Collaborative Forms to Capitalize on Israel Opportunities

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Three organizations that joined a delegation to Israel in January are partnering on an initiative to capitalize on the opportunities they discovered during the trip, particularly with additive manufacturing companies.

The newly formed Israel-Youngstown Business Incubator Collaborative includes the Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and Youngstown State University. It is designed to assist Israeli entrepreneurs with finding resources to help them establish operations in the United States, ideally in the Mahoning Valley.

“This is an opportunity for us to bring technology-based businesses that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to in Northeast Ohio and it’s a serious opportunity. It should be treated seriously,” said Barb Ewing, the incubator’s CEO.

Representatives from the YBI, YSU and the Jewish federation participated in the January trip to Israel, where they visited universities and met with executives from six companies.

“Active conversations” are ongoing with four companies, Ewing said. Two of them would provide “tremendous opportunities to increase our research capabilities in materials and really add to the value proposition” of the northeastern Ohio additive manufacturing cluster, she said.

“We want to harness those opportunities.”

The federation participated in a 2006 trip hosted by the Akron community that U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, joined as well. A 2010 trip led by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber included the mayors of Youngstown and Warren.

“It was a terrific trip but it was very broad,” said Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of community relations and government affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. “We spent a lot of time seeing different things and there was still a lack of focus.”

Discussions began among the federation, YBI and YSU to discuss how future trips could be improved. While the federation can conduct trips to Israel, it lacks the capacity and expertise to build “meaningful business relationships” with the Israelis, Burdman said.

“Israelis are bottom-line people. They want to know what’s in it for them and how they can move forward. What we figured out is that you need to take trips with the right people and organizations, and figure out what sets your community apart,” she continued.

“Why do Israelis want to do business with Youngstown, Ohio? Because there is an additive manufacturing ecosystem that exists nowhere else, with a level of expertise that sets us apart.”

During the January trip, the delegation met with companies at all levels of development, Ewing said.

“We kind of went in with our hat in hand, not sure of what their interests would be,” she said. “To still be having meaningful conversations about potential collaborations with four of those companies four months later, that’s astonishing.”

Meetings also took place at Hebrew University and the Technion, Israel’s equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. YSU’s research capabilities, the depth of its faculty’s knowledge and the extent of the equipment it owns and has access to were “clearly impressive” to the people the delegation met with at the Technion, Ewing remarked.

YBI will take the lead on most aspects of the I-YBI Collaborative, Ewing said, and work to “engage the entire community and have as many different partners playing whatever role is suited for them.”

The Jewish federation sees itself as a convener in the community, and Burdman envisions its role primarily as supportive. “We can be helpful in opening doors, in hosting Israelis who come here and making them recognize that this is a great place to be,” she said.

YSU’s role in the collaborative is “still to be determined,” said Martin Abraham, YSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

The university will support the collaborative’s efforts by providing access to students, faculty and facilities. “We are ready and willing to help out but a lot of the details of what we do will depend on what these companies need from us,” Abraham said.

Ewing said she is “continually surprised” by the number of Valley natives who have relationships or permanent or seasonal homes in Israel, ties that collaborative will tap. Perhaps the most prominent person, she said, is Barak Rabinowitz, a Youngstown native who is a venture capitalist there.

“Having people who can open doors, make connections for us in Israel is critical to identifying key technologies that would be suitable for attraction here,” she said. Additionally, a local tie adds a level of credibility when reaching out to these companies.

So far the collaborative has relied on existing resources, and needs funds to hire someone at least part time to work on its behalf. Companies coming to the United States also will need legal and accounting services, which can be provided in kind, Ewing said.

“We’re certainly looking for angel investors,” she added. “We know that if we’re bringing startups to the United States, we’ve got to have people willing to invest in a technology that wasn’t developed here and probably isn’t fully housed here. Most of these companies will keep some kind of footprint in Israel.”

Pictured: Bonnie Deutsch Burdman and Barb Ewing.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.