A little more than a week ago, the Israel Innovation Center was opened in the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa. Many of Israel’s most famous citizens were in attendance, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, alongside the Center for Peace’s founder, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (1). The center was established to “showcase [technological] achievements of the past” while also promoting peace through innovation in Israel and abroad (2). The opening of the center provides a good opportunity to consider where Israel stands in the contemporary tech and science landscape and what the center can do to bolster Israel’s position as an innovator in the coming years.
Israel is something of an oddity in the world of science and technology. It is a country with roughly the population of Virginia, situated in a particularly unstable region of the globe. While it is certainly a wealthy country, its per capita GDP is actually much lower than other comparable countries like Ireland or Austria. Yet despite all of this, Israel has made a plethora of contributions in a wide variety of fields from Cryptography to Medicine to Physics. Israeli citizens helped to create the encryption system RSA, the first USB flash drives, and Azilect, which is used to treat early stage Parkinson’s. Israel also has one of the most well educated populations in the world, with roughly 50% of the present population having attained some level of tertiary education. However, there are several factors that make business and research harder to start in Israel than it might be in other states. The first factor is the country’s location, both geographically and politically. Israel’s small size and population can make it hard for businesses and apps started there to reach a critical mass of customers needed for long term market viability. This problem is compounded by a lack of nearby markets to expand into as most of Israel’s neighbors are comparatively poor, unstable, and not particularly friendly towards Israel or its businesses. By contrast, small countries in the EU like Denmark can easily sell and expand into large neighboring markets like Germany and France thanks to the freedoms provided by the Union’s single market. Many of the problems that affect Israeli business also affect Israeli research by reducing possibilities for academic collaboration.
So what can the Israeli Innovation Center do to fix these problems? The biggest thing the center can do to aid in spurring innovation in Israel might be providing a conduit between Israel and the rest of the world. If the center can serve as a meeting point between innovators from Israel and other parts of the world, the cost of expanding and collaborating outside of Israel could be reduced. Beyond that, simply having an entity like the Center which can serve as a sort of dedicated advertiser for the successes and triumphs made by Israeli innovators could also help to attract more opportunities for future Israeli projects.
(1) Tepper, Fitz. "Israel Is Opening an Innovation Center to Showcase Israeli Technology and Inspire Young entrepreneurs." TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 22 July 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.
(2) "Launch of the Israeli Innovation Center." Peres Center for Peace. The Peres Center for Peace, 21 July 2016. Web. 29 July 2016.
Image: © Inna Felker | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-photo-modern-futuristic-architecture-building-herzliya-israel-august-urban-landscape-image60495686#res14972580">Modern futuristic architecture building, Herzliya, Israel.</a>