NEW YORK – Rutgers University in New Jersey, Tel Hai College in the Upper Galilee, and the Knesset Economic Development Task Force in the North and Negev signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday to launch an unprecedented initiative: the New Jersey-Israel Healthy, Functional and Medical Foods Alliance.
The alliance aims to “foster collaboration among the parties focused on scientific research, technology commercialization, and business incubation,” as well as to “develop a world-class business cluster for the development of the healthy, functional and medical foods industry in both Israel and New Jersey.”
Medical foods are foods that contain substantiated health-promoting or disease-preventing benefits beyond the basic delivery of nutrients. In other words, these foods act just like prescription drugs. They help prevent, mitigate or treat diseases such as metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, and other types of food intolerances.
“Today you can show that there is a direct relation between your DNA and what you eat,” Task Force chairman MK Erel Margalit, who was present at the memorandum’s signing, told The Jerusalem Post
. “People want to take less medication that they don’t know what the hell they are, and take more things that are natural, that are growing in nature.”
Over the past few years, Margalit has been working to develop Israel region by region.
His vision is to build seven regions of excellence across the country by identifying the strength of each one and by working with local businesses, municipalities, and academic and research institutions.
The goal is to attract investment, create job growth and turn a region’s competitive advantage into a leading environment in its field.
“When I look at a region, I ask: what can we do here that in five years we can lead the country with?” he explained. “I say to regions who think they have been left behind: don’t think small, think big.”
After working to develop the cyber industry and helping spark a “start up fever” in Beersheba, Margalit wants to create a center of excellence in the Galilee. To do so, the Knesset member brought 20 mayors of the region’s municipalities together. The group came up with three main themes: food, agriculture and health care. The combination of the three creates the category of medical and therapeutic foods.
Margalit explained that he was on a tour of the Galilee, learning about the region, when he was “stunned by the opportunity.”
“As somebody who knows how to identify an investment field, not just a company, I was stunned by the level of innovation and the lack of business strategy around some of this innovation,” he told the Post.
“And so one of the big messages to connect with New Jersey is creating a sort of international center of excellence which has a leg here and a leg there.”
The alliance with Rutgers University indeed lines up with Margalit’s vision to turn the Galilee into a medical food powerhouse.
“Almost every Israeli company that has a great idea needs a US base,” he told the Post. “It just makes a lot of sense. Rutgers is probably the leading university in the US in agriculture and food technologies.”
Tel Hai College is also part of the partnership.
Connecting it with Rutgers University will bring a big boost to their incubator systems, according to Margalit.
Senior vice president for research and economic development at Rutgers, Christopher J. Molloy, has also expressed his satisfaction with the collaboration.
“This innovative collaboration is exciting because it promises to further engage Rutgers researchers with some of New Jersey’s most important industry sectors,” he said. “We’re enthusiastic about its potential for having a substantial economic impact.”
Margalit explained that the alliance not only sends a message to the food and agriculture industry, but also to investors.
According to him, it creates a new category of investment that could have a large impact on the marketplace and on job creation.
“That’s what I see. That’s what we should be doing, and I don’t care if I’m the opposition, if I’m a minister or whatever,” he said.
Margalit added that he is confident that the Galilee will become a center of excellence in Israel, with around 20,000 or 30,000 new employees in the field within the next five to seven years.
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