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Conference Positions Philadelphia for Israeli Start-Ups

It's just 90 minutes from Manhattan, and the rents are a lot cheaper; in addition, it's got a vibrant tech economy. For start-ups, Philly is a place to consider
Houses in Philadelphia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0/Axcordion)
Houses in Philadelphia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0/Axcordion)

Philadelphia reasserted its position last month as a top “go-to” location in the United States for Israeli companies when eleven innovative start-ups participated in the Israel Technology Conference there, October 27-28.  From the enthusiastic reports on both sides, it was a landmark event where business relationships were established and nurtured.

Organized by the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (PICC), the conference was a direct result of Mayor Michael Nutter‘s November 2013 trade mission to Israel that PICC co-sponsored.  The Chamber is an independent organization that accelerates business and R&D connections between Israeli and Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey and Delaware-based businesses, governmental agencies, and economic development organizations.  While in Israel, the mayor met Pitango’s Chemi Peres who led the Israeli company delegation to the conference and delivered the keynote address to kick off the 2-day event.

The Israeli delegation was recruited from two clusters where Philadelphia is a leader—Health IT and Media.  The conference included meetings with major health centers and providers, a reception at Comcast headquarters, tours of Comcast and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, and some of the Israeli companies stayed on for the IMPACT Capital Conference.  The delegation included BeatMed, BioCatch, DermaFlow, OpiSoft, PhysiHome, Shekel Healthcare, Trineba Technologies, Goopi Sarl, Opinion Stage, Pico, and Watchitoo. During the conference, the Israelis had the opportunity to explore strategic partnerships and expansion of their businesses with potential partners such as Drexel University, Jefferson University Hospitals, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Einstein Healthcare Network, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Temple Health, University of Delaware, UnitedHealthcare, Comcast and other local media companies.

PhysiHome offers a case study of the value the conference presented to the participating Israeli companies.  Ram Shalev, CEO, reported many positive developments in the Philadelphia area are underway for the Tel Aviv-based physical therapy tech start-up that provides web-based automated movement quality analysis for athletes.  Among the relationships initiated there are a cooperation agreement with a leading university, meeting with key executives of one of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams, contacts with several potential investors, and good interaction with Delaware-based First State Orthopedics.

Equally enthusiastic were representatives of the Philadelphia area participants including Dr. Mark Tykocinski, provost and EVP of Thomas Jefferson University and dean of its medical college, who was also a keynote speaker at the conference.   No stranger to working with Israel, he is chairman of the scientific & clinical advisory boards of Jerusalem-based KAHR Medical whose initial products, based on Dr. Tykocinski’s multi-function fusion protein discoveries, target cancers.

Two years ago, the university received PICC’s annual Rabin Award, largely based on its collaborative relationship with Weizmann Institute that is supported by a donor who had endowed the program to set up a joint grant mechanism.  Subsequently, Tykocinski took 15 Philadelphia scientists to Israel, and 9 collaborative projects with Weizmann scientists resulted, each earning $25,000-$80,000 in first year grants, and some have received follow on grants from other sources.  He points out that Thomas Jefferson University is a world leader in Computational Systems Biology, and Israel (with Weizmann, Bar Ilan, and Technion) is the second strongest country in this field.  Typically, Jefferson’s international health initiatives target poor countries, but with Israel, “The relationship is ‘peer-to-peer’ of equal partners where we can leverage the strengths of the Israeli and Philadelphia scientists.”  Jefferson also has an MOU with Technion where the 4th year Israeli medical students can do a clinical elective year in Philadelphia.

With the conference’s focus was on Health IT and particularly TeleHealth as it relates to Computational Biology, it was a natural fit for Tykocinski’s organization that is positioning itself as a leader in medical case systems. Several of the Israeli companies at the conference spent a day on the Jefferson campus, and Mark reports that good connections were made.  His goal is to be a matchmaker, seeing Israel as a “brain trust”, and he intends to keep working with PICC to build these and more relationships.

The Philadelphia-Israel Chamber has been supported through membership of professional firms including the international law firm Greenberg Traurig that maintains an active practice in Israel.  Beth Cohen, the firm’s Director of Global Emerging Growth Services who is based in Philadelphia, is the immediate past president of PICC and served as chair of the Israel Technology Conference.  “Our leadership of the conference was an extension of the kind of connections that GT likes to make for Israeli companies in the U.S.  The personal ties that were developed and the warm welcome demonstrated to the Israeli companies that Philadelphia is a great place to do business and an outstanding launching pad to the U.S. market,” Cohen said.  

PICC is no newcomer to business with Israel.  Founded in 1987 by legendary local industrialists Albert Soffa (Kulicke & Soffa) and Felix Zandman (Vishay Intertechnology) who established successful operations in Israel, the member-based organization is now led by Vered Nohi-Becker, an Israeli native who became the chamber’s executive director last year.   Previously, she had been on the staff of the Port of Wilmington, Delaware for 14 years, serving in roles related to PR, Public Affairs, and International Relations.   A graduate of Hebrew University with a degree in East Asian Studies and Sociology, Vered had been posted in Taipei with the Ministry of Economy for two years before moving to Wilmington.  She is also the regional representative for the BIRD Foundation that has awarded grants in the past year to companies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Newark, Delaware for joint venture R&D projects with Israeli companies.

“Israelis don’t know where Philadelphia is even though it is the second largest metropolitan area on the east coast and one of the country’s largest Jewish communities.  The city stands at the intersection of three states, and with its lower cost of living, great workforce, efficient transportation to both New York and DC, and over 100 academic institutions, Philadelphia presents a great opportunity for Israeli companies,” Vered says.

Vered feels that The Israel Technology Conference was an outstanding opportunity for the PICC and its regional partners to feature the competitive advantages the Greater Philadelphia region has to offer Israeli companies that look to expand globally.  At the same time, local strategic partners and organizations were highly impressed by the advanced technologies Israel produces and the business development prospects a joint venture can bring about.

“We’re looking to continue collaborating with our partners in Israel and the region to host more Israeli delegations, each featuring one industry at a time.  Our goal is to accelerate business, R&D, and investment connections between Israel and our region, attract more Israeli companies to consider opening their US operations here, assist with their soft landings, and grow the economic activity in both areas,” she concluded.

It is gratifying to see established U.S. organizations like the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce achieve new levels of success by partnering with agencies in their regions and leveraging their industry strengths.  Congratulations to PICC, and we can expect to see continued value to both the Israeli companies and the economic growth they will bring to the greater Philadelphia community.

About the Author
Tom Glaser was president of the Southeast Region of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) from its founding in 1992 until his retirement in October 2013 after almost 22 years of services to the organization. Glaser is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He and his wife Connie, an author and lecturer, live on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia and their 2nd home in the Blue Ridge mountains.
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