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Charleston Business

Thanks to a unique collaboration between South Carolina and Israel, the baby bottle manufacturer Nanobébé calls Charleston home

By Dan McCue

It all started in the middle of an Israeli night.

That's when Ayal Lanternari, a new father, was awakened by his three-month-old son and hurriedly made his way to the family's kitchen to retrieve a bottle of refrigerated breast milk for the increasingly impatient baby.

A biomedical engineer by profession, Lanternari knew that the only way to safely warm a cold bottle of breast milk without jeopardizing its nutritional properties was to immerse it in a bowl or run it under a tap of warm water.

In the middle of the night, with an expectant, hungry baby on his arm, the process seemed to take forever. In the interim, a sleepy Lanternari surveyed the bottle and got to thinking its shape was all wrong.

It would heat up faster, he thought, if the bottle grew wider and shorter, and the liquid's surface area was expanded. 

The following morning, having given his idea a bit more thought and coming up with a design closer to a woman's breast, he told a friend, Asaf Kehat, about it. Kehat told his friend he thought he was on to something, and after a year of researching the baby bottle market, the two men decided to plunge into it.

The year was 2013. The Israeli company the two men formed was called Nanobébé. 

Five years later, Lanternari and Kehat decided the time was right for another audacious move. In October, they opened the headquarters for their U.S. operations in Charleston, and within weeks, also decided to establish a warehouse here.

"We looked at several different cities for our headquarters before selecting Charleston, [but ultimately] decided it is perfectly positioned to provide us a strong and seamless connection to both the national and global marketplace," Lanternari says. 

"The central location between New York and Miami offers us prime access to U.S. distribution sites, with the seaport offering us access to the world," he continues.

At the same time, he says, Charleston's strong focus on healthcare, business development, and education "offers us the opportunity to attract a talented workforce needed for successful growth.  

"In the last seven years, Charleston’s workforce has grown four times faster than the U.S. average, and we took note of that," adds Lanternari, who recently moved to the Lowcountry with his wife and three young children.

"The warmth of the people in Charleston is a very powerful draw," he says. "It doesn’t hurt to know that Conde Nast Traveler named it best American city [eight] years in a row."

Key to Nanobébé's landing in Charleston was the participation of the South Carolina-Israel Collaboration, a bilateral initiative intended to develop and strengthen economic, industrial, technological, and commercial cooperation through joint industrial research and development projects conducted between South Carolina and Israeli companies and universities.

"During one of their trips to Israel to highlight South Carolina industry, we were lucky to meet and form a connection," Lanternari says. 

Nanobébé is the sixth Israeli company to find its way to the Lowcountry through the initiative. All were global companies that had yet to establish a U.S. presence when they opted to set up shop in the tri-county region.

"The warm overview of all that South Carolina has to offer led us to come visit, and we were impressed from the very first moment ... and continue to be," Lanternari says.

Among those welcoming the company to the U.S., and helping it deal with all the particulars an international move entails, was the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which Lanternari says has been "very welcoming since our arrival" and continues to serve as a partner as Nanobébé sets down roots.

"Any time a company locates here from overseas, they're going to come with challenges and needs," says Becky Ford, global business development director. "Many times, as in the case of Nanobébé, they have no footprint in the U.S. at all, and they're trying to understand the market in as low-risk a way as possible. So that's one area where we try to provide as much assistance as we can.  

"What then tends to happen over time is as they become more established, they'll scale up into a facility that requires capital investment and creates jobs, and that's another area where we provide them with support and help align the resources they need.

"I think that's one of the things that differentiates us as a community, and once these companies get established, they really grow," Ford says. 

Now that Nanobébé has officially arrived, it has begun concentrating on what Lanternari described as its "vertical hiring needs."

"Initial openings will be in areas of design, business development, sales, customer care, and outreach," he says.

Though the company started with a baby bottle, over the past five years, it has developed a line of related products including breast milk storage bags for the fridge and freezer, a microwave sterilizer unit, a drying rack, pacifiers, and bottle warming bowls. 

Lanternari describes the company's ongoing R&D process as a daily discussion of the "day-to-day challenges of modern parenting and how to best address those needs by designing cutting-edge solutions."

Although the research and development arm of the company is still located in Tel Aviv, Lanternari says his team is looking to establish "a few" focus groups in Charleston to gather new parent insights about its products.

"That's vital to us," he says.

Could it be a harbinger of the company bringing more of its research and development to the U.S.?

"That's not in the immediate future, but one never knows what the future holds," Lanternari adds.