Published in Manufacturing

Michigan Israel Business Accelerator’s new initiative to help local companies harness innovation

BY Sunday, August 30, 2020 06:28pm

In a business climate in which manufacturers are pressured to stay up on the latest technology, there is little wonder why Michigan-based companies might look to Israel for best practices.

In fact, one organization is making it easy for them to do so.

The Michigan Israel Business Accelerator (MIBA) was established in 2007 and was developed both to create and strengthen economic ties between Michigan and Israel.

Most recently, MIBA is planning to create workgroups consisting of both Michigan and Israeli businesses under what is called the Innovation vs. Corona initiative. This is where company leaders work to identify needs and highlight opportunities as Michigan begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative formally kicks off on Aug. 31 with a series of virtual business-to-business meetings that will develop workgroups that focus on specific industry clusters.

“This is bigger than hand sanitizer and facemasks and plexiglass,” MIBA CEO Scott Hiipakka told MiBiz. “How do we learn from the lessons of the past five months and then how do we bring together industry thought leaders and say: ‘We’ve clearly experienced some adversity, how do we learn from that adversity and how do we recover faster?’”

“In Israel, a lot of its innovation is a result of necessity and survival,” added Hiipakka, whose organization features six full-time staff members, including two based in Israel. “Like it or not, in Michigan, we are now forced to adapt or our economy is going to suffer.”

Innovation in manufacturing

The Michigan Israel Business Accelerator focuses on five different industry clusters: mobility, defense, cybersecurity/artificial intelligence, health and life sciences and food and agriculture technology.

According to Justine Burdette, manufacturing is the common denominator of sorts.

“Woven throughout all of those (industries) is advanced manufacturing,” said Burdette, vice president of technical services for The Right Place Inc. and regional director of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West

Burdette witnessed Israel’s innovation firsthand in February when she joined a delegation on a trip MIBA took there, which focused on Industry 4.0.

“Whether it’s for your food and the ag industry or for health and life sciences, that backbone of manufacturing is woven throughout that,” she said. “It’s very similar to us in Michigan. We have a great diversity of manufacturing industries. Yes, we are very heavy on automotive, especially in Southeast Michigan, but the amount of stuff we know how to do and make in Michigan is, bar none, some of the best in the country.”

When it comes to manufacturing, Israel’s thriving market of tech startups has been enough to catch the attention of some leading business executives. 

Considered a hotbed for innovation — boasting the largest number of tech startups per capita in the world — Israel has not only attracted the Big Three Detroit automakers but also a wide range of Tier 1 suppliers.

Last summer, Ford Motor Company opened up a research center in Tel Aviv. The facility contains a vehicle lab and serves as a hub for scouting tech startups. Just before Ford Research Center Israel opened its doors, Renault and Nissan also established a similar automotive technology center. BMW, Hyundai, Bosch and Lear are among the other automotive manufacturers that have established themselves in Israel.

“The Big Three all now have a presence in Israel and so do, really, the majority of them. Every large company that exists in the United States has some form of office or representative in Israel to harness the opportunity to partner in innovation,” Hiipakka said.

Established relationship

Multiple administrations have peeked over Israel’s shoulder for ideas and best practices over the years. Hiipakka recalled when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm took a trip to Israel for those exact purposes, but the relationship between Michigan and Israel didn’t really formalize until Gov. Rick Snyder took office.

In early 2017, Snyder led a seven-day investment mission to Israel, a trip to probe for opportunities in everything from academic cooperation to cybersecurity collaboration.

“Gov. Snyder, I think because of his business background perhaps, was fascinated with the innovation and opportunities he saw in Israel,” Hiipakka said.

Snyder went on to approach the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and eventual MIBA Board Chairman Mark Davidoff of The Fisher Group to create the formal relationship.

“There is just so much synergy that exists between the two ecosystems across multiple industry clusters,” Hiipakka said of Michigan and Israel. “It was under his leadership that the relationship was truly forged. … Also, Gov.Whitmer’s first (international trade mission) as a sitting governor was to Israel and MIBA played a supporting role in that capacity.”

Hiipakka said Israel’s economic dynamic draws parallels to what we see in Michigan.

“Everybody knows everyone in Israel,” he said. “For a population under 10 million people, it’s a very connected country. It does remind me of the Grand Rapids area. (That) ecosystem is also very connected.”

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