The Third Ambassadors’ Round Table, 3 November 2011
By Jonny Paul

Over 60 scientists, engineers, diplomats and parliamentarians gathered at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall on November 3 for the Third Ambassadors’ Round Table.

Titled “The Challenges and Opportunities of Moving from Innovation to Entrepreneurship: The UK and Israeli Perspective”, the day-long conference allowed British and Israeli delegates to engage in topical debate and discussion and share ideas and best practice techniques. Participants deliberated and looked at ways in which the UK and Israel can work together on science and share working experience on how to best stimulate innovation and transfer technology to the marketplace.

Organised by the Anglo-Israel Association (AIA), a London-based charity that plays an active role in advancing Britain’s relationship with their Middle East ally, participants delved into an array of topical issues with a view of how to increase collaboration and get the best out of their respective scientific and engineering communities. Delegates looked into areas such as how to deal with the crucial issue of technology transfer, protection of intellectual property as well as how to recognise enterprise and help scientists and engineers get their ideas into the marketplace.

In a welcome address, Lord Bew, chairman of the AIA, paid tribute to Israel’s scientific community for its standard of intellectual and technical enterprise and record as a start-up nation. He said that what Israel has achieved, in the face of the issues faced on a daily basis, makes its achievements even more commendable.

“It is extremely difficult to achieve these standards in any circumstances, if there is however a context of terrorism or violence or threats, it actually makes it more difficult,” Lord Bew said.

Beginning proceedings, Professor David Clary, Chief Scientific Advisor at the British Foreign Office, said that both the UK and Israel have an excellent science base. The challenge however is how to turn science into innovation and into businesses and jobs.

Brian Graves, Director of Business Development at Imperial Innovations at Imperial College London, added that it is about not only having great science and research but being able to translate it into something the market might need. Then, he said, you need good management and capital to translate the idea into a business.

Giving an insight into the landscape in Israel, Professor Moti Herskowitz, Vice- President and Dean for Research and Development at Ben Gurion University, said the venture capital community play a major role in driving start up.

“The infrastructure for entrepreneurs is excellent in Israel,” Prof. Herskowitz said. “The government gives a great deal of support. There is support for research and development, and the universities.”

Dr Richard Jennings, from Cambridge Enterprise at the University of Cambridge, spoke about the important role universities play as incubators for innovation.

The morning session ended with a poignant message about what is missing among today’s engineers and scientists.

Dr Mark Talesnick, Associate Professor of Structural Engineering and Construction Management at the Technion, said that the engineering and scientific community needs to install in the engineers and scientists of today a social conscious to deal with the crucial issues impinging on the future of the planet.

“If we don’t we are in danger of cutting off the branch we are sitting on,” Dr Talesnick said.

With so much focus on the western world, which makes up around 10 percent of the global population, and with such devastating issues affecting the remaining 90 percent in the developing world, issues such as acute poverty, malnutrition, high infant mortality, no access to clean water, lack of basic sanitation for example.

“With an estimated two billion people about to join the planet in the next 20 years, who will join the 90 percent, we need to empower engineering and science students with the skill set, a social conscious, to deal with these issues. We need to create a new breed of engineer – the global engineer,” Dr Talesnick said.

Dr Talesnick also said we need to create leaders from the engineering and scientific community, to allow them to impact on the state of the world. If we input a social conscious into their studies – de facto, you generate leaders he said.

“It was a first step towards getting closer ties. I think that the Israeli side clearly said what is needed – a joint fund to help both. Hopefully something like that can be found,

said Professor Shy Arkin, Vice-President and head of research and development at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Cengiz Tarhan, Managing Director of University College London Business, said the conference was a good opportunity to make contacts.

“We shall certainly be investigating collaborative business opportunities over the next few months,” he said.

Other speakers included Professor Haim Garty, Vice President of the Weizmann Institute; Simon Kay, Director of the British Council in Israel; Noah Shani, Minister of Commercial Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London.

Closing remarks were given by Britain’s ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Matthew Gould.

“The Conference was exceptionally well timed,” the Ambassador said.

“Just as Britain and Israel are stepping up collaboration in science and technology, this was an excellent moment to discuss how to convert innovation into industry, and how universities can make best use of the ideas they develop.

“The participants were well chosen – leaders in their field and representatives of some of the top universities in both countries. The discussion was high quality and expert. As ever, the conference was well run and expertly chaired. It will have given a boost to UK/Israel collaboration at an important moment,” he added.