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December 21, 2016 6:57 am

Economic Mission Strengthens Innovation Ties Between Israel and Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Dec. 12. Photo: Office of Governor Baker/

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Dec. 12. Photo: Office of Governor Baker/ — 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?

The ties that bind Israel and Massachusetts were both celebrated and strengthened during the Bay Sate’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.

Just as Israel is often called the “start-up nation,” Massachusetts has been named the most innovative state in the US by Bloomberg and the Milken Institute, in addition to boasting the highest venture capital investment rates as a share of its GDP nationwide. The US Chamber of Commerce recently chose 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 US, 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 US,” Baker said.

With over 200 Israeli-founded businesses bringing Massachusetts more than $9 billion in 2015 and employing 9,000 workers, the governor used his trip to attract even 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 one Israeli audience during his visit, a message he delivered many times over throughout his trip.

Baker celebrated the recent decision by General Electric, which has 500 employees 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.

Baker also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss common innovation goals and formalize the business relationship between Massachusetts and Israel with the signing of an agreement designed to strengthen economic, industrial, technological and commercial interests through the promotion of joint research and development efforts.

“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.”

Participants in the Economic Development Mission from both sides said they were struck by the culture of innovation shared by the Jewish and Bay states.

Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), said, “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.”

“I look forward to a long and productive collaboration between WPI and Israeli companies and universities,” she added.

Lior Div, CEO of the Israeli cybersecurity firm Cybereason, arrived in the Boston area four years ago, and told he remains, “Amazed at the similarities [and] synergy between the two, especially when you consider that we come from such different backgrounds. But we have the same kind of passion for innovation.”

One possible factor for the shared culture may be the strong academic relationship and frequent scholarly collaborations between Israel and Massachusetts. In addition, many Israelis attend universities located in the New England area  — Netanyahu himself is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As these students grow into innovation leaders, joint ventures are increasingly possible given a borderless global market driven by email, conference calls or video chats. Then, as businesses grow, regular travel between the two states becomes common.

“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 “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.”

“More and more, people are going back and forth and doing business in both places,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Boston-based foundation, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “It’s the way more people work these days.”

Building professional relationships needs to be done in person, agreed Dan Trajman, CEO of the New England-Israel Business Council.

“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.

Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, the NEIBC and the CJP sponsored the mission, whose purpose was, according to the governor’s office, “leveraging the Commonwealth’s unique and innovative economic climate to welcome Israel’s global leadership in cybersecurity and digital health.”

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