Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker led 50 private, public and academic sector leaders on an Israeli Economic Development Mission this week, during which they signed a series of research and cooperation agreements. The mission culminated with a visit to Jerusalem on Wednesday, and the Israeli branch of Boston’s nonprofit MassChallenge startup accelerator, where the scope of existing business ties between Israel and Massachusetts was revealed.
“I think it was a pretty successful trip,” Baker told The Jerusalem Post. “We had a pretty good group coming to begin with. The focus of the mission was on cyber security and digital health technologies. There are a lot of relationships that exist anyway between Massachusetts and Israel, but the goal here was to really try and see if we could accelerate that process a bit further.”
The delegation was organized in partnership between governor Baker’s administration and the New England-Israel Business Council (NEIBC). It included Marc van Zadelhoff, general manager of IBM Security; John Harthorne, founder and CEO of MassChallenge; Brandeis University president Ron Liebowitz; Harvard University vice president Ann Margulies; and Kristen Rupert, executive director of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts International Business Council.
Massachusetts, Baker said, is home to many of the world’s leading innovative companies, accelerators and educational institutions, as well as an economically competitive climate prepared to host the world’s emerging digital health and cybersecurity industries. At the same time, the commonwealth recognizes Israel’s thriving digital health ecosystem and cyber security continues to be one of the major economic growth drivers between Israel and the commonwealth’s robust research, investment, capital and talent sectors.
“I believe Israel has a lot to offer to us and we them. Israel has about a 20 year head start in cybersecurity, and I believe that Massachusetts has the potential to be a global player in digital health,” Baker told the Post.
The delegates spent the week touring Israel’s leading universities, medical centers, and hubs to explore the ecosystems in Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Jerusalem. The schedule included meetings with OurCrowd founder Jon Medved, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a visit to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, and visits to Boston-based organizations in Israel such as Jerusalem’s MassChallenge accelerator.
But the mission wasn’t just about exploration and presentations, as the governor on Tuesday signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with Economy Ministry Chief Scientist Avi Hasson in order to spur research and business development.
“We signed an MoU with Israel’s chief scientist, which was an adaptation of an MoU that we signed several years ago. This one is really going to focus on the digital health and cyber fields, and I fully expect that we will be working together on those issues going forward,” Baker said.
Another example of the delegation’s success was when the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, an independent economic development agency, signed a memorandum of understanding with Israeli CyberSpark, a nonprofit organization which promotes a cyber security ecosystem in and around Beersheba on Sunday. On Monday, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute announced that it will launch a project in Israel next month aimed at solving water, energy and health-related issues.
Upon arriving at the MassChallenge building in Jerusalem, the NEIBC revealed to the delegates their new research on the scope of Israel- Massachusetts business relations. According to the NEIBC, the total earnings for 2016 by Israeli-founded companies headquartered in Boston was $9 billion. Companies with a direct Israeli connection today constitute 4% of the Massachusetts GDP.
“While Boston is very strong in health tech and in cyber security, the average Israeli and most Israeli hi-tech-oriented individuals are not familiar with its importance to Israel. They all look toward Silicon Valley. Our organization is a chamber of commerce that for the last 30 years promoted and continues to promote business development between Israeli companies and New England region companies, mainly in Boston, Massachusetts,” NEIBC president Dan Trajman told the Post.
MassChallenge founder John Harthorne attributes the success and growth in Israel-Massachusetts and Jerusalem-Boston relations to cultural and character similarities.
“The proximity to the largest research institutes in Israel is much like in Boston and it provides access to leading research in life sciences and access to great talent. There’s a strong Jewish community in Boston that’s innovative as well. And in terms of competition, Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is much like Boston is to Silicon Valley. For us it was a no-brainer to create an accelerator in Israel and specifically in Jerusalem,” Harthorne told the Post.
“I visited Sheba Medical Center, and I met with about half the clinical leadership there. Almost all of them had either practiced, studied or done research in Massachusetts. So there’s a lot of familiarity between the healthcare and tech world here and in Massachusetts. Also, a lot of the investing community that we have in Massachusetts does a lot of investment in Israel, and vice versa,” added the governor.