Building a bridge between Israel and Michigan

Building a bridge between Israel and Michigan

There's a lot more to Michigan than Detroit -- and a lot more to the technology ties between the state and Israel than most people realize

A recent MIBB networking event (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A recent MIBB networking event (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel, as a close ally of the US, cooperates with Washington on many defense projects. According to the terms of American military assistance to Israel, most of the aid money must be spent in the United States — and, as a result, Israeli and American companies collaborate on dozens of projects each year.

Which means that, for Israel, Michigan is one of the most important US states, according to Pam Lippitt of the Michigan-Israel Business Bridge (MIBB). “Sixty percent of all US government defense contracts touch, in one way or another, Michigan’s Macomb Country,” Lippitt told the Times of Israel. “Many Israeli companies end up working with companies in Michigan, although there is potential for much more.”

Formed in 2007, MIBB is a private organization that is considered one of the most important business development groups in the state; Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has MIBB officials’ phone numbers on speed dial, and he is planning to visit Israel in June, to promote business ties and to speak at the President’s Conference. “We’re not funded by the state, but we are hoping that at some point the government will be able to financially support our work,” said Lippitt. “Building better business ties with Israel, a hotbed of innovation in so many areas, is very high on the to-do list of officials in Michigan.”

Michigan’s economy has a bit of an undeserved bad reputation, due mostly to the bad news about the auto industry in the past few years, and, of course, the financial woes of bankrupt Detroit. But you have to look beyond the headlines for the real story, said Lippitt. “Michigan’s economy is coming back very strongly. The automotive industry’s epicenter is still in the Detroit area, in spite of all the shakeups that industry has gone through.

Though it may be a surprise for some, Israel has its own automotive technology industry, and works closely with the US auto industry in a number of areas. For example, Israel’s Cimatron, one of the largest CAD/CAM software developers in the world, produces many of the mold sets that are used to cast dashboards and other components for car companies like Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and others. GM itself has a major r&d center in Herzliya, as well as a $100 million venture capital fund that invests in promising technology investments in two of the world’s top innovation centers – Israel and the Silicon Valley. There is also significant activity with Israel in the area of medical technology, along with developing more efficient ways to use water, said Lippitt.

Agritech is another promising area for Israel-Michigan cooperation, said Lippitt. “Most people think of Michigan as an ‘urban’ state, again because of Detroit, but agriculture is actually the state’s number two industry.” One way the MIBB promotes more deals between Michigan and Israeli agritech firms is through an upcoming event the MIBB helps support. At this event, the Israeli venture capital firm and incubator sponsor The Trendlines Group brings five Israeli agritech firms to meet with investors, potential customers, and state officials. Among the companies attending are SolChip, which has developed an embedded solar chip to power valves and meters in fields and farms; Edenshield, which develops natural pesticides based on herbs; and MiRobot, an automatic milking system that can save farmers money and time.

There are plenty of opportunities for Israeli companies in Michigan – and plenty of room for them. “Israel is one of the less presenced countries in Michigan,” said Lippitt.

“Many companies here do not yet know of the potential of Israeli technology, and it is our mission to get this message across. I am positive we will be able to bring much more Israeli innovation to this state.”

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