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Mission Log: Day 4

By this stage of our mission, a throughline emerged that explained the commercialization success of Israeli research and development. This is hard to get right, so how does it work so well here, we asked? What inputs made it right, and what barriers needed to be removed to make it work? A theme emerged, a strong curiosity, or a driving need to know. And it sounded something like “show me the conditions that make innovation work to this degree in Israel so we can duplicate it in our region.”

This is a huge theme that we’ll return to over and over again in 2023 through lectures and programs that are meant to impart essential ingredients for success for our region. In addition, we’re about to announce an “Israel Innovation+Commercialization Workshop” in Israel. This is a mission designed for industry, academic and government leaders to roll up sleeves with leaders and stakeholders in Israel and build an impactful framework for adapting Israeli commercialization practices in our region (a mouthful, we know). One fascinating clue is that in Israel, innovation is fueled (aka, funded) by a national Innovation Authority, segmented by regional innovation hubs and leadership, and driven by academia and industry who answer the call to solve big problems and regional goals, often in consortiums. We can spend a year on this, and we intend to because it’s vital. (Here is a shameless offer- join now as a member of the chamber to help lead and support this conversation.)

We started day 4 of the mission taking the train from Tel Aviv to the Negev. It’s about an hour and 13 minutes if you catch an express train. This desert region is one of 4 major planned innovation districts in Israel. The Negev is large, about half of Israel’s land size. But it holds only about 8% of Israel’s population. Because the center of the country is so densely populated and housing is costly, there is intense focus (and great need), to make the desert blossom (both figuratively and literally), in order to create affordable housing and jobs.

We came to visit Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and also the neighboring Soroka Medical Center. Both are next to each other in the largest Negev city of Beersheba and located inside a high tech park (innovation district), alongside office and incubator space called Gav Yam that includes a train station, and an impressive connecting pedestrian bridge shaped like a DNA strand. There is a residential neighborhood bordering the district that allows people to live, shop and play within walking distance. Imagine one of our large universities, a major hospital, office and lab space, and a residential neighborhood located inside something wide open but a little remote, like the Navy Yard (which is also doing a great job for our region). That’s what we saw working.

We ostensibly came to see a range of commercialized research and to meet the people driving specific innovation. We did and it was an impressive showing. But what caught our attention the most, and collectively across our group, was the ecosystem and setting that made it all work. We’ll end this post with a couple of examples that illustrate why we intend to stay focused on the framework and templates for innovation+commercialization that are important to unpack for our region.

The Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN) is housed inside the university but is independent. It was funded with an initial $90mm investment from the Israeli government, BGU, and the late Mr. Edgar de Picciotto. We met with Executive Director Ron Lahav. NIBN is like a hybrid accelerator, VC for early stage companies, and TTO blended into a single entity. They use their funds to accelerate about 25 projects at a time. Their approach is holistic and multidisciplinary from across campus, and it seeks to bridge the gap between academic studies at BGU and the demands of industry. Projects must have commercialization milestones as endpoints. Academics are supported by professional project managers, and IP strategy is considered and set from the earliest stages. Active matchmaking across disciplines is part of the secret suace and spin out companies are encouraged to remain in the Negev, thus growing the regional ecosystem like a feedback loop. WOW!!

At BGU we met with Prof. Raz Jelinek, VP and Dean of of Research and Development at BGU. He believes that the university must help new startups with tech transfer. He said that part of the job of the university is to help commercialization through startup formation and licensing. He is actively changing the university bylaws in order to allow faculty to commercialize more easily. He believed that more activity will net more for everyone (including the university), rather than maximizing fewer opportunities (which creates barriers). This seems so intuitive to hear, but actually so hard to practice.

Last but not least, the Soroka medical system is such a hotbed of innovation. There is actually so much to say that we’ll spend an entire post on Soroka, part of Clalit, the largest of the four health service organizations in Israel and a major innovator. But for now, let’s end here and meet again to discuss day 5, our final day spent in Tel Aviv.

Meet us on December 6th for a meet and greet and discussion of our mission.


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