More than a decade before WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Skype, Israeli company Mirabilis released ICQ – the world’s first instant messaging platform. Founded by Arik Vardi and funded by his father, Israeli entrepreneur and billionaire tech investor Yossi Vardi, ICQ was a global success story.
This ground-breaking service set the blueprint for how an entire generation of millennials would communicate online. When looking around the world for post-Brexit alliances in science and technology, Global Britain could find no better partner than Israel. From artificial intelligence and the internet of things to precision medicines and driverless cars, our common interest in innovation has never been stronger.
On a per capita basis, Israel is one of the most innovative countries in the world, with consistently high investment on research and development – a global leader at 4.2% of GDP in 2016 compared to only 2.7% in the United States, 2.9% in Germany and 3.1% in Japan. Israel also leads in other areas, like the number of researchers per million inhabitants and the strength of business investment in R&D.
Israel is also recognised around the world as a “start-up nation” when it comes to tech companies – with more start-ups per capita than anywhere outside Silicon Valley, an established entrepreneurial culture, and hundreds of multinationals looking to invest in Israeli innovation.
When Intel’s US$15bn acquisition of Israeli autonomous vehicle firm Mobileye hit the headlines last year, it reflected Israel’s strong track record of commercialising emerging technologies.
Israeli companies are at the leading edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, from innovative start-ups like Tel Aviv based Zebra Medical Vision, which uses AI to help identify breast cancer faster and more accurately than traditional methods, to global IT giants like Checkpoint, which is now Israel’s largest tech company and operates in 38 countries around the world.
The UK Israel Tech Hub is an important part of that ecosystem, giving British companies the opportunity to discover Israel’s world-leading innovative technologies and invest in Israeli R&D. The Hub has brokered 175 partnerships worth at least $114m since 2010, and I hope to see these investments continue to grow in the coming years.
That is why I am so pleased the UK Government has made our partnership with Israel on science and technology a clear priority. The recent visit to Israel by the UK’s Science Minister Sam Gyimah, and the signing of landmark new agreements to boost scientific and innovative collaboration between our countries, was well received by businesses and academia here in Britain. Working with partners in Israel, the UK will look to develop new technologies and opportunities in the areas of artificial intelligence and healthy ageing, reinforcing our commitment to make it easier for British and Israeli firms to do business – harnessing Israel’s innovative talent to give us both a competitive edge in this new era of global technological change.
Our close partnership with Israel has also been great news for the British economy, with bilateral trade doubling in recent years to over US$9bn in 2017. There are over 300 Israeli companies operating in the UK, employing thousands of people in sectors including tech, pharmaceuticals and finance. The UK continues to be a leading destination for Israeli investment in Europe, and the London Stock Exchange is home to 28 Israeli companies with a combined market capitalisation of over $8bn.
The growing importance of the UK-Israel relationship was highlighted by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, on his historic diplomatic visit earlier this year, which coincided with the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel.
Prince William remarked that “the modern story of Israel is one of inventing, creating, innovating, and striding confidently into its future.” He also met with Israeli tech entrepreneurs, rightly calling them “a reminder of how much we have in common – two open societies which thrive on innovation, diversity, talent, and excellence.”
Having visited Israel myself several times since becoming a Member of Parliament – to both promote my Havant constituency as an inward investment destination, and to meet local entrepreneurs, businesses, venture capital firms and government officials – I know first-hand that Britain is right to make Israel a strategic priority.
As founder and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the leading advocate for the positive opportunities of innovation and new technology in the British Parliament, it is clear to me that the greatest success in a future economy increasingly driven by new technologies will be achieved by Britain and Israel working closely together.
This means deepening our cooperation on science and technology, boosting bilateral investment, and bringing down barriers to trade. This will help our scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders to thrive in an increasingly competitive global market. In return, they will continue developing innovative new products and services – creating jobs and boosting economic growth in both countries – ultimately resulting in shared prosperity and rising living standards.
A stronger partnership between our two countries will bolster our reputation as world-leading centres of free trade, free enterprise, and groundbreaking scientific research. It will send a clear message to entrepreneurs and investors around the world that Britain and Israel are the best places to start and grow innovative businesses. Most of all, working together will help us tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
By embracing our heritage and shared excellence in innovation and entrepreneurship Britain and Israel can make sure that we are not just ready for the future – we get to the future first.