80% of Israel’s
3,000 R&D
companies are less than

10 years old. Israel is second only to the United States in the number of start-up companies. New innovations and technologies are being developed in the Internet, communications, biotech and software fields. 80% of Israel’s 3,000 R&D companies are less than 10 years old.

Before beginning an exploration of Israel’s developing biotech industry, it is important to understand what motivates Israelis and helps them become world leaders in these technological fields.

Upon completion of high school, Israeli youth begin their compulsory service in the military. For young Israelis, this is an accepted thing, and there are very few that try to dodge the service. Many youths utilize their army service to get a head start on what awaits afterwards. Because of high level hands-on experience, those soldiers who serve in the elite technical fields while in uniform come out of their service with skills that others with only a university education have a hard time matching. Many successful entrepreneurs in Israel are veterans of these elite units.

Another factor in Israeli technological advances is the commercial success of many Israeli companies. If Israeli computer freaks and geeks can make millions when they develop products like ICQ, this encourages others to try to imitate their achievements.

In addition to the role of the military and to the desire of young Israelis to imitate the commercial success of companies like those that developed ICQ, Israel has been rewarded with an influx of skilled personnel and technologies from the former Soviet Union. These new immigrants to Israeli society play key roles in many technologies and research institutes in the country.

One of every three Israeli scientists specializes in the life sciences. Relative to the size of the labor force, Israel has the highest number of publishing authors in the natural sciences, engineering, agriculture and medicine – the foundations of biotechnology. Israel’s contribution to academic publications in biotechnology represents 1% of world output, carried out by only .001% of the country’s population.

Because of the harsh environment, Israel’s agricultural sector is based almost entirely on R&D. Breeding and genetic engineering have made Israel’s cows world champions in milk production. A long-term project of “greening the desert” has produced more efficient irrigation technologies and drought tolerant plants.

It appears that Israeli biotech is experiencing the kind of rapid growth that was recently experienced in the United States.

(The annual Bio-Tech Israel 2005 Conference and Exhibition is taking place this week – May 24-26 in Tel Aviv.)