Texas, Israel pursue joint ventures
By ABIGAIL KLEINH LEICHMAN (ISRAEL21c)
A business and academic delegation from the seventh largest city in the United States went home from Israel with two major collaborative agreements in hand — one in diabetes research and the other in water technology.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro led the five-day summer mission from Texas, during which municipal water system CEO Robert Puente signed a memorandum of understanding with Ein Netafim Eilat water utility, and BioMed SA president Ann Stevens signed a memorandum of intent with BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Castro and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also committed to jointly promote economic cooperation and bilateral trade, with a particular emphasis on renewable energy, biotechnology, education and social and cultural affairs.
Puente tells ISRAEL21c that the agreement with Ein Netafim “represents an opportunity to exchange technology, best management practices and innovative ways to deal with wastewater.”
He followed up with Eilat representatives at the September 18th Texas-Israel Cleanovation Conference in Houston.
One likely area of cooperation is dealing with persistent drought, which has affected both Israel and South Texas for the past few years. Another is seawater desalination, a process already begun in Israel and under development in San Antonio for 2016. The delegation took a tour of Israel’s large desalination plant in Hadera.
For Puente, one of the highlights was learning about Israel’s incubator method of developing business ideas for water and clean technology.
“By providing the seed money necessary for growth in the critical first two or three years, they assure the sustainability of startup companies so once they turn the corner they can be advantageous to investors and the community,” he says. “We’re excited about this model. Our delegation has already had a follow-up meeting here to keep momentum going.”
Puente and Stevens will appear in a documentary on the mission to Israel, to be aired next month by San Antonio’s public television station, KLRN-TV. Roee Madai, Israel’s Consul for Economic Affairs for the US Southern Region, based in Houston, was also interviewed for the show.
‘A nation known for innovation’
San Antonio’s $24.5 billion healthcare and bioscience sectors employ one of every six members of the city’s workforce. BioMed SA was established six years ago to capitalize on that strength, and has gone on economic missions to Canada, Mexico, Japan and China.
However, the memorandum of intent with BioJerusalem executive director Chen Levin is the first such agreement the BioMed SA president has signed.
“Our dynamic young mayor is actively trying to foster the growth of new-economy industries such as clean technology, bioscience and information security,” Stevens tells ISRAEL21c.
“With its reputation as one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations, Israel attracted his attention and sparked the collective imagination of the mayor’s office, which put together this trip to observe best practices for business leaders in these three areas. The purpose was to open our eyes to a nation known for innovation despite being a small country in a conflict region.”
Through the Israeli government’s economic mission in Houston, Stevens made contact with Levin last spring. At a June international biomedical convention in Washington, DC, they worded the memorandum of intent to be signed in Jerusalem. Stevens also attended a high-level Israeli-US presentation on biotechnology the day before the conference, “so I really got steeped in the knowledge of what makes Israel tick.”
One area of cooperation materialized on the first day of the July trip, when the Texans learned from Prof. Itamar Raz, head of the diabetes unit at Hadassah Medical Center, that Israel has a similar rate of Type 1 (“juvenile”) diabetes as the United States and a similar increase in Type 2 diabetes. His team is focused on both research and early education to reverse that trend.
In September, Raz’s young associate, Dr. Roy Eldor, began a post-doctoral fellowship in San Antonio with Dr. Ralph DeFronzo of the Texas Diabetes Institute and University of Texas Health Science Center.
“Since his arrival, I have met a couple of times with Dr. Eldor and his wife, Noga, a former aide to Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, to help them plug into the community,” says Stevens. “They received a very warm and public introduction to SA’s biomedical community couple at BioMed SA’s biggest event of the year, the Julio Palmaz Award Dinner, on September 20.”
Stevens has begun working with Raz and Eldor to explore specific ways of collaborating on diabetes education and research as an initial platform for cooperation with BioJerusalem and the region.
In August, BioMed SA helped organize and host a two-day visit to San Antonio by Todd Dollinger, CEO of the Trendlines Group and head of its Misgav life sciences incubator. Dollinger was introduced to key players in the city’s entrepreneurial community, including incubator executives, startup company CEOs, academic leaders, tech transfer representatives, investors and economic development officials.
“We are in continuing dialogue with Mr. Dollinger about possibilities for collaboration going forward,” says Stevens. Meanwhile, she is working with BioJerusalem’s Levin to identify companies, researchers and academic programs on both sides of the ocean that could form partnerships in areas such as military and regenerative medicine, neuroscience, cancer and infectious diseases.
“By sharing the intellectual capital each city possesses in the biomedical sector, we are each positioning ourselves for further innovation and economic growth,” said Mayor Castro.
While in Israel, the visitors toured high-tech business centers and met with President Shimon Peres, Minister of National Infrastructures Uzi Landau, and Deputy Chief Scientist Dr. Shaul Freirich.