The Maryland/Israel Development Center has made a new hire. But you won’t see him too often at the MIDC office in the Department of Business and Economic Development in Baltimore City. That’s because his office is in Netanya, Israel.
Ilan Friedman will now serve as the connector between Maryland and Israeli companies and the MIDC. His role replaces a years-long relationship between MIDC and Trendlines, which, according to executive director Barry Bogage, had become less effective because of Trendlines’ focus on seed-stage startups that were not ready to enter or collaborate with the American market. Friedman will focus on more mature high-tech companies with the capability to expand into the U.S. arena.
Friedman comes to the MIDC after more than a decade of working with a similar organization out of Atlanta and then with assisting Israeli companies through his firm, Ncompas International Market Development, in their marketing and sales initiatives to better prepare them for international growth. Born in New York but raised in Israel since the age of 2, Friedman has spent time in both countries and has a deep understanding of the two economies. Now that he signed an agreement with MIDC, which became official at the first of the month, he will focus solely on Maryland-Israel economic relations.
“The whole idea is to promote MIDC and Maryland, and I can’t be working with competing groups or states,” Friedman said.
Friedman’s hire comes at a time of new growth for MIDC. According to Bogage, Gov. Martin O’Malley increased the state allocation to MIDC for 2014 by 100 percent, doubling funds available for staff, marketing and projects that can bring jobs to both economies. In addition to hiring Friedman, Bogage added Jennifer Rubin Raskas in Montgomery County to better expand opportunities in that area of the state.
In the last two years, MIDC has scored some big wins, including convincing defense giant ELTA to open its American office in Howard County. Likewise, several Israeli companies are applying to enter (or have already entered) into area incubators, the first step in a Maryland presence. Those companies include Hybrid Security, Roboteam and Zuznow, among a handful of others.
“We already have a lot of new activity, and we expect to keep growing exceptionally,” said Bogage. “After years of doing this by myself, it is fantastic to have great staff.”
Friedman said he believes that Maryland and Israel have the potential for even more and improved synergy. While he is not setting a metric in terms of number of companies he would like to see collaborate, he said he is focused on getting Israeli companies investors, customers and partners in the state. He does not think that Maryland companies could necessarily benefit from having storefronts in Israel, but rather from learning about Israeli technologies and creating partnerships that would enable local companies to use the innovation in Israel to enhance their products and services.
The two primary areas of potential synergy are in the cyber security and the life-science arenas. He said both Maryland and Israel are leaders in these fields, and he expects they could better assist one another.
Concurrently, MIDC has a robust membership of close to 300 companies and/or individuals. Friedman will work with the rest of the MIDC team to figure out how the organization can better tap into its professional network to assist Israeli companies and to look at what more MIDC can offer the professionals in terms of access to Israeli innovations — first and for profit.
One other message that Friedman hopes to convey: “Israel is not in the same position as it was in the past. It is not a needy market. It used to need [economic] support, and it received that support. … Israel today has an extremely powerful economy and is a very influential country.”
He said that while there is much Americans can still do for Israel and things that Maryland can offer the Jewish state, he also hopes that he can use his role to improve the local market. He noted that Israel being the startup nation with the highest concentration of innovation in the world did not happen by accident but was the result of a process put in place by the Israeli government and the private sector.
“We can and should learn from the U.S.,” said Friedman. “But there is a lot the U.S. can learn from Israel.”
See related article, “Showcase Of Innovation”>>
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief