Innovation in the age of corona pandemic

| 01.02.21

Author: Aharon Aharon, CEO, Israel Innovation Authority

For Israel, a country that is geographically small, remote from major global markets and with almost no natural resources, innovation has become the most valuable national asset, crucial to its economic prosperity.

To advance its ingrained entrepreneurial spirit, Israel established a unique ecosystem of innovation, where Government provides regulatory measures to strengthen infrastructure for innovation and prompts private sector to invest in innovation through various incentives. This unique public-private partnerships enable both sectors to achieve the prosperity they never could have gained separately.

True innovation comes with inherent high risk and potential market failures. By investing in those risky or early-stage areas, the government through the Israel Innovation Authority provide the required infrastructure and support to stimulate and ensure the innovation ecosystem thrives. It also ensures that private sector investors have room to participate, thus encouraging the invention of disruptive technologies that will come to reshape our future.

As such, the Israel Innovation Authority monitors and analyzes the dynamic changes taking place throughout the innovation environments in Israel and abroad. Its mission is to strengthen the innovation ecosystem and promote innovation, entrepreneurship and disruptive technologies as a leverage for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

In the past year, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Israeli innovation ecosystem had to re-think the course of its operations and make the necessary adjustment to meet the changing demand and circumstances of this new reality. Faced with this adversity, the Israeli high-tech demonstrated qualities such as agility, multidisciplinary approach and out of the box thinking, allowing many high-tech companies and startups to adjust their technologies, developments and products to meet the needs presented by the new global situation.

The same can be said for the Israel Innovation Authority’s tool set that had to be adjusted to provide tech companies the necessary financial runway not only to survive but also to thrive. In this respect, the Authority focused its efforts in three phases; the first was to help meet the health crisis – helping companies to provide a solution to the challenges posed by the pandemic. The second phase was to provide tools to help cope with the financial crisis that ensued and caused considerable liquidity difficulties to high-tech companies in all sectors. To meet these challenges, the Authority launched the Fast Track program to help innovative young companies that ran into cash flow difficulties receive grants rapidly as well as a special revolutionary program designed to bring the institutional capital market to invest in the local high-tech industry, by providing investment protection framework for their investment portfolio in Israeli growth companies. The third phase was to help deal with the high-tech human capital crisis. For this purpose, the Authority launched specific programs designed for re-training and on-the-job training and actual job placement in the high-tech sector for the graduates of these programs, which are currently being implemented.

Furthermore, the Authority constantly looks into areas where Israel has a relative advantage and that present a growth potential and high returns to the economy. Three years ago, the Authority identified Bio-Convergence as having the potential to become Israel’s next growth engine. It fuses life sciences with different technologies from mathematics, engineering, and the physical and computational sciences. Enabled by advances in genomics, gene therapy, DNA sequencing, artificial intelligence, big data, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology, Bio-convergence is paving such a holistic path to remarkable innovations in treatment, therapy, discovery and delivery, regenerative medicine, diagnostics and pharma and medical equipment. The Corona pandemic only reinforced the essential role of this new area as having potential to bring new and advanced tools to deal with the pandemic and well beyond.

We are now standing at the beginning of a new era. This revolution is triggered by two trends: sensors, communication and the ability to transfer and process large amounts of data at a low cost as well as the development of artificial intelligence technologies that enable prediction and produce quality insights in almost each and every field. We believe that Artificial Intelligence will likely be as important an invention as electricity or the steam engine. It will create the infrastructure to support innovative future technologies, such as Smart Transportation, Robotics, 3D Printing and more. Countries that will harness it to their advantage, by applying the machine wisdom to solve crucial problems, will flourish. Those that will fail to do so will lag behind. Israel has the potential to be a leading nation in this exciting technology. It’s up to us to rise to the challenge.

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