Product innovation is what keeps consumers selecting one product over another, and companies—especially small startups—depend on research and development (R&D) to stay on the cutting edge, and win the race against insolvency. However, R&D is costly and risky, but there is a program that can mitigate some of the costs. Helping businesses move forward with R&D through international partnerships is the mission of the U.S.-Israel Science & Technology Foundation (USISTF), a nonprofit organization which has offices in Washington, D.C.
Established by both the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Labor, the foundation’s mission is to establish agreements between individual U.S. states and Israel’s federal government to promote business partnerships between corporations in both countries.
How the USISTF does that is its staff—led in part by Ann Liebschutz, the foundation’s focused executive director who served as legislative assistant for former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, (R-Ky.)—engages state’s industrial and economic development agencies, as well as the offices that are responsible for commerce and trade. The foundation negotiates agreements between those agencies and Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS), which is an agency within the Ministry of Trade and Labor, Liebschutz said.
The OCS is a unique government program in that there is not an office or entity in the United States to compare it to, according to Liebschutz. The OCS is almost like a “venture capitalist” in that it has a mission to support high-tech companies, she said. However, there is the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; its mission is to advise the president on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs; lead interagency efforts to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets; and to work with the private sector, state and local governments, the science and higher education communities, and other nations toward that end. But there is nothing about fostering corporate partnerships.
Nonetheless, businesses developing advanced surveillance or space senor technologies in any of the five states—Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin—the foundation has an agreement with can obtain the support to drive significant business-to-business cooperation, Liebschutz said. The foundation does that by engaging the governor of a state, and negotiating an R&D agreement between the state and the Israeli government, she said.
Once an agreement is reached with a state, say Ohio—which the USISTF is in negotiations with—that has business support activities like those sponsored by the OCS, the foundation would work with the Ohio Department of Development and its Third Frontier Program, to tap into all the institutions around Ohio that are giving grants and startup costs to businesses, Liebschutz said. In the case of Ohio, the USISTF would coordinate requests for proposals (RFPS) with all the UAV system and advanced sensor organizations in the Dayton region that are awarding grants and startup costs to businesses. The RFPs are written together, and the businesses are funded together, so that Ohio companies and Israeli companies would work on sensor space technology together and produce products the government wants and the private sector needs, she said.
Liebschutz said she is always asked if competing companies can work together, and the answer is “yes, companies can work together,” and they can raise money together; they can develop technologies together, and they can develop better technologies together; and can commercialize products together, she said. “That takes people, minds, engineers, bandwidth and money,” she added.
For U.S. companies in need of “engineers, bandwidth and money,” an R&D agreement with an Israeli firm might be the answer. In addition to the five states the USISTF has agreements with and Ohio, the foundation is seeking to expand into more states (it is beginning talks with Florida, and targeting California and Texas), Liebschutz said. Businesses that are interested in partnering with an Israeli company, but are located in states that do not have an agreement with OCS should engage business organizations such as their Chamber of Commerce with the goal of contacting their state’s leaders about USISTF.