Israel is open for business with the world.
Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority — previously known as the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel’s Ministry of Economy — spoke to a crowd of about 80 community members March 15 at Reed Smith about the future of Israeli innovation and startup companies.
The event, put on by the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, also featured Ambassador Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York; Inon Elroy, economic minister to North America for the government of Israel; and Joseph Burke, deputy secretary in the Office of International Business Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Aharon began his career at IBM, later working as chief operating officer at Zoran Corporation and CEO of the startups Seabridge and Camero.
Prior to his current position, he served as the vice president of Hardware Technologies and the general manager of Apple Israel for five years.
The Israel Innovation Authority is an independent government agency that supports Israel’s technology and innovation industries through policy implementation and investments through different stages and sectors. The organization is always searching to bankroll the next big wave among Israeli inventions in the tech industry.
It also manages domestic and international research and development cooperation agreements, including the recent signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Pennsylvania on Nov. 6, 2017.
Aharon teamed with the Israeli consulate in New York for this trip, which brought him to Philadelphia for a brief keynote address. He outlined the reasons for Israel’s success in the tech world.
Innovative high-tech waves of the recent past include Fintech, cybertech — “a necessity in Israel,” he said — and cars. Smaller innovations include virtual reality, drone technology, water desalination, and robotics and remote-controlled surgeries.
Israeli tech is everywhere — just look down at the iPhone in your hand. Aharon said there are a lot of components of each generation of the iPhone that were designed in Israel, like the camera on the most recent iPhone X, or the design of the Apple store itself.
But what makes Israeli tech so successful?
Aharon credited the Israel Defense Forces, which creates a large pool of talented young people before or after they attend university. (The government, academics, startups, private funding and the growth of companies additionally fuel the success of Israel’s tech industry.)
High-tech has had a huge impact on the Israeli economy. The high-tech industry contributes to about 43 percent of Israeli exports, but only employs 8.3 percent of the industry’s workers.
Investing in water technology and agritech was a necessity for Israel, he explained, which initially started out of a lack of water in the country as the population rose. But Aharon said it could be a continued investment in the industry.
“We are trying to build an ecosystem in each domain,” he said of water tech like smarter irrigation systems and moisture level checks, as well as advancements in personalized medicine.
Compared to other communities in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York, Aharon said Philadelphia is “a little behind, but with the greatest potential” when it comes to Israeli innovation.
“No one really knows” the next wave, Aharon admitted, but based on past experiences, “we’re quite successful in estimating what will be the waves.”
He sees the tech as good investments, considering Israel is a rather small market.
“It always has to rely on some other big markets,” he said. In Philadelphia, he sees that potential. “This is one of the reasons that we are traveling around the world, is to look at those collaborations, both in the R&D [research and development] side and the innovation side, but also the marketing side.”
Dani Dayan noted the importance of Israel’s tech work.
“It completely revolutionized the economy of the country,” he said, and also revolutionized the country itself. “We want to share that knowledge with the world, and we also want to do business.”
He said the days of the Jewish state’s “antiquated, quasi-socialist economy” are long gone, and its free and open market expands more and more each day alongside its innovation sector.
The innovation industry is also used as a diplomatic tool. Although the country has made local strides, like with the MOU, Dayan said “Israel was never less isolated in this world these days in spite of those talks about boycotting Israel,” and the world is still eager to use Israel’s technology.
“The MOU that we signed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is extremely strategic for us, but we believe it is also extremely strategic for Pennsylvania,” he said.
[email protected]; 215-832-0737