At the UAE-Israel Business Leaders Summit, I shared my outlook on how Israel and the UAE can combine their respective strengths to become the world’s fourth strongest AI superpower

With the historic announcement of the Abraham Accords this Fall, senior government officials, businessmen and economists in both countries began to discuss how best to combine the relative strengths of both Middle Eastern nations. As home to some of the world’s most technologically innovative companies, Israel has firmly established itself as one of the largest innovation ecosystems in the world, and the most densely populated one. Paired with the UAE’s strategic outlook, formidable infrastructure, as well as strong trade and logistics connections to the entire region and beyond, the accords open numerous possibilities for collaborations that could significantly promote the economic future of the region.

So, what will this partnership look like, and which field of innovation is it likely to tackle first?

Israel’s deep tech focus is bearing fruits

Start-Up Nation Central is a non-profit whose goal is to facilitate the opportunities for Israel’s technological innovation ecosystem to address the world’s most pressing challenges, while at the same time helping make sure that it remains one of the leading innovation ecosystems in the world for the foreseeable future. We map the evolution of the Israeli ecosystem and present it to the world on our Innovation Discovery Platform – the Start-Up Nation Finder.

The ecosystem has evolved over the last four decades, but really blossomed in the last 15-20 years, and is rapidly scaling. This is evident form the exponentially increasing interest from international venture investors, culminating with investments of over $10 billion in Israeli startups in 2020 , up from about $1 billion – less than 10 years ago. Similarly, hundreds of multinational corporations (MNCs) are investing in Israel, many of them setting R&D centers, whose numbers swelled form 50 in 2000 to more than 400 today.  

Israeli innovative companies tend to focus on deep tech, and predominantly use a B2B model. The core competencies include: Software, AI & Big Data, which produce formidable cybersecurity and FinTech sectors; combined with sensors, drones and robotics, these generate successful Industry 4.0 and Smart Mobility sectors. Data and AI combined with well recognized expertise in Plant, Water and Soil Sciences yield some of the leading precision agriculture startups worldwide; while Life Sciences expertise, matched with sensors and AI, explain Israel’s strength in Digital Health and Medical Devices. This ecosystem, rooted in deep tech, creates many opportunities for collaboration, joint ventures, and investments with other countries, which have complementary strengths, yet are innovative and open to co-innovation. UAE is an excellent example.

Long-term government strategy, excellent innovation infrastructure and capabilities in the UAE, combined with Israeli R&D and commercialization capabilities could produce the 4th strongest AI superpower

While Israel’s deep-technology sectors continue to attract investors and corporate clients, they could use a long-term strategy framework to continue its development and generate a much larger value. The UAE is one of the world’s leaders in terms of a coherent government strategy around technology and its applications. It also has an excellent record in adopting innovative technologies by the government, including providing an excellent infrastructure, and incentives for companies to develop and grow in the UAE.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing HE Minister Omar Sultan Al Olama of the UAE, who is the first and only Minister of Artificial Intelligence in the world. HE Al Olama argued that there is an “undeniable need” for Israel and the UAE to collaborate around AI in order for them to realize the full impact of their complementary capabilities. 

If the UAE and Israel could hypothetically merge, and completely combine their respective strengths, the result would be the fourth strongest AI ecosystem in the world (according to some ratings, maybe even the third), thank to their unique complementarities. The application of AI to health, education, mobility, smart cities, manufacturing, and HLS are endless. At first, they can be deployed in the two countries, and after being tested, throughout the world. No less important is the cooperation between the two countries in the regulation of AI – smart protection, but without excessive fears. Regulatory conservatism could be one of the main obstacles to the wide adoption of AI, and our two countries can be on the forefront of the development of modern regulation. 

Launching the UAE-IL Tech Zone – a community for collaborative entrepreneurs and technologists 

The collaboration around tech must take place at the government level, the corporate level, as well as among people in both countries interested in technology. With that in mind, Start-Up Nation Central and its partners Fusion LA, Hybrid and Nobex, recently launched the UAE-IL Tech Zone. The Zone establishes a community of Emiratis and Israelis who want to collaborate around technology, potentially generating a much greater value than each community could possibly create on its own. The community will be managed online, but of course, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we will welcome its members from the UAE and Israel at Start-Up Nation Central’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

In summary, this historic moment of peace between the UAE and Israel opens up enormous opportunities for corporations and entrepreneurs in both countries. These opportunities will materialize when strong connections are forged between people and companies. Start-Up Nation Central – an objective and non-conflicted organization with many years of experience forging such connections with Israeli innovation for hundreds of entities around the world – stands ready to help this process. The establishment of the UAE-IL Tech Zone is just the first step. Stay tuned. 

Prof. Eugene Kandel is the CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening Israel’s innovation ecosystem and connecting the world’s government, business and NGO leaders to the people and technologies in Israel that can help them solve their most pressing problems. He is also an Emil Spyer Professor of Economics and Finance at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prof. Eugene Kandel holds a BA and an MA from the Hebrew University, and an MBA and a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago. Prof. Kandel’s primary areas of academic expertise are Financial Markets and Financial Intermediaries. His research is published in the world’s leading finance and economics journals. Prof. Kandel was actively involved in the 1997 redesign of the Nasdaq trading rules. Prof. Kandel served as Editor and Associate Editor of several leading finance journals. He is a member of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University, a Research Fellow of the Center for Economic Policy and Research in London, and a Fellow of the European Corporate Governance Institute. He is the founder of the Center for Financial Markets and Institutions, and of the MA program in Finance and Financial Economics, both at the Hebrew University. Between 2009 and 2015, Prof. Kandel served as the Head of the National Economic Council in Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister, and played a central role in all the major decisions on economic policy. Prior to that, he advised governments, corporations, financial institutions, and NGOs; served on the Israeli Antitrust Court; and chaired investment committees of pension and provident funds in Israel.

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