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By Rory Cellan-Jones – Technology correspondent
What should countries do if they want a mutually profitable relationship with a highly innovative economy?
Her Majesty’s ambassador to Israel thinks the answer is to get immersed in the country’s tech sector and fund trips which see some of the smartest Israeli start-ups visit the UK.
That might sound like a strange use of money – helping another country’s companies expand overseas. But when I sat and chatted with Matthew Gould it seemed to make a lot of sense. In the back garden of his Tel Aviv home, as his two Labradors – one British, one Israeli – played around us he explained the thinking behind the UK/Israeli tech hub.
Specialists in a number of areas – media, biotech, clean energy – have been recruited in Israel to scope out key companies in various sectors. The idea is that they are hooked up with British firms and can then work together to improve profitability and export to third countries.
There’ve already been a number of successes – the pharmaceuticals giant GSK is working with Israeli scientists on drugs research, while Thames Water has begun a partnership with Israeli expertise in a country where access to clean water and making the most of scarce resources is a vital issue.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the policy is changing the mindset of Israeli companies which always look first to the United States for both exports and inspiration. If stronger ties can be built with the UK, then those firms may look to our companies as useful partners in their attempt to enter markets like China.
There’s a lot more to do – the ambassador is hoping the tech hub can work with the Arab minority in Israel which has just started to embark on the start-up road. Its members are exempt from military service, so many miss out on the contacts and technology training that brings.
But Matthew Gould’s example is being followed by other UK embassies keen to promote a message more sophisticated than “invest in us! Buy our stuff.”
Now on a rather wet and English morning in Tel Aviv, I’m off to meet some of this city’s many start-up companies. What they all have in common is that they immediately look at the world as their marketplace – after all a country with just seven million citizens is never going to be enough to satisfy their ambitions.