The German government will invest €500,000 annually in Israeli entrepreneurs, starting in the fall of 2015, it was announced Monday.
This will be the first time Germany’s EXIST program, which aims to encourage entrepreneurship in German universities and research institutes, will invest in another country’s start-ups. The program is designed for young people who are finishing their university studies.
Brigitte Zypries, Germany’s parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, made the announcement at a special event marking the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic and business relations with Israel.
The event in Tel Aviv brought together dozens of German firms and investors with Israeli counterparts, with diplomats and executives praising the annual €6.5 billion trade between the two countries.
Zypries was substituting for the originally scheduled speaker, Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who was called away at the last minute to deal with the Greek default crisis as it came to a head over the weekend.
Israel and Germany did not have diplomatic relations until 1965, although there had been many informal business and academic contacts after 1952, when Germany agreed to pay reparations to Israel on behalf of Jews killed and enslaved in the Holocaust. Since then, Germany has become Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe, and the two countries cooperate in a wide variety of areas – cultural, scientific, social, business, military, and academic.
It was the academic cooperation that opened the way for the strong diplomatic relationship between the two countries, said Mickey Federmann, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In fact, according to Boaz Golany, a professor at the Technion and vice president of the university, the Technion has its roots in Germany; many of its original staff were from Germany, and classes there were first taught in German.
“There is a very strong base for this cooperation, which is strong and growing,” said Federmann. Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and Germany’s Max Planck institutes have especially strong connections, he added.
Israeli applicants who are accepted by EXIST will receive funding to work at a Germany university for one year, where they will also have the opportunity to meet with German start-ups. Up to 30 Israeli entrepreneurs will be a part of the program each year. The initiative is meant to help both countries by internationalizing the Berlin market and opening the European market to Israeli start-ups.
Zypries anticipates that the program will be a great success, as Israelis and Germans tend to get along well. “We know that there are a lot of Israelis in Berlin and a lot of Berliners like Tel Aviv, as far as I know,” she said.