Opinion

Opinion | John Harthorne and Ron Liebowitz

Why Israeli entrepreneurs keep choosing Massachusetts

AP/Globe staff

When it comes to attracting Israeli entrepreneurs, Boston has proved to be a premier destination for leading startups. As active participants in Boston’s innovation ecosystem, we know from experience that our successes cannot be taken for granted. Each month, more states are sending economic and political delegations to Israel, hoping to attract promising startups — so it’s particularly good news and good timing that Governor Charlie Baker will bring a delegation there this week. While there is much to celebrate, there is even more work for us to do to ensure that we continue to keep our competitive edge.

With support from an impressive network of corporations, academic institutions, policy makers, and leaders from the innovation community, Massachusetts has strengthened its relationship with Israel and unlocked economic growth for both communities as a result.

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This commitment is not without reason. A recent study from the New England-Israel Business Council confirmed the impact Israeli-founded companies have had on Massachusetts. In 2015, there were more than 200 Israeli-founded companies operating within Massachusetts, booking $9 billion in revenue and employing more than 9,000 Bay State workers. Those numbers balloon to at least $18 billion in economic activity and 27,000 jobs when the service providers that the companies support are taken into account. Perhaps even more impressive, Israeli-founded companies accounted for more than 4 percent of the entire Massachusetts GDP in 2015.

Beyond the numbers, Israeli startups are working on technologies that can drastically change society for the better. Cases in point: MassChallenge’s Israeli startup Pzartech is using 3-D printing to reduce unplanned downtime; Searchin is using artificial intelligence for job and talent searches; and RetiSpec is creating medical devices that help detect Alzheimer’s disease.

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So what is it that continues to make Massachusetts such a premier destination for these global businesses?

For a start, there’s a lot working in our favor. We have a favorable time zone, direct flights between Boston and Tel Aviv, a competitive cost of living and tax burden compared to New York and Silicon Valley, an extraordinarily talented workforce, world-class research institutions, a robust venture capital community, and an actively engaged Jewish community.

But our true edge comes from a passionate group of committed leaders across all areas of business, academia, nonprofits, and government who believe deeply in the relationship between Israel and Massachusetts. These leaders are working together to welcome the next generation of Israeli entrepreneurs to Massachusetts’ vibrant innovation ecosystem.

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Every leader who has worked to strengthen the relationship thus far will have a valuable role to play to ensure that Massachusetts not only remains competitive but reaches even greater heights of achievement in several areas, including:

Academic collaboration. Brandeis University, alongside universities like MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, and Berklee College of Music, has long welcomed students from Israel and worked to forge unique partnerships between faculty, students, and Israeli institutions. Universities can continue to drive growth in this relationship by encouraging even more Israeli students and faculty to study and work in Massachusetts and vice versa — identifying new areas for partnership and exchange.

Nonprofit leadership. As the world’s most startup-friendly accelerator, MassChallenge works to drive innovation in Massachusetts and across its four other locations, which include Israel, Switzerland, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. To date, the accelerator has welcomed more than 40 Israeli entrepreneurs to Boston. Nonprofits are uniquely positioned to bring together the entire innovation ecosystem to promote collaboration and demonstrate why Massachusetts is such an ideal place for Israelis to grow their businesses.

John Harthorne is the founder and CEO of MassChallenge. Ron Liebowitz is the president of Brandeis University.
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