Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Israeli Innovation Inspires

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Colin Rubenstein

 

This past month has seen a celebration of Israeli innovation in Australia. This focus culminated in the Australian Government's release of its new innovation strategy, in which Israel's experience was an obviously useful model in promoting Australia's start-up aspirations.

In fact, one of Australia's new initiatives as part of its "Global Innovation Strategy" is to enable Australian start-ups to have access to innovation hubs called "Landing Pads" in key international markets, with the first ones being established in Tel Aviv and the Silicon Valley. Explaining the idea, Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said, "A Landing Pad provides for a collaborative workspace and facilities including office space and meeting rooms for up to two months, as well as accelerated access to international business networks, entrepreneurial talent, business development and investment opportunities."

The Australian innovation hub in Tel Aviv is likely to facilitate not only the sharing of ideas, but also ongoing partnerships and collaborations between Israeli and Australian companies that will benefit both countries and also deepen an already close economic and political relationship.

This significant announcement followed an official visit to Australia by Israel's Chief Scientist Avi Hasson. His office has a unique "MNC program" whereby the Chief Scientist helps multinational companies find Israeli technologies meeting the corporation's needs and provides financial support for completing necessary R&D.

While in Australia, Mr Hasson signed an MNC agreement with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which indicated it had a particular interest in collaborating with Israeli start-ups working on cyber security and big-data analytics.

During his visit, Mr. Hasson also relaunched VISTECH, an R&D cooperation program between Victoria and Israel that will fund joint projects. Commenting on his time in Australia, Mr. Hasson said, "This visit is clearly a testament to the high regard Australia has for the Israeli innovation economy. A number of Australian government and trade delegations have visited Israel in recent months, focusing on lessons from the ‘Startup Nation' in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship."

One of the most recent and fruitful of those delegations mentioned by Hasson was the Australian-Israel Chamber of Commerce one co-led by Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy in early November. It included 44 entrepreneurs, industry representatives and government envoys, who came to Israel to discuss innovation. The delegation's visit was widely reported in the Australian media, with Mr. Roy noting in the Australian that there are a number of things Australia can learn from Israel, including, "how they attract capital for investment in innovation, their culture of collaboration and risk taking and how they educate people not just with core computing skills but also the entrepreneurial spirit."

Mr Roy's delegation was followed up with a Dec. 14 meeting between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne - which Pyne described as timely, given the government's new innovation strategy, while noting Israel's "remarkable rate of success in commercialising innovation and turning bright ideas into viable commercial outcomes."

Why the focus on Israel? After all Israel is a tiny country of around 8 million people, surrounded by enemies, and until its recent natural gas finds, largely without natural resources. And yet in the past two decades Israel has transformed its economy to become an innovation powerhouse - it has per capita the largest number of start-up companies in the world; it is ranked number two in the world for venture capital funds behind the US; it has 89 Israel-based companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange (compared with Australia's 17).

Today, Australia is looking to transform its economy, an apparent necessity as the mining boom of the last 15 years has run out of steam, while the combination of science, innovation, and entrepreneurialism are today recognised as key ingredients to grow prosperity for all developed economies.

Australian leaders in both business and politics clearly hold Israeli innovation in great esteem and the recent positive Australian media coverage of Israel-influenced innovation policy and highly-fruitful trade missions should inevitably lead to increased understanding amongst Australians of the benefits of Israeli-Australian collaborations.

Further, these kind of partnerships also demonstrate how destructive and reactionary are the pathetic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. They make the anti-Israel boycotters appear small-minded, ridiculous, and even hurtful to the Australian economy - as indeed they are.

Yet there is another motivation for this cooperation that has not yet received the attention it deserves. Business collaborations between Australia and Israel should not be strictly bilateral - they should also be strongly focussed on leveraging the enormous opportunities in the rapidly growing and modernising economies of the Asia Pacific.

As co-author of Start-Up Nation, Saul Singer told the Australian Financial Review, "I think Australia can become a regional innovation hub, a hub for South-East Asia as well as combining forces with Israel."

Israel has already pivoted towards Asia, with that trading region now its second largest after Europe, and expanding rapidly. Israeli companies have a significant presence throughout, including even in countries like Indonesia that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. Enterprising and alert Australian companies should be looking for ways to leverage Israel's economic presence in Asia - while Israeli entrepreneurs could also benefit from Australia's own contacts and local knowledge to help jointly fulfil regional needs in hi-tech, water and agricultural technology, software, biomed and many other fields. This is especially true in light of recent free-trade agreements, particularly with China, that enable Australians to broaden their markets to reach billions from Asia's emerging middle class.

We are already 15 years into the prophesied "Pacific Century", with the centre of the world's economy moving rapidly East. Being fully part of that century means not only fostering an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, but leveraging the sorts of economic and technological synergies that Israel and Australia obviously have to take part in the amazing economic rise of South, South-East, and East Asia.

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