BIRD approves $8.1m. for US-Israeli ventures

The money will fund nine new joint projects in biofuels, health-care IT, e-learning and other fields.

The Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) announced the approval Tuesday of $8.1 million in funding for nine joint projects between Israeli and American companies in biofuels, health-care IT, e-learning and other fields.
BIRD’s board of governors, which consists of three Israeli government representatives and three US government representatives, has approved $294m. in funding for 830 projects since it was established in 1977 to generate cooperation between the two countries’ hitech sectors. Those projects have led to combined direct and indirect sales of more than $8 billion.
This latest list of projects demonstrates a shift in the balance of power between the Israeli and American hitech sectors, US chairman of the board Phillip Singerman told The Jerusalem Post by telephone from Washington, DC.
In the past, the foundation mainly paired small Israeli companies with larger US companies, with the idea that the Israelis would provide technological capabilities in exchange for market access, he said. But the approval this time of three joint projects featuring US start-ups indicates that Israel now offers the Americans more than previously, he said.
One of the US start-ups to be approved Tuesday was St. Louis, Missouri- based EndoStim, which together with AGM Tonson will develop an implantable medical device to treat acid reflux. Other projects include the development by QualiSystems and New Jersey- based OnPath of an advanced platform for network lab management and the creation by Semantipedia and California- based Daylight CIS of a Web-based semantic platform for life sciences.
Singerman, who heads the US National Institute of Standards and Technology’s innovation and industry services division, said BIRD does not target any particular technological field, but rather allows the marketplace to bring forward high-quality projects.
“This is consistent with my experience at similar seed funding programs: that the small early-stage companies are the ones at the forefront of new technological development,” he said.
However, Singerman pointed out that BIRD Energy, a program created by the US Department of Energy and Israel’s National Infrastructures Ministry, identifies projects solely dealing with energy efficiency.
Herzliya firm HCL Cleantech, which was approved last year for a joint project with Wisconsin’s Virent Energy Systems, received significant money from BIRD Energy and is now being courted by a number of US states interesting in having it establish a factory to extract sugars and special oils from biomass, Singerman said. Mississippi is considering offering a $100m. incentive to build a plant using HCL technology, he said.
As a result of the US economic troubles of the past few years, Israeli companies large and small have increasingly been looking eastward for new opportunities, which could be expected to affect demand for joint US-Israeli initiatives. But Singerman said he sees this trend as a “good thing” because it allows American companies to manufacture at home before using their partnerships with Israeli companies to market internationally.
“The United States recognizes we’re in a global economy, that we’re only five percent of the world’s population and that if we’re to continue to have economic potency, we need to sell internationally... and the BIRD Foundation helps support that,” Singerman said.
“This probably was not anticipated as a positive outcome of the program when it was established,” he said, “but one of the program’s benefits is it has a very strong flexible model that allows the projects to adapt to changing international economic conditions.”