Israeli hi-tech companies with global ambitions could soon be turning to London instead of California’s Silicon Valley if a new initiative launched by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv proves successful.

The Hi-Tech Hub @ the British Embassy will promote the United Kingdom’s economic growth by creating technological partnerships between the UK and Israel. Launched last week, it will employ six staff members, including experts in the fields of digital, cleantech, biotech and the Arab-Israeli hi-tech community.

British Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts was in Israel this week to promote the hub with a delegation of leaders in digital technology, including venture capitalists. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was also here over the weekend, in between meetings of European finance ministers, to support the initiative.

The coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron has prioritized technological cooperation with Israel, after years of neglect by previous governments, Willetts told The Jerusalem Post during an interview at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan on Sunday.

“We realize we’ve got some catching up to do,” he said. “A lot of Israeli entrepreneurs, as soon as they think about going international – and, of course, with Israel that happens very early on – they tend to look straight away to the west coast of the US. And I’m here to try to get them to think at least about the option of an operation in London.”

“We have a network of venture- capital finance that is keen to back start-ups,” Willetts said. “We have a concentration of great universities. We have all the services in London that any business needs, [such as] finance and law. And we also, of course, are a window to the world... Almost every major company has a London operation.”

Pointing to London’s Tech City, the technology hub of about 200 firms in the city’s East End, Willetts said the government is prioritizing hitech. The UK is expanding technological cooperation with the BRIC group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), he said, adding that the hi-tech hub in Israel was a first. Israel’s small entrepreneurs reminded him of those at the Tech City.

In addition to promoting the hi-tech hub, Willetts also signed key deals this week to expand academic exchanges.

On Sunday, he and Chief Scientist Avi Hasson agreed to establish a hi-tech council that they will jointly chair. On Monday, he and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz announced the establishment of BIRAX – the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership in Regenerative Medicine. Britain’s Medical Research Council and Israel’s Science and Technology Ministry will provide matching funding of up to £50,000 (NIS 293,000) each for the new scheme. Willetts said it might also be possible to obtain European funding for joint research programs.


He also held a roundtable discussion with Palestinian entrepreneurs in Ramallah on Monday. He called the discussion “a brainstorming session about Palestinian-British ICT business links,” saying he would welcome the possibility of expanding three-way business links between the UK, the Palestinians and Israel.

Willetts rejected the suggestion that anti-Israel boycott campaigns in the UK would affect government policy, saying: “I know it’s a source of concern [in Israel], and that’s one of the reasons I came here… I’m here to make it absolutely clear that Israelis are very warmly welcome in the UK.”

If anything, the British government is only increasing economic cooperation with Israel, he said, citing his and the Osborne’s visits this week. Culture and Communications Minister Edward Vaizey plans to lead a delegation to Israel early next year, he added.

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