Innovation and determination defeat bureaucracy

Clearly, this is the future: Knowledge- based technologies using need inspired basic research.

Ben-Gurion University campus in Beersheba 370 (photo credit: BGU)
Ben-Gurion University campus in Beersheba 370
(photo credit: BGU)
On Tuesday, September 3, the prime minister of Israel will cut the ribbon and thus officially open the new Advanced Technologies Park (ATP) in the Negev. The photos will show a happy array of people – including myself, the mayor of Beersheba, many other government dignitaries and hi-tech industry and business leaders from Israel and around the world – celebrating an achievement that will have a profound impact on the State of Israel.
Covering an area of some 23 acres adjacent to the Marcus Family Campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Soroka University Medical Center and the planned base of the Israel Defense Forces’ elite technology units, it is slated to become Israel’s new “Silicon Wadi” and “Cyber Alley,” building on the exceptional entrepreneurial Israeli spirit that was so articulately outlined in the book Start Up Nation.
Without a doubt, the synergy of a hitech industrial center that leverages the know-how and research potential of BGU researchers and students is creating an academia-industry ecosystem conducive to innovation and excellence.
Nevertheless, the magnificent first building of the ATP is also a reminder that determination, aided with the support of international companies, is sometimes crucial in overcoming the bureaucratic forces in Israel that in more than just a few cases has suffocated new ideas.
Despite the shared belief that the ATP and the move of the IDF is part of a greater vision to move Israel’s hi-tech capital to the Negev, it has taken more than 13 years to bring the plan to fruition. Four prime ministers supported the initiative, originally proposed by then-BGU president Prof. Avishay Braverman, sure that such a park would bring a critical mass of hi-tech employment opportunities to Israel’s southern region, enabling excellent BGU graduates to settle in the Negev and strengthen the country as a whole.
Prime minister Ehud Barak was at the original cornerstone ceremony in September 2000. Ariel Sharon supported the initiative. Ehud Olmert promised the funding with his comprehensive Daroma plan in 2006 and participated in a ground-breaking ceremony in 2007. And only now, in 2013, Binyamin Netanyahu is dedicating the first building.
For all that Israel talks about nurturing initiative and entrepreneurship, it is time that the system be updated and raised to the task. While at BGU last year, Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann spoke about the need for business leaders to be “nimble and quick” to deal with the changing business environment. Indeed, in 2006, DT made a calculated business decision to create the Telekom Innovation Laboratories at BGU, the company’s first R&D facility outside Germany, because it recognized the untapped potential of BGU and the region.
It is time for Israel to take a serious look at its mammoth bureaucracies and related government offices – where the simplest tasks can become herculean – and focus on the business of innovation. It is time we create a professional environment that efficiently encourages and promotes economic development rather than discourages it.
How did we overcome these obstacles in the Negev? With a lot determination and “out of the box” thinking, nurtured and supported by an array of international friends who simply wouldn’t accept “no” as an answer.
In 2007, with the creation of a joint public-private partnership of BGU, the Beersheba Municipality and the development company KUD International, the ATP became a project that was not going to go away. Now under the management of Israel’s largest developer of hi-tech parks, Gav-Yam Negev, the ATP is open for business.
Tenants of the first building include international powerhouses such as Deutsche Telekom, EMC, RSA, Ness Technologies, Allscripts-dbMotion, Oracle, Elbit Incubit incubator, Dalet, JVP and BGN’s CyberLabs incubator, and BGN Technologies. Just last week IBM announced its intention to open its own cyber center in cooperation with the university. Construction has already begun on the next building – one of the planned 16.
EMC vice president and Israeli hitech pioneer Dr. Orna Berry was one of the first business leaders to sign on.
She chose to create an International EMC center in the Negev when the ATP was still hardly on paper. She recently noted that “the Negev is close to my heart. I believe in the vision of making the Negev bloom.” But as a sophisticated entrepreneur and a hitech industrialist she also recognized the great business potential of the move.
A recent survey found that over 25 percent of BGU undergraduates and an astounding 60% of master’s students were extremely dissatisfied with the employment opportunities in the south. The results are sure to be very different already by next year.
Momentum has its own power. The IDF has thrown all of its expertise into the move of its bases south. This, combined with the support of a number of major governmental offices and the firm commitment of the prime minister to the development of the Negev, suggests real change is at hand.
Clearly, this is the future: Knowledge- based technologies using need inspired basic research is the core of cooperation of industry with academia thus creating a hi-tech ecosystem that will change the face of the Negev by building a strong economy and a prosperous community that will benefit all of Israel.The author is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.