Start-Up Nation Central has adopted innovation diplomacy as a central pillar of our organization’s strategy and our partnership with the UAE will continue for many years to come

A bit more than a year after they were signed on the White House lawn, the Abraham Ac­cords received a burst of vital­ity last week with the arrival of a large, high-level delegation of Emirati govern­ment and business leaders to Israel. The UAE Embassy in Israel, led by Ambas­sador Mohamed Al Khaja, in partnership with Start-Up Nation Central and the Israeli Ministry of Economics and Indus­try, had the privilege of hosting a first-of-its-kind business and innovation confer­ence in Tel Aviv. Our event, dubbed the UAE-IL Business Forum, was dedicated to building relationships between the top echelons of the two nations’ business ecosystems.

While groups of Israelis, including rep­resentatives of the organization that I lead, have been traveling to Abu Dhabi and Dubai fairly regularly for the past 14 months, the visit of the delegation, in­cluding two ministers of state, felt like a major step forward. Like so many of the speakers that graced our conference with their presence noted, there is nothing like stepping out of the boardrooms and Zoom calls and finally meeting your counterparts in person to get the wheels of collaboration rolling in earnest.

There is much to build on. As we heard from various government officials from both sides, trade in goods and services between the UAE and Israel surpassed the billion-dollar mark in just the first year since the normalization of relations, already outpacing Israel’s trade volume with neighboring countries Egypt and Jordan roughly fivefold. But there is po­tential for much more. Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said that he ex­pects that number to more than double and surpass the $3 billion mark in a year, with more than 1,000 Israeli companies active in the UAE by September 2022. “This is more than simply a foundation to build on. It is a solid partnership of real significance, not just for our nations, but for the region and the world as a whole,” he said, sharing his vision for more robust commercial relations.

The areas that hold the most potential for collaboration are healthcare, agricul­ture, security, finance, space, advanced manufacturing, water, energy, and tour­ism. The speakers who took to the stage acknowledged the two countries’ comple­mentary strengths in generating, financ­ing, and developing new solutions to help overcome global challenges, and stressed how the combined resourcefulness, en­trepreneurial spirit, and business acumen of our two nations are capable of achiev­ing great things.

As Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minis­ter of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises, said in his keynote address, “Everywhere I look, I see alignments, both in our strengths and our challenges. There are a lot of ways that we can work together and en­able our respective businesses to expand from the UAE to Israel and the other way around.” We believe that cooperation at the state level — and particularly the sign­ing of the free trade agreement, which is currently being negotiated — will improve the chances for successful joint ventures.

Having been part of the Israeli innova­tion ecosystem for 30 years, both in gov­ernment roles and in the private sector, if there’s one word that I think is the most important, most intrinsic to what we at Start-Up Nation Central do, it would be “Collaboration”.

Innovation cannot exist without col­laboration, whether it be among scien­tists, among firms, among countries, or among regions. There’s no way of achiev­ing any of our goals by working in inde­pendent silos. During the conference, participants heard from our distinguished lineup of speakers — including senior rep­resentatives from the government and business worlds — about not only the dis­tinct characteristics that make up our eco­system but also the interconnectivity among its various aspects — startups, in­vestors, accelerators, government, aca­demia, and non-governmental organisa­tions – that makes it a world-leading hub for technological advancements.

We have adopted in­novation diplomacy as a central pillar in our organization’s strategy, seeing it as a vital element in our overarching mission of strengthening the Israeli economy.

We, at Start-Up Nation Central, are strong believers in innovation diplomacy. For me, the Abraham Accords provide perhaps the most striking example of this new development in international rela­tions — nations that identified such im­mense opportunity in each other’s capa­bilities that they forged official ties in order to make them flourish. It is the per­fect complement and natural continua­tion of the formal ties that were enacted by our political leaders, and it is now on us, as leaders of the business community, to translate it into a relationship that ex­tends also to people. We have adopted in­novation diplomacy as a central pillar in our organization’s strategy, seeing it as a vital element in our overarching mission of strengthening the Israeli economy. We believe that with the UAE, we have found a partner for a long-term relationship, one that we plan to continue investing in for many years to come.

Israel is a nation of problem solvers and we at Startup Nation Central occasion­ally ask ourselves if the business model of importing other countries’ problems to Israel makes sense. At the end of the day, that is exactly what we do. We provide a window into the Israeli innovation eco­system through our free-to-use Finder database, a platform that includes data, insights, and contact information on more than 8,000 Israeli tech companies, R&D hubs, accelerators, investors, multi­national corporations, and academic in­stitutes. We develop relationships with corporations, governments entities, and investors to identify their central chal­lenges and create tailored engagements with the most relevant solution providers in the Israeli tech sector.

As someone who is deeply familiar with private-public partnerships, I would also like to highlight the importance of the state’s role in cultivating and comple­menting the business sector’s efforts. We, as an independent and not-for-profit or­ganisation that isn’t monetarily motivated but deeply connected to the business eco­system, are uniquely capable of recognis­ing the interests of both sides of the part­nership and bridging the gaps when the need arises.

Some of our Emirati visitors, including the two ministers, got a taste of our capa­bilities in an intimate roundtable discus­sion we hosted last Wednesday evening, introducing them to representatives of four Israeli unicorn tech companies, who spoke about how they managed to scale up their innovation and transform their startups into market-leading ventures.

I would like to end by sharing Ambas­sador Al Khaja’s main message from the event, he said: “As people of the region, in order to advance our own societies and our economies, it is imperative for all actors in this room, and our counter­parts to find ways to ‘lean in’ to this rela­tionship and work together to open doors and correctly navigate and fuse together the respective strengths of our societies and economies.” I second this call for collaboration.

We invite our partners in the UAE to bring us their challenges, but also bring us your strengths. We will combine your ca­pabilities with ours and together we will come up with solutions that will benefit not only the people of the UAE and Israel, but the people of the region and of the en­tire world.

This Op-Ed was first published in the print edition of the Kaheleej Times on Nov. 28, 2021.

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