PICC Picks Up Pace During Quarantine

A PICC Innovation Mission to the Migal Galilee Research Institute in Israel,
A PICC Innovation Mission to the Migal Galilee Research Institute in Israel, involving companies and investors from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. PICC is attempting to re-create such meetings digitally. (Photo by Vered Nohi)

Vered Nohi got on the phone last week with an Israeli company that was trying to make an improvement to disinfecting material — one that might be able to help businesses bring customers back inside their doors faster.

They were trying to get in touch with a company in the Greater Philadelphia region, one that might be able to help pilot the new disinfectant, then bring it to market. Within days, Nohi had identified a suitable partner, and discussions began. That’s how a shidduch is made.

“This is super fast,” Nohi said. “This is not normal.”

“This,” meaning the pairing of regional businesses and educational institutes to potential partners in Israel, is actually quite normal for Nohi, executive director of the Philadelphia Israel Chamber of Commerce. What’s not normal is, well, everything else. Like ensuring the flow of life-saving PPE, for instance.

PICC’s annual gala, intended to serve as an in-person opportunity for innovators from Israel and the Greater Philadelphia region to meet, was scrapped, along with many other planned in-person events. And though PICC typically pairs businesses and educational institutions across a wide range of industries to fill in technological gaps, Nohi said, she and the board find themselves working around the clock to make pairings for projects specific to COVID-19.

“My work has changed tremendously,” Nohi said, “because we are working full force with our partners, with my board, with as many people as we can engage, various organizations in the region … to help local companies and in Israel bring to market solutions for COVID-19.”

The pandemic, Nohi believes, crystallized the value of PICC.

PICC, founded in 1987, is a nonprofit dedicated to organizational matchmaking, but also to helping companies from the region and from Israel enter the other’s market. Some of their biggest local partners include Jefferson’s hospital and university, Lockheed Martin and TEVA Pharmaceuticals; in Israel, PICC works extensively with institutions like the Sheba Medical Center, one of the world’s most highly regarded hospitals and the country’s hub for COVID-19 research. In addition, PICC helps companies ventures apply for US-Israel Binational Industrial R&D Foundation grants, awards of up to $1 million for joint U.S.-Israel ventures.

Though Nohi is PICC’s only full-time employee, she is joined in her work by committees made up of business community luminaries from around the region, all working to encourage closer ties between regional innovators and their Israeli counterparts. According to Matthew Fingerman, president of PICC and a vice president and senior wealth manager for BNY Mellon Wealth Management, PICC is the only organization in the region focused on such work.

The mission hasn’t changed during the pandemic and the accompanying quarantine, but some of the specifics of what PICC is asked to do certainly has. Like, say, directing PPE and ventilators to governments across the world.

“When this all started,” Fingerman said, “we were one of the centers of helping direct PPE and other essential medical supplies between a lot of the states, as well as the state of Israel and some of the suppliers over there.”

Some of PICC’s most exciting work in the last few months, Nohi said, came through a partnership formed with Temple University’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry. PICC is helping to connect school representatives with medical technology companies in Israel. Together, they’re still doing their typical work in advancing the field of dentistry, but at the same time, they’re trying to figure out how health care providers can do so safely.

The dean of the school, Amid I. Ismail, has done “unbelievable work” bringing together Israeli and Palestinian dental students as well, Fingerman added, which is part of what makes that partnership most exciting for him.

PICC is also lending a hand in bringing to market a new kind of ventilator, the so-called “Dragon Ventilator,” developed at Drexel University.

“We want to help whoever we can,” Fingerman said.

If you’ve figured out that the mechanics of helping dentist’s offices to reopen might be applicable to other sectors, you’ve caught up to PICC. They’re working with food industry partners to figure out how they can keep supply chains running as close to normal capacity as possible, without sacrificing the health of the people who make that possible.

Though Nohi and Fingerman both appreciate the value of the in-person delegations and missions that constitute an important part of PICC’s work, they’re doing their best to recreate them. Online conferences bringing together food industry representatives for the purposes of BIRD Foundation grant tips aren’t quite the same as accompanying Gov. Tom Wolf on a mission to Israel, as they did in January, but it’s a start.

“It’s very tough to do virtual events, but we’re adapting to it,” Fingerman said.

What Nohi emphasized, in the swirl of these projects, is the importance of speed. Educational institutes, for example, typically move slowly with the sort of research and projects that they’re engaged in, according to Nohi.

Not so, now. It’s only because of PICC’s pre-existing relationships with such entities that matches can be made with the appropriate speed, Nohi said. She characterized the prevailing mood thusly: “This is not the time to take your time.”

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