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Partners in Profit

California and Israeli companies meet to discuss biotech.


by Mike Levy

October 19, 2000 | 8:00 pm

While Israel searches for a reliable partner in peace, partners in business were in no short supply at last month's California-Israel Bio-Partnering & Investment Conference. The "Bio" is short for biotechnology, a collective term for the various medical and technical innovations currently gathering great momentum. The "Partnering" was a meeting of the minds and monies of businesses in California and Israel, previously separated by thousands of miles, concerned with these innovations. The conference brought together Israeli companies specializing in biotechnology with scores of Southern California firms in biotech, venture capital and marketing, and other businesses eager to join in the Israeli biotechnology boom.

Much has been made of the recent growth spurt in the "Silicon Wadi," the high-tech industry that has revitalized Israel's once troubled economy, leading a surge of innovation that has placed Israel among the technology elite with the second highest rate of per-capita startups after California's Silicon Valley. One might have expected any meeting between Californians and Israelis to be filled with the rhetoric of "a common pioneering spirit" and similar proud comparisons. Some of that natural pride could be heard in opening remarks and in the congratulatory letters of politicians in the conference handbooks, but 15 minutes into this two-day meeting, the business at hand was the business of biotech.

In all, more than 150 representatives of more than 70 companies and organizations met at UCLA's faculty center on Sept. 11 and 12. Executives of Israeli start-ups, along with established firms in search of funding and strategic partnerships, showed off their wares with video and PowerPoint presentations. For their part, the California-based firms came in search of innovative technologies in the fast-growing field. Carol Schneider, a partner at Lyon & Lyon intellectual property law firm, noted, "There's just a lot of opportunity [at the conference]. Our firm has most definitely seen an increase in Israeli clients over the past few years." Following the presentations, conference facilitators set up meetings between the Israeli firms and interested California companies. With multimedia presentations and private one-on-one meetings, the networking was intense as strategies were shared, funding was proposed and "there were some very strong connections made. Every company reported strong leads in making partnership connections," said event chair David Herskovitz.

The conference also featured panel discussion seminars designed to help Israeli companies with the details of doing biotech business in the U.S. Four such seminars, on issues like Food and Drug Administration testing and American intellectual property law, drew standing-room-only audiences of Israeli professionals to the conference rooms of the faculty center.

The conference, which is expected to become an annual event, was Herskovitz's brainchild, five years in planning.

"I've always had a passion for Israel," says the executive vice-president of Skilled Health Systems, L.C. While visiting in 1994, "I saw that a lot of the technology was there, but they didn't know what to do with it in terms of penetrating U.S. markets."

Citing the Israeli government's encouragement of converting advanced military technology for civilian uses, along with the influx of a large number of scientists and engineers from the former Soviet Union, Herskovitz saw opportunities for strategic partnerships. As co-founder of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC), Herskovitz says, "I combined my twin passions, for my health care company and for Israel." After years of inquiries and planning, CICC partnered with the Israel Export Institute and the Government of Israel Economic Mission to produce the meeting.

The event also provided an opportunity to honor Alfred Mann, one of Southern California's great philanthropists and founder of more than a half-dozen biotechnology firms. Mann's firm MiniMed has developed external and implantable pumps to reliably deliver insulin for diabetics, and his company Advanced Bionics has created a system for stimulating hearing in deaf people. Even with that level of success, Mann, seated in the audience during the Israeli presentations, was so impressed by one of the technologies in development that he invited the company's representative to his home to discuss partnership possibilities.

The diversity of approaches and the range of technological innovations that make up the Israeli biotech industry was apparent to all in attendance at the conference, as was Israel's place at the forefront of a health and business revolution. Said Tzur Ginad of DNR Imaging Systems, Ltd., "I started in data processing and networks 25 years ago. I see the same potential for growth now in biotechnology."

For more information about the companies and organizations involved with the California-Israel Bio-Partnering and Investment Conference, contact the California Israel Chamber of Commerce at (323) 931-4469, or visit www.ca-israelchamber.org"

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