I said "wave energy," and it was something he was thinking about in a completely other place in the world, he was pretty excited and happy to learn my ideas and I was happy to learn his ideas and kind of the ideas of both of us, they combined into the product that we have today.

Benyamin Cohen: When we return, Inna talks about what it's like being a female entrepreneur in the male-dominated energy industry.

Benyamin Cohen: Did people respect you? Did you know who they were?

Inna Braverman: No, most of the people they requested for coffee. Most people assumed I'm somebody's PA or that I'm a secretary. It shows the problem as a whole.

Benyamin Cohen: All that, and much more, after the break.

Benyamin Cohen: You may remember a recent episode we had with From the Grapevine's resident chef, Sarah Berkowitz.

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Benyamin Cohen: And now, back to today's interview with eco-entrepreneur Inna Braverman.

Benyamin Cohen: So let's just take a step back for a second. For those of us, myself included, I'm not sure I 100% understand wave energy. So we have energy, let's say solar energy is energy that we get from the sun, we harness the solar energy and we turn that into power, electricity. Same thing with wind energy, with wind turbines. So what is exactly wave energy, is that taking the power of the waves and somehow harnessing that and turning it into electricity?

Inna Braverman: Exactly. Basically what we do is we connect to existing man-made structures such as piers, breakwaters and other type of ocean structures. We connect the floaters to the external side of the structure.

Inna Braverman: The floaters are just naturally moving up and down with the up and down movement of the waves, and this movement is generating pressure. So the floaters are going up and down, pushing hydro-cylinders, the hydro-cylinders transmit biodegradable oil into land-located accumulators. This oil created pressure, and this pressure is used to turn the generator and send clean electricity into the grid.

Inna Braverman: So it's pretty simple, like there's nothing too complicated, and this is [inaudible 00:16:06] idea.

Benyamin Cohen: That's pretty simple.

Inna Braverman: Yeah. Seven years in the field, you know? It sounds simple.

Benyamin Cohen: So you guys started Eco Wave, is that what it's called, Eco Wave?

Inna Braverman: Yes, Eco Wave Power.

Benyamin Cohen: Eco Wave Power. This is not just an idea, you've actually executed this idea?

Inna Braverman: Yeah, so we have a working power station in the port of Jaffa in Israel, which is kind of our R&D facility, where we test new floater shapes, the automation system and we make all kind of upgrades to all our technology.

Inna Braverman: In 2016, we connected our first wave energy power station to the grid in Gibraltar. We actually signed on the PPA, Power Purchase Agreement, of five megawatts with the government of Gibraltar.

Benyamin Cohen: So people in Gibraltar are actually today getting energy from this?

Inna Braverman: Exactly.

Benyamin Cohen: Wow.

Inna Braverman: We're looking forward to expanding it to five megawatts, five megawatts will be 15% of all Gibraltar's electricity needs, and actually when we can grow our idea from a small station to a big wave farm, I think it will really change the way the whole world generates electricity.

Benyamin Cohen: And so what makes wave energy so great, compared to oil, solar, wind?

Inna Braverman: So compared to oil that's an easy task. It doesn't pollute and it doesn't kill anybody, so I think that's a big advantage. The World Health Association published a study that at the moment one of eight people in the world are dying premature death as a direct result of pollution. So I think that definitely good reason to fight pollution.

Inna Braverman: Again, with the traditional oil and coal and other type of pollution methods, the advantage is clear. Regarding solar, for example, leading solar is an amazing source, so is wind. I have nothing against any type of renewable energy and I think that solution is a mixture of all renewable energies.

Inna Braverman: The solar, for example, you have the night where it cannot produce anything. That's why the capacity for solar is not extremely high. You have cloud coverage, you have pollution like in China, where you cannot see the sun, and you cannot generate any solar energy.

Inna Braverman: The advantage in wave energy it doesn't know day from night. In suitable locations it can generate 24/7, which is a big advantage.

Benyamin Cohen: I guess most of the world lives near oceans?

Inna Braverman: Yeah. Two thirds of the world's population are currently living on the coastlines and definitely would be [inaudible 00:18:47] population distribution. The need for wave energy's pretty clear.

Benyamin Cohen: What kind of resistance, if any, are you getting from the energy industry? Are they excited about this? How are they reacting to this?

Inna Braverman: I don't think that the energy industry cares about it so much right now, because wave energy's in the same point where solar has been 20 years ago when it was just starting. At the moment, like as we speak, there's no thousands of megawatts in start of wave energy. I don't think that this reads as threat or anything of this kind.

Inna Braverman: I think that the industry needs to develop and grow, not to the point where it would be a threat, but definitely to the point that it would be a significant source from which the population receives its clean energy.

Benyamin Cohen: What's been the most difficult challenge for you, trying to get it more mainstream?

Inna Braverman: The bad reputation, the bad reputation never helps. In wave energy, before our company was even existent, there was a plan like 15 years ago, 12 years ago where everybody wanted suddenly to do wave energy.

Inna Braverman: So many companies raised hundreds of millions of dollars in public enlisting and private raises and so on in order to develop wave energy. It was new and it was exciting, so people didn't necessarily check what they were investing in, they just put their money in there.

Inna Braverman: Most of these companies they actually didn't succeed, because their idea was, go install the wave energy solutions offshore. Few kilometers into the sea, which is super expensive. You need ships, you need divers, you need underwater mooring and underwater cables.

Inna Braverman: In the offshore you get waves of even 20 meters of height, so it breaks any type of stationary man-made equipment, so there was a lot of breakage and a lot of high prices that were spent on this offshore facilities, and I think that the results were pretty disappointing for the investors back then.

Inna Braverman: I think the bitter taste might still be in some people's or organizations mouths and they're kind of afraid of wave energy. Like, everybody agreed that it's an amazing resource, the World Energy Council estimated you can generate twice the amount that the world generates today from wave energy alone, without any other renewable energy source.

Inna Braverman: Everybody understand the importance but nobody wants to be the first one to advance, the first one that supports. If nobody's the first one it's a bit difficult to push through, to show a success story.

Benyamin Cohen: Right, right.

Benyamin Cohen: If you're looking for more episodes from Our Friend from Israel, head on over to fromthegrapevine.com. One episode we'd recommend is our interview with Brian Blum, the author of a book about an Israeli startup called Better Place, and its charismatic, young CEO, Shai Agassi.

Benyamin Cohen: I think I read in your book, he was also a competitive poker player with Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire, and that he ran in those circles?

Brian Blum: Well I wouldn't say exactly he ran in those circles but he used to sometimes play in the World Series of Poker, which took place in Las Vegas. And, at some point Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire were also in those World Series of Pokers and Shai won a few small but decent-sized pots as part of his poker playing.

Brian Blum: But he gave that up, actually, when he started Better Place. When Better Place went out of business, actually, he went back and he played a little poker and won a little bit more.

Benyamin Cohen: Look for that episode, and our entire archive at OurFriendFromIsrael.com.

Benyamin Cohen: And now, back to today's conversation with entrepreneur Inna Braverman.

Benyamin Cohen: This year you were named one of the Ten Most Influential Women of the 21st Century, along with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. What were your thoughts when you found that out?

Inna Braverman: It's a great company. I felt honored. I think I was the only Israeli on the list, so it's nice to get some credit for your actions. I really hope that what I'm doing with Eco Wave Power today would have an impact for the development of wave energy to the future.

Inna Braverman: I think that it's amazing to be in a field that everybody believing, but nobody actually made the realistic step. Building the first wave energy power station in Gibraltar, connecting it to the grid, knowing that you're the first one to connect it with a permanent connection to the grid in the world, it's a pretty exciting thing.

Inna Braverman: Really getting recognition for it, I think it's amazing. I would be much more happy to get recognition for being able to be the first commercial-scale, you know, big wave energy array with 200, 300 floaters, something that is actually a wave farm and not just a demonstration of the technology.

Inna Braverman: I think this would really be a game changer in the world because nobody was able to do it to date.

Benyamin Cohen: "Wave farm" is basically multiple of what you're doing now, so it could power an entire city or something?

Inna Braverman: City, big neighborhood. Like, five megawatts for example, can power approximately five thousand households, which can be a big neighborhood, but that's already considered commercial in wave energy and nobody was able to reach this scale in our industry.

Inna Braverman: For me, being a women, in the energy industry there's not too much female entrepreneurs unfortunately. Being a women and being the first one to actually commercialize wave energy, I think it's two very important achievements for me, personally.

Benyamin Cohen: When you were going to these initial pitch meetings for your company, did people respect you? Did they know who you were?

Inna Braverman: No, most of the people there requested for coffee. Nobody assumes, for some reason, nobody assumes that the female can be in a powerful role, or an influential role, especially when it comes to professions that are considered manly by nature. Like in [inaudible 00:25:54] energy, it's not considered something that girls belong there. So most people assume that I'm somebody's PA, or the secretary.

Inna Braverman: In the beginning I don't think anybody took me seriously, and to this day they think that there are meetings, like for example when I'm coming with a male colleague and somebody that doesn't know who I am, all these questions will be directed to that male colleague. The people in the meeting wouldn't even look at me for the answers. Not on purpose, but they're assuming that, you know, a female entrepreneur doesn't necessarily know as much as the male in the room knows.

Inna Braverman: It shows the problem as a whole, yeah. So it's kind of shows that there is a bit of a perceptional problem when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

Benyamin Cohen: So how do you work to change that perception?

Inna Braverman: By giving good talks, like this one, or for example at the end of the month I'm participating in an event organized by Yossi Vardi which is a famous Israeli entrepreneur, and it's called Stream, and my subject of my talk that I will be doing there is of the female entrepreneurship. I think that by not hiding it and by talking about it and expressing it we can create some sort of awareness and some sort of change, positive change.

Inna Braverman: Other than that, working with other female entrepreneurs, giving equal changes in my company to women and to men, doing whatever I can. It's difficult, like in wave energy so is with female entrepreneurship. Now both of us are kind of being ignored in business from different reasons, and we are doing the best that you can in order to prove anybody that doesn't believe that they're wrong.

Benyamin Cohen: What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs now entering the workforce?

Inna Braverman: Not to give up. Follow their dreams, follow their passion. I always say that "passion is the greatest renewable energy source," and I really think that it's true. If you have passion I think you can achieve anything.

Benyamin Cohen: If you and I were to have this conversation five years from now, or even ten years from now, where do you hope to be?

Inna Braverman: Business-wise?

Benyamin Cohen: Business-wise, personal-wise.

Inna Braverman: Business-wise, definitely to be able to prove our technology, commercialize our technology, be able to build commercialized, see commercialized power stations in different locations around the world. That would make a very positive achievement for Eco Wave Power.

Inna Braverman: Personally, I don't know. Married, with kids? Difficult to combine both.

Benyamin Cohen: So, if anybody's listening to this podcast...

Inna Braverman: Exactly, call me.

Inna Braverman: But first, get them to call you and you give them the questionnaire.

Benyamin Cohen: Well right, we'll vet them first, then if we think any of them are good we'll pass them on to you.

Inna Braverman: Yeah.

Benyamin Cohen: I like to end all my interviews with this question: is there any question I did not ask you that I should have asked you?

Inna Braverman: No, I think you did a pretty good research job. I was positively surprised.

Benyamin Cohen: Okay. Well, thank you.

Inna Braverman: Good questions.

Benyamin Cohen: Thank you. Inna, well, thank you very much, I know you're extremely busy and I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. It's been really educational and inspiring, so thank you so much.

Inna Braverman: Thank you for having me, and thank you for doing an amazing job for Israel! Thank you.

Benyamin Cohen: Alright, take care.

Inna Braverman: Bye-bye.

Benyamin Cohen: Bye-bye.

Benyamin Cohen: Our Friend from Israel is a production of fromthegrapevine.com. Extra notes and a transcript of today's episode can be found at OurFriendFromIsrael.com.

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Related Topics: Environment

Episode 21: Inna Braverman, named one of the most influential women of the 21st century
Having survived the Chernobyl disaster, Inna Braverman set her sights on reinventing the energy industry.