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A solar water heater on every Israeli rooftop
Israel is a garden of inventiveness and Israelis have a strong tradition of contributing to technology and life sciences. Breathing the innovation when I lived there, I was privileged to test PrimeSense’s 3D camera, help bring Notal Vision’s tool to gauge macular degeneration to the United States, deliver a turn-key VoIP network in Nigeria and Zambia on behalf of VocalTec, license ecommerce and security software to dozens of Fortune 100 companies, watch knee surgery with miraculous tissue-repairing Regentis hydrogel, play with a gear box created from an Objet (now Stratasys) 3D printer, and negotiate sponsored research, patent licenses and clinical trials on behalf of emerging pharmaceutical companies.
Figuring out what gives rise to the “start-up nation” character, with wildly disproportionate foreign direct investment and numbers of translated books, cited academics, filed patents, Nasdaq companies, successful exits, and tuneful children’s songs, is a pervasive new-age question. Many answers have been floated, including its world-class research institutions, the very first technology transfer offices for commercialization of academic R&D, raw skills honed in one of the best-trained and most-sophisticated militaries, a culture of questioning, and a flood of ex-Soviet engineering talent over three decades. Naturally one can’t discount that there are real issues to be addressed too. Israelis have done it — from discerning security risks through synthesis of big data to making the desert bloom with fruit, vegetables, fish, and minerals.
This concentration of resources together with a successful entrepreneurial track record begets an ever greater snowball. Thousands of employees from some of the leading global technology and pharmaceutical companies are sitting in Israel. The government has licensed and funded incubators. The Office of Chief Scientist fosters economic growth by encouraging innovation and collaboration.
Last month, Greenberg Traurig hosted a reception for Chief Scientist Avi Hasson and the 20 Israeli life sciences companies that he brought to Bio International in Philadelphia. He boasted both a new project combining clinical with genomic data, as well as the combination of such data, along with engineering and software development, which has led to Israel’s excellence in healthcare IT. He observed that his role is simply stoking already-existing creativity. A 500-1000 percent ROI is proof.
Israeli entrepreneurs are known for unflappable curiosity and persistence. I grew to appreciate the sheer chutzpah that propelled my Israeli-founded Massachusetts tech start-up — in the face of resistance and legacy monopolies — into a Nasdaq company that introduced a new communications paradigm in over 120 countries. My favorite part of representing Israeli scientists is to think about what we’re not working on together at that moment. Regardless of what drug is about to start clinical trials, there’s always a next idea and it’s always at least as intriguing. Dr. Adi Mashiach, with over 30 granted U.S. patents under his belt, is a case in point. He co-founded Nyxoah, maker of a tiny, beneath-the-chin implant to address sleep apnea through neurostimulation. A disposable adhesive skin patch charges the device wirelessly. The medical and VC communities are now banging down his door for a hint about his next project.