I recently visited Israel to learn about various programs and tools used to support Israel’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. It is well known that innovation and entrepreneurship are two pillars of the Israeli economy and a source of global leadership.
The educational visit was arranged byMATIMOP, the government agency of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. It included visits to incubators, technology transfer offices, research institutes, universities and the OCS. We had the opportunity to interact with both directors and beneficiaries of various support programs, and to learn about day-to-day operations, programs, management, and the role programs played in beneficiaries’ lives and businesses.
I learned several lessons during my time in Israel, which I outline below:
Importance of having a critical mass of researchers and patience to succeed in innovation: Israeli success in innovation came over long years of experience and research. In Israel there are large numbers of researchers that work in clusters of particular fields (most notably in the life sciences and medical fields). For example, the Technology Transfer office of Tel Aviv University has 5-6 projects on the pipeline for Alzheimer disease. 50% of research on biotech in Israel is done in Hebrew University. Volcani Center which is a research institute focusing on agriculture sector has 506 permanent employees that work on different sectors in agriculture sector. Moreover, being well aware of the importance of collaboration for research, many agencies have engagements with research institutes from other countries. This helps disseminate the knowledge and provides opportunities to collaborate on innovative projects.
Entrepreneurial culture and the mindset of people: In Israel there are a large number of individuals who want to be entrepreneurs. People are not afraid to follow their ambitions nor are they afraid to fail. The large number of entrepreneurs increases the probability of success. Failure is an option in entrepreneurship and all parties involved in innovation seem to be aware of this in Israel.
Commercialization of research: In many countries even in those with a sound research base, ideas are not easily commercialized. It is impossible to succeed in innovation and entrepreneurship without this link. Part of the success in commercialization of research is intense privatization of the programs related to innovation. Most of the government programs that were initiated to support innovation and entrepreneurship are privatized and successful entrepreneurs from private sector are recruited to manage government programs. An example of this is the director of OCS. Prior to joining OCS, Mr. Avi Hasson had a long history in private sector including his work as a venture capitalist. The director who managed OCS for over 10 years prior to Mr. Hasson, Mr. Shuki Gleitman also spent a large amount of time in the private sector. Mr. Shlomo Nimrodi who is the CEO of the technology transfer office in Tel Aviv University has a similar background as a venture capitalist.
A unique central government body for industrial R&D and innovation: OCS is the main government body for industrial R&D and innovation (excluding basic research funds for universities). This agency provides a broad range of R&D support programs to promote Israeli industry’s global competitive advantage. This builds and strengthens every link of the innovation ecosystem from “idea” to “market”. Having a unique body for R&D and innovation streamlines the initiation and implementation of new programs and tools in the economy.
Access to international financial markets and networks contribute to commercialization of research: Israel has built a strong network with the private sector both in the country and abroad. Collaboration with the private sector can come at different stages of research. It could come at relatively early stages (after the proof of concept) or at later stages for marketing and scaling up the innovation. This is evident through strategic alliances and programs with best of breed worldwide, in Europe and USA such as, EUREKA, Eurostars, Galileo (multinational support programs pursuing international collaborative R&D opportunities for the Israeli industry in Europe), ITEA (a strategic pan-European program for advanced pre-competitive R&D in software-intensive systems and services), FIT (a program supporting joint R&D projects between Israeli companies and Finnish entities in all technological fields) and SIBED (program promoting and increasing technological exchange between high-tech industries in Israel and Sweden), among others. As a result of its well established network and strong entrepreneurial culture and R&D base, the country has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any country outside the United States.
These experiences may be Israel’s but they have relevance to other economies around the globe. Indeed, as nations seek to grow their economies and ramp up their competitiveness through innovation and entrepreneurship, Israel’s path offers many valuable lessons.