As evidence of its leading role in research and development, Israel has been chosen to head the largest R&D network in the world.

Israel belongs to the Asian continent, but when it comes to research and development the US and Europe seem closer to home. And like most countries operating in today’s global village, Israel relies on cooperation with industrial partners from the European Union and the US to propel its high-tech and biotech products into the world market.

As evidence of its leading role in research and development, Israel has been chosen to head the largest R&D network in the world, the “Eureka initiative”, a pan-European, inter-governmental initiative that supports European innovation and sees investments of €1.5 billion every year.

Since joining the program in 2000, Israel, the only non-European member country, has been among the most active of the 40 members.

In 1985, Eureka was set up as a legal framework within which European companies could collaborate and receive government funding. Thanks to a political push from France and Germany, Israel was granted permission to join Eureka as a full member.

“It’s a very unique occasion,” Israel Shamay, Israel’s national project coordinator for Eureka, from ” the Israeli Industry Center for R&D (MATIMOP) “, tells ISRAEL21c. However, Shamay believes that the vote that led to an Israeli representative being chosen to chair the network was an obvious choice, after Israel proved itself among the member countries. “In the last three years, Israel became one of the five most active members in Eureka and had the same number of projects compared to [EU] countries, which are much bigger. Out of nearly 300 new projects initiated by Eureka, in 2008, we had 40 with Israeli companies participating in them.”

Successful Israel-EU partnerships

Some of the more successful pairings since Israel joined Eureka are between the Israeli agricultural company Veterix, and DeLaval, a Swedish milk industry giant. Veterix developed a capsule that sits in the stomach of a cow to monitor the health of the animal from within, and worked with the Swedish firm to co-develop the idea.

“This is an example that reflects the merits of Eureka,” says Shamay. “The partner is a prospective business partner. In this case the Swedish government shared the risk.” Elbit Systems, the Israeli defense industries high tech firm, had several projects in Eureka. One was to take cameras intended for military purposes and develop them for the auto industry. If the windshield fogs up or if there is poor visibility, the camera can still see the road. It’s good for truckers, says Shamay.

A third success story is the partnership between Starhome, a Comverse subsidiary in Israel, and Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent to develop a smart home system.

Eureka is the largest joint project R&D initiative in the world. Main objectives are to foster R&D joint ventures between corporations, with financial support matched by representative countries.

Germany is now entering the chair position, with Israel to follow. The project maintains a troika system, with three representatives holding chair positions simultaneously – the past, present and future chairs. The name of the Israeli chairperson has not yet been announced.

Determining Eureka’s agenda

Shamay is hoping that Israel’s upcoming leading role in Eureka will impact positively on the country’s industrial development. “Over this period of one year, Israel will determine the agenda of Eureka and can prioritize along with our national interests,” he says, pointing out that Israel could initiate new funding schemes for startups and companies, bring more EU investment banks and investors to Israel and expose EU countries to Israel’s binational projects like the Red-Dead canal, proposed between Israel and Jordan.

Chief Scientist Dr. Eli Opper said in an interview with Israel’s financial newspaper, Globes: “During its year as president of Eureka, Israel will be able to set its agenda, which will enable us to promote important initiatives with European support, such as strengthening R&D in low technology industries or in other priority fields, such as the life sciences, water technologies and the environment.”

Operating like the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (the BIRD Foundation), Eureka has a legal entity – the foundation. The task of the foundation is to select projects that will be eligible for a virtual fund.

“It’s not like a common pot of money and then the commission selects projects for funding,” says Shamay. This is how Eureka is different from BIRD and other joint R&D funds: “Eureka funding comes from different national programs.

“In our case [funding comes from] the Chief Scientist’s Office. Eureka provides a platform to initiate this cooperation and provides a legal framework,” explains Shamay. “It’s important to note it’s a national task so we are involving the President of Israel, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science and the Israel Venture Association. We invite all of them to take part in this opportunity,” he adds.

Israel has other successful partnerships underway in EU R&D programs, in the EU Seventh Framework Programme for R&D, and in Galileo, a global satellite navigation program.