(photo credit: Courtesy Enterprise Lithuania)
Israel’s Industry Center for Research and Development accompanied a delegation
of 20 local companies to promote cooperation with the US, Canada and Brazil at
the annual BIO International Conference in Chicago this week.
innovations Israeli companies offer attract great interest,” says Yariv Becher,
the Economy Ministry’s economic attaché in Chicago, citing the “overwhelming
turnout” at a special event for Israeli companies called the North America
Israel Biotech Conference.
Israel’s participation is indicative of a
According to Benny Zeevi, the managing general partner at
DFJ Tel Aviv, an investment firm, Israel’s burgeoning biotechnology industry is
transitioning from a period of incubation to one of maturity. “Compared to the
hi-tech industry, it’s relatively young, but it’s growing very fast,” he says,
noting that the number of biotech companies has nearly tripled since
Many of the factors that make Israel a hi-tech hub can make it a
hotbed of biological and medical technology as well, says Ruti Alon, a general
partner at Pitango venture capital.
“If you look at where Israel is
strong, it’s in medical devices, for which you need both science and
engineering. Combined, Israel is first in the world in patents granted
per capita, and number two in pharma,” she says.
Because both medical and
pharmacological innovations take a long time to develop and market their
products, she adds, Israel’s biotechnology is just starting to bear the fruit of
investments made in the last decade; 160 companies are in advanced clinical
trials, double the number of five years ago.
Another unique signifier of
Israeli biotech, she adds, is that its entrepreneurs tend to be very
multi-disciplinary, combining skills and knowledge from a number of fields into
That, says Zeevi, is a result of the mandatory army
“When you’re in the army, you learn how to work with a group of
people to build systems,” he says.
Israelis who train with military
technology like imaging, radar and remote sensing technologies are applying
those concepts toward health products.
The country’s small size also
helps. “This is the only place where the R&D centers talk with each other.
Everybody knows everybody,” says Zeevi.
Yet the industry faces
challenges, particularly in finding financing. “Funding is a major problem,”
says Zeevi, continuing that there is not enough venture capital focusing on the
industry. In 2012, only about 15% of capital raised in the industry came from
venture capitalists; the rest came from grants or angel investors.
that end, Zeevi and Alon chair an annual life-sciences conference called the
Israel Advanced Technology Industries Bio-med conference. The June conference will
use a special social-media platform to allow participants to vote on the agenda,
putting the most popular presenters in the center.
companies interested in biological and life sciences, says Alon, “Israel like a
The conference is expected to attract 1,000 of its 6,000
visitors from abroad, representing 40 countries.