Medical Device Daily Israel Editor
The Biomed Conference that started earlier this week is both a celebration, and an annual reinvigoration of small Israel's large biomedical footprint. The conference which had allocated over 90% of its speaking slots to 'crowdvoted' speakers (Medical Device Daily, May 31, 2013), had 25% of its slots filled by non-Israeli guests, further leading to an environment full of professional international networking.
National trade partnerships with Israel have varied across the globe and at various periods in recent years, and have certainly been affected by underlying political perspectives, and by the quality of international relationships. For the purposes of this note, it matters little whether the desire for collaboration yields warmer relationships, or whether the trust engendered at the political level encourages corporate cooperation. But it is interesting to see that the U.S.-Israel bond of commercial and research cooperation has been the strongest and most resilient relationship.
An example of the fruit of such friendship and trust is the BIRD Foundation (Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development, Tel Aviv). This 30-year old program – where a US marketing-oriented partner and an R&D-driven Israeli partner co-develop a project – can yield (U.S./Israeli) Government contribution of up to 50% of costs. According to the BIRD Foundation, the organization approves approximately 20 projects a year, and cumulative sales of products developed through such projects have, since inception exceeded $8Bn. "A tried and trusted collaboration tool, BIRD is a true trailblazer for many of our other collaborative agreements", said Ora Dar, PhD, Head of the Life Sciences sector, Office of the Chief Scientist, told Medical Device Daily.
The Europeans – albeit with a less deeply established relationship than the US, Israel's best friend – are not far behind in terms of innovative models of working together with the Israeli biomedical community. While there are many EU-backed research/business co-operations, individual EU member states have also advanced their own customized cooperation treaties. There is a growing request by these groups that the Israelis export 'startup-ness' – the ingenuity, obstinacy and chutzpah that generates 'out-of-the-box' entrepreneurial thinking - and to either co-develop with Israeli entrepreneurs, or to support the Israeli's commercialization on European soil.
A more sophisticated model of collaboration has been initiated in recent years by the Israeli Government. Existing bi-national agreements encourage the Israeli startup to find a partner company for co-development and commercialization. But additional attention is now given to direct interaction with the private sector: the Israeli Government has targeted large R&D-intensive multinationals, inviting them to undertake their research initiatives in Israel. The Office of the Chief Scientist has initiated a 'Multinational Company' project offering both financial and IP-related incentives to cooperate with, and invest in, Israeli companies. The project already has a respectable number of over 20 club participants, including groups such as B. Braun (Meslungen, Germany), Abbott (Abbott Park, Illinois) and Philips (Eindhoven, Netherlands).
This Biomed conference is witness to some further developments of the Israeli desert blooming. Many cooperation treaties are being signed with EU states, to encourage cross-border collaborations with Israeli startups.
The Italian approach to Israel-Italy collaboration has a number of avenues. Over the years of close interaction, the Italian Trade Commission in Israel has developed both commercial and research tracks with the Israeli Ministry of Economy. MDD was told by a member if Israel's Italian Trade Commission that a recent competition for Italian-Israeli collaborations led to 42 planned partnerships, mainly in the biomedical field.
In addition, late last year, in the midst of an economic crisis, Italy passed a law to encourage technology startups grow into Italy, and provide an engine for future economic development. In addition to this process, one of Italy's largest banks, Intesa Sanpaolo (Milan, Italy) has become a conduit to encourage collaborations between Italian biomedical startups and foreign counterparts. The bank has now developed a collaboration with Israel's Ministry of Economy, in order to promote, and coordinate more effective partnerships between Israeli and Italian startups.
MDD asked Marina Scognamiglio, Italian Trade Commissioner in Israel, what the standard entrepreneur's perspective is of these collaborative partnerships. "We find that the initial approach of the startups is 'we need investment, so merely collaboration with other startups is not attractive,'" she said. "What they soon see, though, is that collaboration between the Israeli and Italian teams greatly enhances both groups' chances of grants, Italian investment and EU funding. And that is of critical importance in today's age of declining standard VC opportunities. In a similar forum in the digital space in Israel last October, we had more than 100 Business-to-Business meetings between Italian-Israeli groups, and we are encountering similar positive energy at the current Biomed conference. "
Some more direct corporate interaction is occurring in the Netherlands. The Government Venture Capital Group BOM Capital (Tilburg, Netherlands) inked a cooperation agreement a privatized Israeli incubator, Van Leer Xenia (Jerusalem). Beyond achieving significant investment returns for its partners, BOM seeks to encourage the further growth of some of Southern Netherlands' technology hubs. "Within the Brabant area," Richard L'Ami, Foreign investments Director at BOM told MDD, "we have a large hi-tech industry, and we feel that we can offer Israeli companies a wonderful gateway to Europe." The relationship with the private Israeli group is currently one of sharing data regarding suitable and recommended Israeli companies, as well as basic initial due-diligence "We are a €120 million fund, and would hope that within two years we will have invested about €2.5 million ($3.2 million) in 2-3 Israeli companies who are at the right stage to join our Brabant community," L'Ami added. Alon Dumanis, PhD, Chair of Van Leer Xenia, added from his perspective: "It is an honor to be working with a group of the quality of BOM. We see this as great strategy towards helping our companies' financial and marketing capabilities, as they start commercializing their products in Europe."
Perhaps of all the Europeans, the Germans have been most active in encouraging links with the Jewish State. Along with a close diplomatic relationship over many decades, the size and innovativeness of the German powerhouse are likely to be key factors in generating collaborative energy. One might imagine that the fastidious German approach and the more Mediterranean Israeli casual-ness might lead to a less-optimal collaborative environment. But, in the words of a seasoned and experienced German Government source: "Well, we try to bridge that gap".
Germany brought some advanced applied technology projects to Israel for the conference. As part of a strategic review of advanced R&D in the region of Lower Bavaria (including Munich), the State has been conducting major networking activities in key world centers. In the med-tech world, Tel Aviv is one of the hubs that the local government has targeted, and Bavaria is intent on seeking suitable partnerships in these areas. The specialists who were interfacing at the conference included: Kurt Hoeller, Ph.D., Managing Director, Central Institute of Healthcare Engineering (Erlangen, Germany) and seeking partners for strategic collaborations in 3-D imaging for health applications; and Christoph Rietmuller, PhD, of the Nanostic Project at the Center or Nanotechnology (Munster, Germany), who has developed a new technology for measuring nano-level dermatological disruptions in the skin and was seeking suitable partners in cosmetics/aesthetics at the conference. "We are coming to Israel with a few goals", explained Hoeller, "we see this as a great networking opportunity, both to meet strategic partners, and to develop research collaborations – and this conference, both in terms of location, and the international nature of this event – is a wonderful mix."
For visitors from Europe, U.S. and Asia, the annual IATA Biomed Conference is becoming a major networking opportunity for the industry. Advanced collaboration both at Governmental level and at the company/research levels in Europe – in spite of their current economic woes – should lead to a more fruitful year in European cooperation, and an even more successful conference next year.