Seven decades in the life and times of a nation is something to celebrate.
Over the next five months — in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties — the Maryland/Israel Development Center will present “Start Up Nation: Israel’s 70th Anniversary Series.”
The kickoff event of the five-part series, “Israel’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” will be held on Wednesday, March 21, from 8-10 a.m. in Annapolis at the Lowe House Office Building, Baltimore County Delegation Room 180, at 6 Bladen St.
Among the speakers will be MIDC Executive Director Barry Bogage and Eran Nitzan, minister for economic affairs at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. In addition, representatives of two Israeli high-tech firms with offices in Maryland – ELTA North America and Medispec – will talk about making inroads in the U.S. market.
Also, grant opportunities for up to $1 million for American-Israeli research-and-development collaborations will be presented at the event, which is co-sponsored by the MIDC, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the event’s partner.
The MIDC is a nonprofit public-private partnership that promotes bilateral trade investment between Israel and Maryland. The organization’s founding partners are the Maryland Department of Commerce, Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Trade, and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.’
As of late December, more than 20 Maryland-based Israeli companies have contributed $185 million to the state’s economy. Jmore recently spoke to Bogage and Nitzan about the series and economic ties between Israel and Maryland.
Jmore: What exactly is Israel’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Bogage: To build a high-tech entrepreneurial ecosystem like Israel’s, it’s essential to have a mix of elements, including research labs and universities developing knowledge and technology; support programs like incubators and accelerators; engines of growth to kick-start certain industries such as hospitals for health care and the military for defense, cyber and IT; a well-trained workforce with experienced managers and executives; private resources like venture capital, angel investors and specialists like patent attorneys; and large companies that can spin off and/or purchase technology. This addresses the needs of a startup throughout their life cycle of growth.
Then, you need to sprinkle in a dose of the intangible cultural element of risk-taking, in other words people who are willing to leave steady jobs for the dream of entrepreneurship. That’s the magic mix Israel has, and Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin [Tex.] and parts of India have it, too. And that’s what Maryland is working toward.
Nitzan: There is also an advantage in the cluster of Israeli companies in specific areas. It’s easier to invest where you already have investment. You have people who can advise you, plus you have an understanding and interconnection with many companies that can contribute to each other from their experience working here.
Describe the synergy between Israeli and Maryland executives and companies.
Nitzan: The Maryland/Israel Development Center is a very important part of this synergy. The MIDC contributes to communities of investors and encourages Israeli companies to establish a presence in Maryland.
Maryland is situated between New York and Washington, D.C., between the financial market and the national government and its security agencies. So this geographical setting is good, as is the fact that Maryland is on the East Coast, making it easier for Israeli companies to work with executives here.
What makes partnerships between Israeli and Maryland companies successful?
Bogage: First, does the technology meet customer needs? There is no better proof of concept than a paying customer, perhaps through goods sold in another part of the world. Second is an intangible: Can the partners work together? If the technology is in the marketing stage and they are working with a distributor, can they see eye-to-eye on how to position the product in the market? For example, it might take many months to get customers here while management is impatient for results.
Third, to be successful in this country, the technology must fit in with how Americans want to see a product. That means managing expectations.
Nitzan: It’s also a lot about chemistry between the people, the desire to work together in ways that enable Israelis to understand Americans, and Americans to understand Israelis.
Name a few examples of these partnerships.
Nitzan: There are many. Roboteam, based in Gaithersburg, designs, develops and manufactures unmanned platforms and controllers for the defense industry. For example, it has a technical robotic system that makes our troops safer. Roboteam is an excellent example where you have investors and markets, including the public sector.
Sesame Enable, based in Bethesda, is another. It produces smartphones that can be operated through head movements and voice controls. This technology helps people with limited or no hand movement to use this touch-free smartphone.
What could make these partnerships even more successful?
Bogage: Israelis and others coming from other countries must do their homework about working with Americans. For example, big organizations here buy from solution providers [who combine myriad products], not manufacturers. Israelis need to understand that. According to many Israelis, the problem with Americans is that they won’t say what they’re thinking.
On the American side, we must recognize that people from another country will have different reference points. Israelis can be passionate about what they’re discussing, while Americans might think they are having an argument. I tell Americans, “Just tell the Israelis what you think.”
What grant opportunities will be discussed at the Annapolis event?
Bogage: We will discuss a fantastic program from the BIRD Foundation, which stands for Bi-National Research and Development. BIRD is offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Israel Ministry of Commerce and Trade, providing provides grants up to $1 million for American and Israeli companies to partner.
One example here in Maryland is Mantero, based in Germantown, which produces technology for first-responders, in partnership with an Israeli company, Beeper Communications.
If a BIRD project fails, you don’t have to repay the investors. If the project succeeds, you pay royalties out of sales. BIRD has no ownership.
The “Start Up Nation” series is free for MIDC member and $15 for non-members. For information, visit marylandisrael.org/home/events/ or email contact Nancy Boguslaw, MIDC’s director of programs and development, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Advance registration is required.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.