Why Israel Rocks At Commercializing Academic Innovations

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Universities worldwide are looking to emulate Israel’s tech-transfer magic.

Universities worldwide are looking to emulate Israel’s tech-transfer magic.


January 18, 2018

It’s no coincidence that Harvard and UCLA chose experienced Israelis to direct their technology-transfer offices (TTOs). Cash-strapped universities urgently need to streamline the transfer of inventions from lab bench to market, and Israeli TTOs have a remarkable track record of generating more revenue from IP sales than any other country - except the United States.

The concept of technology transfer was nurtured and refined at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Yissum Research Development Company in 1964.

Yaron Daniely, president and CEO of Yissum Research Development Company. Photo courtesy of Hebrew UniversityYissum is Israel’s biggest TTO in terms of patents (10,000-plus), licenses (900) and spinoff companies (125, including standouts such as Mobileye and BriefCam) in a wide variety of fields. In the global seed industry, the long-shelf-life cherry tomato developed at Hebrew University is a primary example.

So why does Israel rock at commercializing academic innovations?

  • “Universities are reinventing themselves as micro environments for innovation and entrepreneurship. A university that can’t demonstrate its impact on industry and the marketplace will become less relevant in the future,” says Benjamin Soffer, chairman of Israel Tech Transfer Network. Soffer says Israel’s startup ecosystem provides an efficient “packaging” system for the flood of innovation from universities and military tech units.
     
  • “Startups have small teams with tight budgets and schedules and no bureaucracy, so they can be extremely effective. The tech transfer is done through these startups, and big companies don’t mind paying a premium for getting that technology at a later stage when it has been de-risked by the startup.”says Soffer.
     
  • Israeli academic institutions developed a unique way of managing tech transfer. “Foreign universities usually have two entities, one looking inward for IP worth licensing and one looking outward and liaising with industry. Those two are sometimes not communicating well. The Israeli model has a single point of contact for industry and academic researchers,” Dr. Vladi Dvoyris of Tel Aviv Utells ISRAEL21c.
     
  • While many university TTOs run entrepreneur clubs, Israeli universities separate the two, encouraging innovation within the university environment even for entrepreneurs planning to retain their IP, says Dvoyris. HUStart, Hebrew University’s entrepreneurship center, opened the IP-free zone BioGiv as an “excubator” for this purpose.
     
  • Today’s TTOs must do much more than protect intellectual property (IP), says Yissum’s new CEO, Yaron Daniely. They need to share information among one another and, most importantly, build bridges facilitating the free transfer of ideas and opportunities between the academic world and the outside world of entrepreneurs, investors, industries and communities.
     
  • The growth of Jerusalem’s venture ecosystem has contributed to more and bigger deals (think Mobileye, acquired by Intel last March for $15.3 billion). Yissum also has partnerships with the likes of J&J, Novartis, Merck and Google.
     
  • The volume and speed of deal-making matters more than the terms of the deals. “Technology is all about serendipity and you have to be ready when opportunity presents itself. Most tech-transfer companies in the world are not ready or able to respond quickly. This deal-making approach is unique to Israeli academia.”
     

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Why Israel rocks at commercializing academic innovations

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