Dressed to kill, everyone kept looking around the room trying to find that special someone. They’d talk to this person here, then another, trying to find out if they might be compatible.
Then it was on to the next one, hoping maybe that the connection would last.
Sounds like a singles event at a local establishment? Well, not exactly.
Welcome to the NextGen First Responders and Homeland Security Technologies Summit at the University City Science Center, where startup companies from Israel trying to set up shop in the United States were searching for suitable American partners.
The goal is to develop safe and efficient products that will help first responders — law enforcement officials, firefighters, paramedics and folks working at 911 emergency call centers — do their jobs.
Or, as Daniel Cotter, director of the First Responder Group, Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, put it: “Our job is to make sure whether someone’s facing pulling a cat out of as tree or a terrorist event he has the equipment, training and the technology he needs to be safe and effective.”
To that end, nearly 100 businesspeople turned out Jan. 25 to hear pitches from various companies and explanations for how their products would revolutionize the industry.
What they’re seeking — besides business companionship — is one of some 20 to 30 $1 million grants from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.
“I represent the BIRD Foundation,” said Vered Nohi, executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, which arranged the summit. “They give grants for Israeli and American companies who do joint ventures that end in commercialization.
“We’re basically making introductions of companies so we can craft joint ventures. If this money is not spent here in Pennsylvania, it will go to other regions.
“This turnout shows how much this region values innovation and commercialization and the ties we have with Israel. This year, seven Israeli-founded companies opened an office in the commonwealth.
“That shows we’re very effective.”
According to Nohi, the deadline application for BIRD Foundation grants is fast approaching. It’s Feb. 15 for first responder applicants, March 15 for others.
That doesn’t give companies like Salamandra Zone, which has developed technology that enables elevators to work in the case of fire or other emergencies when they’re normally shut down, much time to find an American mate.
“We’re here looking for potential manufacturers to build our main market in the U.S.” said Salamandra CEO Marat Maayan, who planned to go to Florida next to meet other prospective suitors before heading back to Tel Aviv. “It’s good to meet the main integrators and companies and hear their opinions, and hopefully we’ll manage to find the right partner.
“We found out who was coming here and made connections with some of them to meet now or later.”
As far as Israel is concerned, this is a win-win, with Philadelphia’s warmth toward new businesses making it the perfect landing spot for expansion-minded Israeli companies.
“Philadelphia is very friendly, and the people are more open,” said Inon Elroy, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s economic minister to North America. “They have more patience than some other places in the U.S.
“We consider the BIRD Foundation one of the most important programs. The BIRD Foundation was initiated by the federal government and Israel to support cooperation in technology. The program’s existed since 1977 and has already given support to more than 800 companies.
“We have different programs in other countries, but this is the most prestigious.”
Cotter, who’s worked with Homeland Security since 2005, said having this summit and the foundation working on its behalf couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s really a critical time for first responders,” Cotter said. “The threats they face are changing rapidly, whether it’s a fire, an active shooter, a terrorism incident or dealing with hazardous waste material. They’re the first ones on the scene.
“Our job is to do research and find the products and materials they can use to do a safer and more effective job.
“The way the program is set up offers to share and leverage costs. If offers lots of advantages.”
In fact, the entire summit seemed to accomplish what Nohi and the BIRD Foundation were seeking.
“We were able to bring together people with expertise from different aspects of first responders and Homeland Security,” Nohi said.
“Now I hope to see an increase in applications for BIRD grants in our region. But it takes time for takes time for companies to decide what projects they want to apply for and finding the right partner.”
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