By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
Who would ever imagine that two peoples living 5,470 miles apart (that’s 8,803 kilometers for the Israelis) would share so much in common, notably a mutual passion for innovation, a creative work ethic and a deep well of talent?
Those ties that bind Israel and Massachusetts were both celebrated and strengthened during the Bay State’s Economic Development Mission to Israel last week. For four days, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker led a delegation of leaders from across his state—representing industry, academia, the non-profit world and government agencies—through a packed schedule of briefings, summits, forums and site visits.
Participants on both sides said they were struck by the so-called “start-up nation” culture of innovation shared by Israel and Massachusetts, although only Israel commonly lays claim to that specific nickname. Lior Div, CEO of the Israeli cybersecurity firm Cybereason, arrived in the Boston area four years ago but remains “amazed at the similarities”—an impression that only grew stronger on the recent Massachusetts mission to Israel.
“The synergy between the two is amazing, especially when you consider that we come from such different backgrounds. But we have the same kind of passion for innovation,” Div told JNS.org.
Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito as well as the New England-Israel Business Council (NEIBC)—with support from Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), the Boston area’s Jewish federation—sponsored the mission with the purpose of “leveraging the Commonwealth’s (Massachusetts’s) unique and innovative economic climate to welcome Israel’s global leadership in cybersecurity and digital health,” in the words of the governor’s office.
Cybersecurity and digital health are two particularly fast-growing fields in the economic communities of Israeli and Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts is home to many of the world’s leading innovative companies, accelerators and educational institutions, as well as an economically competitive climate prepared to host the world’s emerging digital health and cybersecurity industries,” added Baker, who during the trip focused on wooing even more Israeli companies to set up shop in Massachusetts.
Israel’s business presence in that state is already substantial. According to an NEIBC economic impact study, the 200-plus Israeli-founded companies in Massachusetts brought in more than $9 billion in 2015—nearly 4 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—while employing 9,000 workers. Further, the growth rate of Israeli companies in Massachusetts was recorded at quadruple the rate of the rest of the state’s economy.
This is all music to the ears of Massachusetts, which has already been named the most innovative state in the country by Bloomberg and the Milken Institute. The state also boasts the highest venture capital investment rates as a share of its GDP nationwide, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has chosen the city of Boston as the best-positioned place to lead the digital economy.
“We produce the greatest density of science and technology graduates in the U.S., we have the country’s best-educated workforce, and we attract more federal funding for research and development than nearly any other state in the U.S.,” Baker said.
Yet the governor is still seeking to attract more of the innovative magic the Jewish state is known for.
“Israel has about a 20-year head start in the cybersecurity space…and because we boast an innovation ecosystem of unparalleled density, there is no better place in the world for you to expand, and grow to scale, than Massachusetts,” Baker told an Israeli audience during his visit.
The governor delivered that message throughout Israel over the course of four days. He celebrated the recent decision by General Electric, which employs 500 people in Israel, to build its new global headquarters in Boston, as well as a new cybersecurity partnership between the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Israeli non-profit Cyberspark, whose stated goal is “to be the central coordinating body for joint cyber industry activities with all stakeholders.” Baker also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and laid a wreath at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Formalizing the business relationship between Massachusetts and Israel, the governor signed an agreement designed to strengthen their economic, industrial, technological and commercial cooperation. The pact resolves to identify and promote joint research and development (R&D) efforts to develop new products and ventures.
"The Israel-Massachusetts ongoing partnership is an essential pillar in R&D collaboration,” said Avi Hasson, chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economy. “I am assured both industries, from Israel and Massachusetts, will benefit.”
Roots of shared culture
A deeper understanding of the shared penchant for innovation in Israel and Massachusetts stems from the fact that many Israeli innovators have been educated in that U.S. state. Even at the government level, Netanyahu himself studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Partnerships continue to spring up between colleges and universities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, which proves instrumental in the training of tomorrow’s best and brightest researchers and entrepreneurs.
“From exploring the ‘start-up nation’ innovation ecosystem, to being immersed in so many historic sites, to seeing the current political complexity up close, this trip opened my mind and touched my heart,” said Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), one of the institutions that participated in the Israel mission. “I look forward to a long and productive collaboration between WPI and Israeli companies and universities.”
This kind of collaboration is increasingly possible thanks to today’s increasingly borderless global market, in which doing business often means just an email, conference call or Skype chat. Yet frequent travel is also becoming the norm.
“More and more, people are going back and forth and doing business in both places,” said CJP President Barry Shrage. “It’s the way more people work these days.”
“You could say my home is the plane,” Avner Halperin—CEO of EarlySense, which produces medical sensing technology that measures heart, breathing and sleep patterns from under a patient’s mattress, without touching the body—told JNS.org. “My firm is based in Israel. It’s home for me, and my kids serve in the army. But the American market is what we all focus on, and we have a big part of our team there. That’s a challenge, but it also has the advantage that we know how to think globally from the start.”
Building professional relationships needs to be done in person, said Dan Trajman, CEO of NEIBC, which fosters cooperation, investment opportunities and business relationships between Massachusetts and Israel.
“We know from experience that bringing Israeli and Bay State leaders together, face to face, is a critically important means of forging strong bonds and real, bilateral economic engagement over the long term,” Trajman said.
In that sense, having the state’s top official on hand—as was the case on Baker’s recent Israel mission—can’t be beat.
“We really felt the governor was supportive of Israel and its business culture,” said Cybereason’s Div, whose company employs 220 people between its sites in Boston, London and Tel Aviv. “Politics don’t matter at all in the terms of the mission and what unites us.”