Focus on Jerusalem
BioJerusalem is an economic initiative of the JDA, intended to boost development of the life science industry in the city by encouraging start-up ventures and the relocation or expansion of existing companies.
In May 2008, the JDA began offering grants of 2.4 million NIS (about $617,000) to life science companies that establish a facility in Jerusalem, with the requirement that they hire at least 50 new employees and rent more than 2,500 square meters of space. Last fall, the program expanded to offer incentives amounting to 600,000 NIS ($154,240) for start-up companies that are less than six years of age and plan to hire at least three new employees and rent at least 50 square meters of space.
Shirley Kutner, Ph.D., executive director of BioJerusalem, describes how the group works with universities, hospitals, medical schools, industry, and a variety of organizations to increase awareness of what the city has to offer, including a wealth of students, technology parks and incubators, and a sizable labor force.
Dr. Kutner notes that 30% of all Israeli academic research is done in Jerusalem, as well as 43% of biotechnology research and 50% of clinical research. The city is home to the highest number of Ph.D. students in the life and biomedical sciences, and 35% of the country’s biotech companies are there.
While BioJerusalem cannot provide R&D funds, it can invest in companies by helping them pay municipal taxes and contributing to rent if company employees relocate to Jerusalem.
For start-ups it can provide assistance in developing a business plan, make advisors available, and offer free management courses, forums, and networking opportunities. It can also invest in infrastructure needs in the city, including industrial parks such as the new BioMed Park at Ein-Kerem that houses only life science companies and is located near the campuses of Hebrew University Medical School and Hadassah Medical Center.
Yissum, the technology transfer company of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, handles about 120 new projects each year, according to Nava Swersky-Sofer, president and CEO of Yissum. About “43% of total biotech research in Israel is done at Hebrew University,” she says. Since its inception, Yissum has overseen about 6,000 patents and 1,800 projects. About 80% of these have involved licensing deals to existing companies, while 10–15% have formed the basis for start-up companies.
Swerksy-Sofer points to clean technologies as an emerging area of interest, including water purification technology and biofuels. In December, Yissum launched a $1 million Cleantech Programme to support the development of cleantech inventions by scientists at HU.
Hebrew University and its School of Agriculture are particularly strong in the area of agrobiotechnology. The vigorous hybrid seed industry in Israel emanated predominantly from research done at HU. Swersky-Sofer cites CollPlant, a biotech company housed in Weizmann Science Park, as an example of technology that emerged from research at HU.