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Israel's Technology Creates an Investment Goliath

ינואר 16, 2008. FoxBusiness.com: Donald Snyder
Israel, with fewer than 7 million people, has become a Goliath in the world of technology and medicine.

It is third only to America and Canada in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq, ahead of economic powerhouses like Germany, England and China.

Israel’s economy is robust, despite a government rife with scandal and an impasse with the Palestinians over the fate of the West Bank and Gaza.

Bruce Aust, executive vice president of Nasdaq , said there are 75 Israeli companies worth a total of $60 billion listed on the Nasdaq . “ Israel has very few natural resources, so Israelis have to be very entrepreneurial and innovative to create jobs for its citizens,” Aust said. He indicated that he has heard of numerous cases where three or four people have a great idea that eventually becomes a successful company on the Nasdaq .

Among the Israeli companies listed on Nasdaq is Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA), one of the world’s top manufacturers of generic drugs and Check Point Software (CHKP), a company noted for its cutting-edge systems in computer security.

“Israel is the Silicon Valley of the Mediterranean,” said David Anthony, a partner in 21 Ventures, a venture capital company that has invested $75 million in Israeli companies.

Israeli researchers in recent years have developed, among other things:

•    Instant messaging on the Internet
•    Wireless computer chips for Intel (INTC)
•    Miniature video camera capsules to examine internal organs
•    Firewall security software
•    Medicines to slow the advance of multiple sclerosis

American troops use Israeli portable digital x-ray machines in Iraq and Afghanistan that don’t require film for developing and are used in battlefield situations.

The United States, China and the Europeans want to collaborate with Israel because of the quality of innovations coming from its universities, said Marc Stanley, a technology official at the United States Department of Commerce who is involved with fostering collaboration between American and Israeli technology companies.“The quality of their post-doctorates in medicine, nanotechnology and software development is rather incredible,” he said.

More Israeli patents are registered in the United States than from Russia, India and China combined, despite a population disadvantage. “There are two and a half billion people in those countries and we have less than seven million in Israel,” said Ron Dermer of the Israeli embassy.

Venture capital money is pouring into Israel to help develop new technologies in computer software, biotechnology and electrical engineering.  American companies invested more than $6 billion in Israel in 2007, according to Yair Shiran, the country’s economic minister to North America. “After America, Israel is one of the most important centers for new technology,” said Shiran. 

American corporate giants like Motorola (MOT), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT), Intel and IBM (IBM) have research centers in Israel to develop new technologies they can market worldwide. It is where Intel developed its Centrino chip to enable computers to run longer on battery power and connect more easily to wireless networks. IBM opened its research center in Haifa in 1972 with 15 people. The number is now 800.

IBM is currently collecting data gathered by major European universities to determine when the strain of the HIV/AIDS virus will start to become resistant to the drug cocktail now being used to contain it. Pnina Vortman, a researcher at IBM’s Haifa center explained in an interview that IBM wants to be able to give scientists a month’s advanced notice before the resistance starts in order to allow them to adjust the drug mixture.

Scientific American magazine has selected the work in artificial intelligence done by two Israeli academics as being among the greatest advancements in science in 2007. The scientists from Tel Aviv University conducted experiments to simulate human intelligence by creating an organic memory chip using neurons from the brains of rodents. Their ultimate goal is to make computers think creatively.

Why is Israel such a productive factory of ideas?

Experts attribute the nation’s success to a confluence of cultural and systemic factors, such as Israel’s highly educated and motivated immigrant population.

When asked why Israel has more companies on the Nasdaq than any of the advanced countries of Europe, David Anthony, a venture capitalist with interests in many countries, said the “European countries are conservative societies and not the best places for innovation.” He contrasted Israel with Europe. “Israelis think outside the box and have a high tolerance for risk,” he said.  “That’s why they are so good at coming up with new technologies and having so many companies on the Nasdaq.”

Israel will be 60 years old on May 8 of this year. Its survival depends, in part, on the continued vigor of a strong economy competing for investment and exposure on the Nasdaq and other world markets. Israel’s will to survive helps drive high-tech developments needed for its defense in a hostile area. Israel’s commitment to technology has been unwavering throughout its short history.

Albert Einstein had this observation: “Israel can win the difficult battle for survival only by developing painstakingly the intelligence and expert knowledge of her young people in technology.

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