A dozen Israeli innovation firms including clean-tech, natural resources, medical device and security companies are taking part in matchmaking sessions with entrepreneurs from Ottawa and Toronto this week.
The visitors come from Israel's northern Galilee region, which has a large Arab population. They'll meet with local startup firms looking to collaborate and form partnerships, according to Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation.
"The Arab community of Israel ... hasn't been as prominent in the [nation's] success as it has the potential to be," said Rothschild. "With this kind of exposure, I believe we can build important bridges across the Middle East."
Rothschild's group is funded by both the federal and Ontario governments, and by the government of Israel.
'With this kind of exposure, I believe we can build important bridges across the Middle East.' - Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation
Entrepreneur Kyle Liu is one of the Ottawa CEOs who has meetings set up with Israeli medical device firms this week.
Liu's startup, iNano Medical Inc., creates neuro-stimulation technology to help in anesthetics. Liu said he's excited about the potential for collaboration.
The history and politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict isn't actually on his radar, Liu said.
"That part, I cannot say I'm very interested in because I don't know too much. But I believe in the future there can be a potential market for us as well."
The Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation was created through a bilateral treaty between the governments of Israel and Canada. The treaty commits both sides to contribute $1 million a year to help fund joint research projects. Rothschild said over the past 20 years, the foundation has funded hundreds of projects with a commercial value of "several hundred million dollars."
Rothschild said many Israeli startups develop ties to the military, which can put entrepreneurs from the country's Arab population at a disadvantage.
"For members of the Arab community to succeed in that country, they have to overcome obstacles that the other mainstream companies don't have, and the obstacles aren't structural, they're social," said Rothschild.
He said he's confident the sessions here will improve the competitive positions of firms in both Canada and Israel.
The sessions also set the stage for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's business delegation to Israel this spring.