Exploring Israeli innovation ‘from all angles’

Conference sponsored by Schusterman Center, International Business School unites Israel scholars and economic experts

left to right: Provost Lisa M. Lynch, former Israel Central Bank president Karnit Flug, and (with microphone) Gideon Argov, general partner at New Era Capital Partners seated in front of a Brandeis University banner

Brandeis Provost Lisa Lynch (left) moderates the Ilan Troen Lecture on Contemporary Israel Affairs featuring Karnit Flug, past governor of the Bank of Israel, and Gideon Argov, general partner at New Era Capital Partners.

The U.S. and Israeli economies share an “entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risks” that has led to flourishing technology sectors in both countries, former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug told a crowd of experts and academics gathered Sunday at Brandeis University for the Innovation in Israel: Economy and Society conference.

Flug, who served as the first female governor of Israel’s central bank from 2013 to 2018, said three factors are largely behind the country’s high-tech success to date: investments in education, effective bridge-building between universities and commercial enterprises — which helps get breakthrough innovations to market quickly — and the maturation of Israel’s venture capital industry.

But Flug cautioned it will take further investment in “human capital” before the economic benefits of the innovation boom are felt beyond just a select pocket of Israeli society.

“The main issue is education, from the very early start all the way up to adulthood, and vocational training,” said Flug. “The education system doesn't provide enough people with the right skills. … This is the area where we must invest much more.”

The two-day Innovation in Israel conference, which concluded Monday, served as a forum to explore the roots, future direction and societal impact of Israel's innovation economy. The event was sponsored by the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship at Brandeis International Business School and Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.

“We’re going to be debating innovation in Israel from all angles — what works, what doesn’t work and the implications for the future,” said Brandeis Provost Lisa Lynch, who moderated Sunday’s discussion with Flug and Gideon Argov of New Era Capital Partners, a venture capital investment firm with offices in Boston and Tel Aviv.

On Monday conference attendees engaged in in-depth lectures and panel discussions about Israel’s status as “startup nation,” a moniker frequently used to describe the country’s thriving innovation sector. Participants included Erran Carmel of the Kogod School of Business at American University; Shayna Weiss of the Schusterman Center; Aziz Kaddan, CEO and co-founder of Myndlift; Ilan Troen of Ben-Gurion University; Yehudah Mirsky of Brandeis; Jacob Cohen of MIT’s Sloan School of Management; Shana Krakowski of Tel Aviv Yafo municipality; and Ohad Elhelo '16, MA '17, founder of Our Generation Speaks (OGS).

Also Monday, Elhelo received the Brandeis Alumni Entrepreneurship Award for his work at OGS, a fellowship program and incubator for emerging Israeli and Palestinian leaders hosted at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The honor, which was presented by Brandeis IBS Dean Kathryn Graddy, is given annually to a Brandeis alumnus that best exemplifies an entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking.

“What started out as an idea Ohad conceived during his years as a Brandeis undergraduate has blossomed into a thriving organization promoting positive social change,” said Graddy. “Ohad, we are so proud that you are a part of our Brandeis family. And we are thrilled to give you this award today in recognition of everything you do to uphold the values on which our university was founded.”

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