Rafael Barak is Israel's ambassador to Canada. Victoria Lennox is chief executive officer of Startup Canada.
Canada's cold and long winters will never be confused with the perpetual hot and humid breeze of Israel's Mediterranean climate, not to mention the fact that we are separated by more than 8,000 kilometres.
However, once you get past differences in weather and geography, our countries have much in common. Ranked as the first and second most educated populations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Israelis and Canadians are finding natural partnerships in a range of sectors.
One of those is technology and innovation. Companies large and small from both countries are collaborating and merging, as we saw last month with BlackBerry's purchase of the Israeli file-sharing company WatchDox and its announcement to open a security research and development centre in Israel, to leverage expertise and experience.
Whether it's Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., which has supplied space and satellite technology to Israel Aerospace Industries, or Saskatchewan's capabilities in seed biology, digital agriculture and soil science, Israel has shown great interest in Canadian tech. Likewise, Canadians have reciprocated by turning to Israeli expertise in life sciences, water tech, green energy and cybersecurity. But we're only scratching the surface.
To move forward, the Israeli embassy and Startup Canada, the locomotive behind a grassroots network of Canadian entrepreneurs, are searching for the top Canadian seed-stage information and communications startup to represent Canada at Start Tel Aviv, a global competition that brings the top tech startups from 23 countries together in Tel Aviv to build business relationships and see the key elements that contribute to the success of Israel's renowned startup ecosystem: its culture, unique work force and easy access to capital.
Tel Aviv, a city that was selected by researcher Startup Genome as the second-best place for startups after California's Silicon Valley, is home to a population that always strives to think outside the box. Israelis truly believe an individual can change the world with a new idea. Young Israelis are looking for the next "game-changer" and are willing to put in the hard work to achieve it. What sets the Israeli startup culture apart is its failure to accept failure.
This culture is given life by easy access to capital. Even though Israel has a population of just over eight million, it's second in the world in total numbers, behind the United States, in availability of venture capital. Israel has an estimated 6,000 active startups but only about 1,000 raise venture capital, so access to funding relies on other sources, including angel investors. Angels benefit from government tax incentives to invest in startups at the seed stage of R&D and they invest at a much higher number than North American counterparts.
The engine behind Israel's startup scene is its highly skilled work force and its focus on research. Israel boasts the most engineers per capita in the world, has the highest R&D expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product in the OECD, and its seven universities and five medical schools rank among the world's best. Global multinationals have taken notice, with more than 350 of them establishing R&D centres in Israel, including Intel, Apple, Google, Facebook, Siemens, Deutsche Telekom, Huawei, Samsung and now BlackBerry.
The Canadian winner of this competition will be warmly welcomed by Israelis who are actively looking for connections with Canadians in order to compete in the globalized market. According to Ronen Tanne, a Vancouver-based Israeli entrepreneur: "Israelis are intrigued by Canada's diverse, multicultural society with large immigrant populations, especially from Asia, who maintain close business connections to back home." In addition, Israelis view Canada as an entry point to North American markets. Since Israel and Canada have both relatively small domestic markets, we need to work together.
This idea of leveraging expertise and access to markets is what guides the Canada-Israel Research and Development Foundation. Since 1995, it has funded more than 90 bilateral technology partnerships. Recently, it has a special interest in connecting the startup sectors with projects such as the Nova Scotia-Israel Innovation Program, the Saskatchewan-Israel R&D Collaboration Program and the Ontario-Israel Collaboration Program.
While startups are the lifeblood of Israel's high-tech economy, Canada is increasingly reaping the rewards of this growing sector. It's our hope that this contest will help diminish the geographic distance and connect these communities. Only by collaborating with like-minded partners and leveraging expertise can Israeli and Canadian startups truly reach their potential.