It has been a while since Israel launched commercial relations with a partner as compatible and necessary as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It seems that the two countries share a similar mindset on the necessity of innovation, research, and science and technology as the pillars of a knowledge-based, highly productive and competitive economy. Both countries focus on an approach driven by entrepreneurs in a business-friendly environment where public and private sectors form effective partnerships1. It’s not often that you find a country willing to put forth public resources and forward-looking regulatory frameworks to promote high-risk innovation for inclusive growth and diversification, ultimately encouraging its local talent, despite the risk and high chance of failure, to pursue applied R&D, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Israel, which is accustomed to seeking partners and markets in the US, has been given a new playing field, and it should be smart enough to play ball. UAE is not a market willing to compromise for less than breakthrough or cutting edge; it wants the most leading technologies the world has to offer and understands this has a cost. Solutions improving quality of life and innovation with a positive global impact are critical, but also those technologies sustaining UAEs position as a financial and business world leader. This means that Israel has a new partner for the journey to redefine and redesign the future through tech and innovation, and this partner opens up a whole new untapped market of Middle East North Africa (MENA) and Gulf Countries (GC).
While both countries have some weaknesses in the tech innovation space, their strengths complement each and subsume the potential for creating a super powered technology partnership. Analyzing the Global Innovation Index (GII), we can see that the UAE is consistently ranked higher than Israel in its institutions, political and regulatory environment and infrastructure. However, while Israel consistently holds the top global spots on particular GII innovation facets, such as VC, R&D, entrepreneurship, or high-tech production, the UAE is ranked consistently low in knowledge and technology outputs2.
Both Israel and the UAE are investing heavily in the promotion of tech innovation. Through knowledge sharing, exchange of best practices and the creation of easy to use, partially subsidized frameworks – which enable low-risk high-reward pilots of new technologies in the UAE - both countries can reach their full potential and become a major source of innovative, market-ready tech solutions for the MENA and GC.
This is exactly what the Israel Innovation Authority strives to achieve when partnering with parallel entities in the UAE both on the federal and state level, such as The Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technologies andAbu Dhabi Investment Office alongsideleading Innovation partners on the ground such as the Dubai Future Foundation. We believe that the key is to catalyze the dialogue between all ecosystem partners and encourage the private sector in both countries to engage in the development and implementation of new technologies. Understanding that the beginning may be bumpy and trust needs to be earned, both governments are making an effort to mitigate the risks and assist both sides in taking the first stride. Among the tools offered are assistance in defining the needs of UAE based companies with leading tech experts in Israel, scouting for technology solution and companies, introduction to local partners in both countries, assistance in applying for funding schemes existing under the various MOUs promoted between the two countries for research, development, piloting and more.
Perhaps by the end of the process, alongside successful commercial partnerships and new tech solutions, Israel and UAE will step up their game. Israel will fine tune its institutions and regulations while the UAE will encourage its private sector to embed an element of "Hutzpa" into their innovation portfolio.
The writer: Ms. Hilly Hirt is the Head of the Emerging Markets Desk, International Collaboration Division at the Israel Innovation Authority.
- UAE National Innovation Strategy
- GII 2020