Israeli exports pivot to Asia

“I prefer to be a land of a thousand speedboats rather than one big ship” Israel’s minister of economy tells Israel Innovation Conference MIXiii

Bennet MIXiii

Israel’s Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, speaking at the Israel Innovation Conference (MIXiii) in Tel Aviv today, praised Israel’s innovative startup ecosystem, saying that he much prefers “to be the land of a thousand speedboats than one big ship.” Referring to Israel’s plethora of world-leading startups but lack of native tech giants, Bennett added, “The key in the global economy today is owning a speedboat or being able to build a speedboat.”

Bennett was opening a panel entitled “Building Innovation Ecosystems,” chaired by Israel’s Chief Scientist in the Ministry of Economy, Avi Hasson. Bennett stressed Israel’s growing emphasis on trade relations with emerging markets, particularly in Asia. “Israel is going East,” said Bennett. “For the first time, Asia has bypassed the U.S. as our secondary export destination. And we at the government level are also moving quickly. We are shifting our economic resources… to Bangalore, Africa and China, China, China.”

Bennett also stressed the government’s increased emphasis on expanding the high-tech work-pool by integrating Israel’s Haredi and Arab sectors into the tech ecosystem. “Integrating those sectors largely left out of the workforce such as Haredim and Arab women is crucial to the ongoing growth of the Israeli economy… Our aim is to double the percentage of women from the Arab sector in the workforce from 25% to 50%… In this land of miracles, the biggest miracle is the people. Let’s get on the speedboat together,” said Bennett.

Chief Scientist Avi Hasson noted that while just 10% of Israel’s employees work in the high-tech sector, 50% of Israel’s industrial exports come from the technology industry. Hasson stressed the key role that public-private partnerships play in driving Israel’s innovation economy, an effort spearheaded by the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). Hasson noted that every dollar invested by the OCS in R&D has a 5-10x return on investment, stressing that the OCS has helped create in Israel one of the most mature and sophisticated finance environments worldwide.

“The past twenty years have been about creation: startups from nothing,” said Hasson. “The next twenty years are going to be about scale-up – scale-up of industry and how we can connect innovation to both society and the economy and maximize the impact of our innovation core.”

Maxine Fassberg, General Manger of Intel Israel, described to the audience the three engines that drive innovation in Israel: education, R&D budgets, and partnership between the Israeli government and industry. Fassberg noted that this partnership allowed Intel Israel to grow from an original four employees to ten thousand in 2013.

Referring to Minister Bennett’s opening remarks, Fassberg said that hundreds of startups have been created by ex-Intel Israel employees – some of them very large. “Speedboats can launch from a huge mothership. We do have that mothership,” said Fassberg.

Ministry of Economy Press release, May 21, 2014

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