Despite shifting their strategy towards crisis management since the outbreak of Covid-19, Invest in Israel is doubling down on their drive for collaboration and partnerships.
CEO Ziva Eger (ZE) and head of healthcare and life sciences, Aviad Tamir (AT), discuss the normalisation of relations with the UAE and Bahrain, and their continued efforts to connect Israel’s innovation ecosystem with the rest of the world.
Q: What lessons have you learned during this crisis period?
ZE: I remember the first cases in Israel — it seemed to be a kind of black swan event with lots of unknown issues coming around. We decided as soon as it happened that we needed to shift our focus from our regular activity to a crisis management model.
We needed to be managing this crisis and not be managed by it. Being innovative, robust and agile is a great tool in order to pass any crisis.
AT: It was not just us, but the ecosystem understood that in order to progress and find solutions, you need to abandon your current strategy and go into different verticals to drive collaboration. One example of this is the collaboration between healthcare and defence in Israel.
Q: How has your strategy shifted in response to the Covid-19 crisis?
AT: The shift to crisis management mode required us to put aside our regular work plans and working methods, to allow for a more agile and flexible approach with specific goals. Our new evolving strategy consisted of three main aspects: assessment, response and collaboration.
On the assessment level, we reached out to all the representatives of the multinationals with current activity in Israel, to best identify and understand the immediate challenges that Covid-19 had brought to their operations — such as logistics, HR and transportation — both in Israel and globally.
ZE: We understood that first we must look after our current clients in Israel. I think Covid-19 is going to bring a new light for companies to be more local and less international. We had to be sure we can reduce the damage, and help them to pass this crisis and face those challenges with our help.
Q: How do you align your FDI attraction strategy with Israel’s start-up ecosystem?
AT: The essence of our work at Invest in Israel, even before Covid-19, is rooted in the understanding that we are a hub of innovation and the corporate multinationals are coming to Israel to find answers to tomorrow’s questions. The majority of the multinationals are here in Israel after successful mergers and acquisitions.
We have a lot of scouting projects and roadshows with industry — in Covid-19 it has been enhanced because companies are trying to progress and find solutions from different verticals to still be in the game.
ZE: We’re not looking for where the money is, unlike some other IPAs. We’re looking for cooperation and collaboration, in order to transfer knowhow and leverage the global innovative ecosystem. Israel has more than 77 programmes where the government provides money to expand and promote technology, joint ventures, innovation collaborations between multinationals and start-ups, and other initiatives.
Q: What are your hopes following the normalisation of relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain?
ZE: It has been very exciting in the past few months. It’s been a really historic time for Israel, having this amazing Abraham Accord agreement [between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel].
We see the business potential of all kinds. We already had one webinar where we explained about our ecosystem and what Israel has to offer Emirates investors. I think it’s a win-win situation having this kind of collaboration, and it’s going to help both economies and nations.
AT: In one sense, investment promotion agencies are rivals. But we’re collaborating on leads and interests. We believe it is bigger than just us in this economic relationship.
In terms of specific sectors, I think there is definitely room for collaboration in agritech. Israel has a lot of knowledge in those areas, particularly in desert tech, water tech and cleantech energy, which will be interesting to the UAE.
In Bahrain also, which is trying to position itself as a fintech hub, there is room for collaboration. Last but not least, healthcare and digital health. It’s one of the things they are trying to promote in the UAE, where they invest a lot in telehealth and even more in pharmaceuticals, stem cell research, oncology and diabetes.
Q: Do you think the Abraham Accord will be a blueprint for future collaboration in the Middle East?
ZE: My personal perspective is that it is going to lead to more collaboration. When you put politics and ego aside, you can do business together. This kind of synergy only brings good to the world. The UAE is already our partner, and we feel that from the past two months. At the end of the day, the economy, innovation and doing good to people is what has to drive the world.
AT: Economic diplomacy is the way.
Ziva Eger is the CEO of Invest in Israel; Aviad Tamir is the head of life sciences and healthcare at Invest in Israel.
If you are a member of the economic development and investment promotion community and would like to be part of the next iteration of the fDi Diaries series, please reach out to fDi@ft.com.