EIT Hub Israel boosts innovation ecosystems

Jan 14, 2022

The State of Israel has officially partnered with Horizon Europe to foster breakthrough innovation. The program offers significant scientific and economic benefits to both Europe and Israel, and harbors immense potential for learning, exchange and collaboration. An example of such an exchange is the Ecosystem Summit organized by the EIT Hub in Israel, launched as part of the EIT’s 2019 global outreach programme. The conference has become a must-attend event to discuss the latest global trends and challenges in the world of ecosystems.

A win-win exchange: cooperation between the EU and Israel

On December 6, 2021, the agreement on Israel’s association with Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research and innovation program with a total budget of 95.5 billion euros, entered into force after being signed by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture and Education. and Youth and Haim Regev, Ambassador of Israel to the EU and NATO.

Over the past 25 years, cooperation between the EU and Israel has steadily evolved, bringing many benefits along the way. Israel’s innovation processes are very nimble, with a “fire-fighting” approach that primarily deals with short-term timelines. And they’ve proven it works: Israel has the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world (about one per 1,400 people) and ranks first in the world for R&D spending as a percentage of GDP.

“One of the key ingredients of Israel’s innovation ecosystem is deeply rooted in the daily reality of the country. It lies in the sense of urgency and constraints to survive and innovate today for a better tomorrow. With the example of Israel in mind, it’s exciting to see the potential when start-ups unite around a common mission. For Europe and beyond, this can be the engine that allows companies to excel and quickly deliver truly unique and innovative solutions. – Said Bram Pauwels, Head of Strategic Partnerships at the European Network of Business and Innovation Centers.

On the other hand, Europe has a long-term approach to certain societal problems. This allows European countries to be proactive rather than reactive. Although the action takes longer, decisions are made in a structured and evidence-based manner. From the perspective of this continuum, Europe and Israel are clearly complementary. “We represent two extremes, and knowing that the best combination tends to be in the middle, our alliance ensures that we both move forward and reinforce the best of each side.” – Said Michal Seror, director of ecosystem development at Start-Up Nation Central.

Europe’s aim to become the first carbon-neutral continent and lead the global green transition could inspire and gently nudge Israel’s high-tech sector to tackle the climate emergency. While there are some exciting initiatives in Israel such as the Climate Solutions Prize (a million dollar prize for innovative responses to the climate crisis sponsored by KKL-JNF in conjunction with Start-Up Nation Central and the Center Peres for Peace and Innovation), a strategy by the so-called “Start-up Nation” to solve the climate crisis could make a global difference.

The Summit of the Ecosystem: Building the Euro-Israeli Innovation Community

A successful example of EU-Israel collaboration is the aforementioned EIT Hub Israel, launched as part of the EIT’s 2019 Global Outreach Programme. The EIT Innovation Communities involved are EIT Health (lead), EIT Food, EIT Climate-KIC, EIT Urban Mobility, EIT RawMaterials and EIT Digital as observers. The Hub helps European innovators attract Israeli customers, partners and investors and has developed powerful programs targeting specific audiences, such as Disrupt me (European companies seeking to introduce Israeli innovation) or Mission Innovation (a bootcamp for immersion for European diplomats), and Connect & Experience (professional training for ecosystem leaders) which hosts The Ecosystem Summit, the annual conference to celebrate, consolidate and expand the Euro-Israeli innovation community.

The first Ecosystem Summit took place in 2019 and is held annually. This year’s edition set a new record with 140 participants, 20 top speakers, 6 panels, 3 breakout rooms and 19 ecosystem managers from 12 European countries (Belgium, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Czech Republic, Italy and Sweden). Following the strictest COVID-19 safety measures, the 2021 edition was an in-person event that allowed face-to-face professional exchange during panels, breakout rooms and the main networking event.

“Through the networking portion of the Summit, I was able to see the variety of roles, people and organizations involved in building this thriving ecosystem and how they are connected. The Israeli ecosystem has managed to rise to the occasion and to come together genuinely to work towards a common goal, selflessly, for the benefit of the whole nation.Commented Susanah Aalto, Growth Ecosystems Project Manager, City of Vantaa, who attended the event.

Key takeaways from the Ecosystem Summit sessions

The event enabled increased collaboration and exchange between ecosystem managers, innovators and entrepreneurs, which identified key takeaways to advance partnerships and impact, including:

  • Ecosystems as start-up support systems: “In an uncertain and rapidly changing economy, we need to move from hierarchical structures to more flexible community workspaces where it is easier to unleash the full potential and talent of teams.” – Through the experience of Captain Ranit Elkayam, co-founder and head of the community department of the Israel Defense Forces, it was highlighted that even traditionally hierarchical organizations build communities to retain talented employees and break down silos to enable a disruptive innovation.
  • The dark side of ideation: In an insightful conversation that captivated the Summit audience, Dr. Amnon Dekel, Executive Director of ASPER-HUJI Innovate, spoke about the inherent human capacity for ideation and how the Israeli ecosystem (e.g., the delicate balance between competition and collaboration; the entrepreneurial mindset fostered by military service; the acceptance of failure as a learning opportunity) places this natural ability in a context where it can be flourish.
  • The new era of acceleration: What struck the public is that the most important element for a start-up, in the long term, is the cohort. This was one of the ideas of Dr. Gil Avnimelech, an academic expert in the fields of venture capital and entrepreneurship at Ono Academic College, from his ongoing research on start-up accelerators, a key element of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In a COVID-19 world, startup accelerators must transition to a hybrid system. Online facilities have obvious advantages (e.g. more flexibility, better access to international talent and expertise, etc.), but in-person environments are still essential for comprehensive peer-to-peer learning, mentorship and a strong and integrated cohort.
  • Attract funds for your ecosystem: One of the main topics was how to attract funds for your ecosystem, and the question of the chicken and the egg: how to attract funds when your ecosystem is not yet mature. Audiences learned from Israel about the power of bringing visionary investors into the ecosystem and the importance of keeping them engaged, as well as the benefits of having the ecosystem represented in global rankings. The main lessons from Greece are the successful combination of public and private funding to develop the ecosystem and to solve problems such as the loss of the most talented entrepreneurs because they are attracted by better opportunities and working conditions in other other countries.

To learn more about EIT Hub Israel’s programs and in particular “Connect & Experience”, follow the Hub on Linkedin, subscribe to the newsletter here, or contact Adina Be’er at [email protected] for all questions.

*Photo: Niv Mayo