Aharon Aharon is CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority.
The founders of Israel had a vision for the country to be more than just a physical home of the Jewish people, but also a major spiritual, cultural and scientific centre – and it has become just that.
For Israel, a country that is geographically small and removed from major global markets, with few natural resources, innovation has become the most valuable national asset. As Shimon Peres, our beloved former president said in 2016, “In the absence of nature assets, we found the greatest asset of all, the human asset, which is far richer than any other asset. It will enable us to turn our landscape, from swamps and deserts into flourishing homeland.”
To advance its ingrained entrepreneurial spirit, Israel established a unique ecosystem of innovation, where the government strives to strengthen infrastructure for innovation and prompts the private sector to invest in innovation through various incentives. The military sector contributes a pool of skilled personnel with relevant experience, and Israel’s academia boasts some of the best institutions for education and scientific research worldwide.
Israel’s unique public-private partnership enables both sectors to achieve the prosperity they never could have gained separately. The Israel Innovation Authority, an independent public entity, enriches private-sector innovation by enhancing – not replacing – private-sector investment. True innovation comes with inherent high risk and potential market failures.
By investing in those risky or early-stage areas that private capital generally does not like to touch, the Israel Innovation Authority’s conditional grants ensure private-sector investors have room to participate so that they can fully support a company as it moves to less risky stages.
In such events, the Innovation Authority receives royalties from successful projects, up to the provided grant level, thus encouraging the invention of disruptive technologies that will come to reshape our future.
Today, a testament to this successful partnership is Israel’s global ranking as No. 1 in research and development expenditure as percentage of GDP – of which 84 per cent comes from the private sector. Israel also ranks No. 1 in venture capital investments as a percentage of GDP. Today, more than 350 leading multinational corporations are active in Israel and an average of 600 startups launch in Israel on an annual basis.
At the beginning of 2016, Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist, which was in charge of Israel’s innovation policy for the past 45 years, made the transition into the Israel Innovation Authority. Due to the establishment of a thriving high-tech industry in the country, the body updated its structure and mission statement to better align with the changing needs of the innovation sector.
Our goal is to upgrade the “Startup Nation” to the “Growth and Innovation Nation.” We aim to do so by helping more tech firms grow in Israel, encouraging multinational corporations to expand their operations in Israel beyond R&D, injecting an innovative spirit into the manufacturing industries and harnessing our expertise in information and communication technology (ICT) to lead the digital revolutions of the future.
For the past 25 years, Canada has been one of Israel’s prominent innovation partners, since the establishment of the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Fund (CIIRDF), through the implementation of additional collaborative programs in various fields and models at the provincial and federal levels, as well as with stakeholders in the private sector.
Israel’s collaboration with Canada is characterized by projects in which, on average, more than 50 requests for R&D collaboration between Israeli companies and Canadian partners are being processed every year. Furthermore, sometime this year, and for the first time ever, we plan to launch an innovation dialogue led by the Israel Innovation Authority and Global Affairs Canada, aimed at facilitating the transfer of accumulated expertise and experience for the purpose of identifying new collaboration opportunities.
We believe Israel to be the engine that can bring technological innovations that will shape modern lives across the world. The country is on the cutting edge of several high-tech fields including, but not limited to, precision agriculture, life sciences and digital health, smart transportation, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Characteristics such as entrepreneurial spirit and multidisciplinary tendencies allow Israeli innovators to be at the forefront of their industries, rather than follow existing trends.
We implement programs designed to bring minority and underrepresented populations into the high-tech sector in order to expand its inherent advantages and enhance its financial impact on the Israeli market and society. In doing so, we support production and exports, create employment opportunities and act in a key role in maintaining Israel’s position at the forefront of global innovation.