By Cindy Mindell
In December, the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the Israel Tech Transfer Organization (ITTN) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the first step in laying the foundation for better and more productive economic and research collaborations between Connecticut and Israeli businesses, research institutions, and universities.
The MoU was signed during a trade mission to Israel, led by DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith and comprised of businesses and area economic development officials. The group, tasked with facilitating business matchmaking and networking opportunities, comprised Mary Holz-Clause, UConn vice president for economic development; R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance; Laura Zimmerman, associate vice president of Jewish Public Affairs at Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford; Milton Wallack, founder of the Connecticut Stem Cell Coalition and board member of the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee; Michael Cantor, board chairman of the Connecticut Innovations economic-development agency; and Shari Cantor, deputy mayor of West Hartford, UConn board trustee, and Jewish Federation board member.
The mission was organized by DECD in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, MetroHartford Alliance, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Israel Economic Mission to North America. Meetings focused mainly on Connecticut’s top growth sectors, including aerospace, clean energies, biotechnology, finance, insurance, and precision manufacturing.
The MoU allows DECD and ITTN to assist Connecticut and Israeli companies with finding prospective partners to work with on research and development activities, manufacturing, collaborative research, and pre-clinical and clinical studies.
“As a strategic partner, Israel is filled with innovation, entrepreneurship, talent, and pioneering technologies,” says Smith. “This MoU establishes the basis for a long-term relationship that will increase collaboration and investments in key areas such as research and development, science and manufacturing. Creating opportunities for Connecticut businesses is exactly why we undertake business development missions to countries like Israel.”
ITTN is a private non-profit organization and serves as the umbrella organization for Israel’s technology transfer companies, which are responsible for a large portion of the scientific and technological innovation stemming out of Israel. ITTN’s 15 partner organizations are affiliated with leading research, hospitals and educational institutions, such as the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Technion and Tel Aviv University.
Laura Zimmerman, associate vice president of Jewish Public Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, says that this level of collaboration between Connecticut and Israel has blossomed quickly over the last three years. “The Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel Task Force has been working on changing the conversation about Israel and we didn’t just want to keep talking to ourselves about the Middle East conflict,” she says. “When we started this venture, it wasn’t about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, but rather about bringing the focus to the business world. That’s where Israel is so strong and positive, and because they have a limited market at home, they’re great at development and just need a U.S. beachhead.”
The annual Connecticut-Israel Technology Summit, a three-year-old joint initiative between the Jewish Federation and MetroHartford Alliance, has been one successful way of establishing the collaborative relationship, Zimmerman says. “This trade mission was the beginning of the new beginning.”
Over four days of morning-to-night meetings, the delegation met with representatives from the Israeli government, academic institutions, and medical centers, as well as business incubators and start-ups, and entrepreneurs from the aerospace, life-sciences, and clean-energy sectors.
The half-day “Connecticut Day in Israel” event, led by Commissioner Smith, gave the state’s economic-development leaders a chance to promote the advantages of investing and doing business in Connecticut. A panel presentation by delegates highlighted Connecticut’s workforce, business environment, and economic-development programs and included testimonials from two Israeli CEOs who have established U.S. headquarters in the state.
“Israel is known as a startup nation, with amazing companies being formed and with great technology, but the bottom line is that they reach a point where they can’t grow without leaving Israel,” says Michael Cantor. “The place they all want to go is the U.S., where they can grow their sales and marketing forces and product development and use their U.S. operations as a springboard to the rest of the world. We want to attract as many of these companies as possible.”
Zimmerman says that every company the delegation met with was considering four U.S. areas: Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, and Maryland. “So what’s Connecticut? It was Federation’s job and the state’s job to explain,” she says.
That task fell largely to delegate Shari Cantor, who bridges the realms of government, academia, and the Jewish community.
“As a community with a large Jewish population, we’re always looking for people and businesses to welcome into our town,” she says. “As a UConn trustee, I feel that there are more things we could be doing in partnership with the cutting-edge, state-of-the-art institutions in Israel, especially in education, technology transfer, and biomedicine. And as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, because this is important for our region and state, I felt that I could be helpful by talking about the quality of life that the Jewish community offers.”
While it may have a lot to offer Israeli businesses, Connecticut is also playing a game of catch-up, Zimmerman says, as 35 U.S. governors have already visited Israel to woo companies.
As the state gears up for the fourth annual Connecticut-Israel Technology Summit, Michael Cantor knows what is most important in nurturing the seeds planted during the trade mission. “In real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location,’” he says. “For us, it’s follow up, follow up, follow up.”
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