Israel and the Netherlands are pushing for greater collaboration between themselves in medical and scientific research in an effort to combine Dutch financial resources with Israeli know-how.
Under the title of “Healthcare Innovation Day, The Netherlands – Israel,” held in Amsterdam last week, dozens of Israeli companies had a chance to impress Dutch business interests hoping to tap into Israeli brainpower.
Dutch electronics titan Royal Philips hosted the event at its company headquarters in Amsterdam.
“You cannot innovate by yourself,” said Bert Van Meurs, senior vice president of Philips Healthcare. “Innovation is all about cooperation.”
The Israeli and Dutch economic affairs ministries, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, and the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute organized the happening that included participants from high technology companies, universities, R&D centers and representatives from government agencies of both countries.
The full day of presentations and round table discussions focused on innovations for healthy aging. Israeli developers showed off an array of products from smartphone applications to airbags designed to prevent hip fractures among the elderly.
The impetus for the event came last December during a meeting between Dutch Prime Minister Mark Ruttie and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the first Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum.
Beyond the specific issue of healthcare for the elderly, officials expressed the interest the Israelis and the Dutch have in expanding cooperation, especially now that Israel has signed on to the European Union’s Euro Horizon 2020 program, set to make some 80 billion Euros available for scientific research.
The day after the meeting in Amsterdam, the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Economy Ministry chose a joint venture by Teva Pharmaceuticals and Philips to operate an incubator aimed at developing pharmaceuticals and medical devices, particularly those that incorporate digital technologies.
Caspar Veldkamp, the Dutch ambassador to Israel, explained the benefit that Dutch and Israeli companies offer each other.
“We are economically strong, but we need innovation,” he said. “We want to learn how they [the Israelis] do it.”
The Netherlands, with its huge port at Rotterdam, is a European trade hub and has became the fifth largest trade partner with Israel behind the US, Britain, China and Turkey.
According to figures from the government-run Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, exports to the Netherlands in 2013 came to $2.1 billion, or 4.4 percent of Israel’s total exports for the year.
The drive towards cooperation comes as boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) organizations are campaigning to punish Israel for its settlement policies.
Veldkamp spoke strongly against the BDS movement and its ability to disrupt ties between the two countries.
“BDS is on the fringes of society and politics,” he told the Times of Israel, noting that last March, 75% of Dutch members of parliament voted in favor of a motion that their government should give “a demonstrable visible meaning to its relationship with Israel.”
“I separate BDS from policy issues,” he said. ”Sometimes we [Israel and the Netherlands] disagree, and we don’t hide that.”
Haim Divon, Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, explained that the Dutch government has a standoffish attitude when it comes to dealing with companies beyond the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 armistice lines. Settlements are located in the land beyond the Green Line, which includes East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“They don’t encourage Dutch companies to deal over the Green Line, but the don’t say it is illegal, either,” Divon said.
Veldkamp mused that Israeli business attitudes, which can seem abrasive to some, are similar to the Dutch way of making a deal.
“The bluntness makes us feel at home,” he admitted. “But there is a mutual trust and a common method of communication.”
Both Israel and the Netherlands are home to populations that enjoy high life expectancies, making them natural partners for tackling what is seen as a major challenge to healthcare in the not-too-distant future. Though people are living longer, they are having fewer children, resulting in a sharp change in the ratio of over-65-year-olds to those in the workforce between the ages of 15-65.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2012, there were 833,000 people over the age of 65 living in Israel, a figure that represents about 10% of the total population. Among OECD countries, the average is 14.9%.
“The big issue is not that we can spend less than we do,” noted Maya Leventer-Roberts, director of transitional policy at Clalit Health Service’s research institute. “The real critical point is that there will be an explosion in our 65+ population and we will deal with it. If we don’t invest in the elderly, they will cost more.”
The event was an opportunity for participants to make an impression under the auspices of the Philips brand name, a matter of some pride to the Dutch.
“Philips is a magnet, a drawer of people,” said Yossi Abu, founder and CEO of 3D Medical Simulation. Abu was invited to present his company’s real-time monitoring system for thermal ablation procedures used for destroying tumors.
Abu said the opportunity to showcase his product was a success, though he admitted that Israel’s reputation as a high-tech innovator that can solve anything has ballooned beyond what even the Israelis can produce.
“Many people were looking for technologies,” he said, “but they overestimate a bit. We also struggle with the same problems that they do.”