Tel Aviv is the capital of the start-up nation, and Israel is actively seeking to improve its academic and entrepreneurial relationships with Canada and beyond, said a prominent Israeli innovation expert.
Joseph Klafter, president of Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel, was in Ottawa, October 28, to share some of his university’s best strategies about how to boost the innovation industry at a conference hosted by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).
“The university is a huge portfolio, a huge start-up,” Klafter said of TAU’s unique position as a leading global innovation hub.
“We are among the top 10 [universities in the world] for nurturing entrepreneurs,” he said.
Klafter said the university has been successfully merging academics and entrepreneurship by allowing students to focus their studies between subjects which, at first glance, are completely unrelated.
This strategy has allowed students to bring their distinctive skill sets and ideas to industries that often may be lacking interdisciplinary perspectives.
The university also offers optional courses in entrepreneurship, where no academic credit is given, but the lessons are invaluable.
The result, Klafter said, has transformed Tel Aviv into the “Silicon Valley of Israel.”
“The world is watching Israel in terms of the start-up nation, and how … you bridge from the university environment to entrepreneurial start-ups,” said AUCC president Paul Davidson.
This gathering was the second of a series of AUCC innovation conferences, as Israeli and German academics and industry leaders were invited to share their approaches and collaborate with their Canadian counterparts. The two countries were selected to participate specifically for their track records of producing successful entrepreneurs.
“In particular, we’re drawing on Germany and Israel because each of their systems is similar to ours but have very pronounced differences,” Davidson said. “We want to learn from those differences and see where there are ways we can collaborate effectively.”
Some Canadian and Israeli universities have already established strong academic partnerships in the fields of medicine, engineering and technology, biology, law, and business.
The University of Ottawa represents Canada’s capital with the LL.M law exchange program between itself and Haifa University, dating back to 2011.
Martha Crago, vice-president of research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said Dal’s research partnerships with seven other Israeli universities, primarily Ben-Gurion University, in the field of ocean studies have been an incredible opportunity for Canadians and Israelis alike.
“At the grassroots level, it gives people new partners,” she said. “And Israeli partners are a lot more prone to think about commercialization than Canadian partners might have been.”
The effects of academic collaboration, especially between Canada and Israel, are far-reaching, said Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak.
“The fact that so many Israelis have come especially from Israel to attend this conference is their proof of confidence in the possibilities and the co-operation between Canada and Israel,” said Barak, who attended the conference.
Among the broader initiatives being pursued at such conferences is the attempt to bring together Canada and Israel’s respective scientific communities and increasing trade between the two countries, he added.
“Science is becoming one of the backbones of our relationship with Canada,” Barak said. “I encourage the Jewish community to try to bring together some Israeli and Canadian universities with their support.”