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Mass., Israel Cooperate to Build Water Innovation Rapid Method

As Massachusetts eagerly seeks Israeli partners in water innovation, a Herzliya-based firm specializing in rapid microbiological water testing will get the chance to showcase its systems in the New England hi-tech hub.

Led by CEO Charles Gast, the TACount company was the winner among six finalists in the W.E.T. (Water Export Technology) Revolution Competition on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, organized by the Massachusetts Water Innovation Mission to Israel – a trade delegation of 48 industry executives.

The competition was a business opportunity for Israeli water technology firms to find a gateway to the North American market, as well as a networking event for innovators and investors on both sides.

Massachusetts’s interest in Israel really began in 2010, when a state survey showed that in 2009 nearly 100 Israeli companies were located in the state, contributing 6,000 jobs directly and 21,000 jobs indirectly, as well as generating $2.4 billion per year, explained Hadas Bar-Or, trade representative to Israel for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Following the survey, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick made a trip to Israel in 2011, and at the end of the year appointed Bar-Or to be the trade representative there.

“This is the only trade office Massachusetts has outside of Massachusetts,” Bar-Or said. “It goes to show how highly important the relationship is with Israel.”

For Jim Matheson, a partner at Flagship Ventures and president and CEO of Oasys Water in Massachusetts, Israeli and Massachusetts entrepreneurs are ideal cleantech partners. In addition to having many Israelis studying and working in the state, particularly in the Boston area, Matheson said that there is a “like-mindedness between New Englanders and Israelis,” a straightforward way of thinking.

“When the governor came here in March 2011 he got exposed to the world class water cluster based in Israel,” Matheson said. “He came back to Massachusetts and started to inquire what water resources are available there.”

For the past 18 months, representatives from the state’s water industry have been working on developing a similar type of cluster of resources.

“As a natural outcropping activity in formalizing activity and strengthening relationship it was a natural activity for us to come to Israel,” Matheson added.

Alicia Barton McDevitt, executive director and CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), agreed that Israel is a “natural partner” for the US state.

“We have similar sized economies, have similar strengths, and that really is a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, with life science, hi-tech, Internet, cleantech, water technology,” Barton McDevitt said. “We have natural linkages between our strengths each focusing on advanced research and innovation.”

MassCEC runs a joint program to fund Massachusetts and Israeli cleantech projects with Israel Industry, Labor and Trade Ministry chief scientist Avi Hasson and MATIMOP, the executive agency of Hasson’s office that generates international cooperation on and implementation of research and development programs.

The program, called Massachusetts- Israel Innovation Partnership (MIIP), recently announced the winners of its first round of funding, and will soon open a second round with $250,000 of funding from both sides.

As one of the largest challenges in the world is water scarcity, Barton McDevitt said she hoped that the two places could help pinpoint world-saving technologies together.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is perfectly situated on the East Coast to be a “comfortable gateway to the US” for Israeli entrepreneurs, she added.

John Harthorne, co-founder and CEO of MassChallenge, the largest start-up accelerator in the world, was excited to be part of the mission in order to meet with potential Israeli candidates for participation in the accelerator. With an “overall mission to catalyze the startup renaissance,” MassChallenge takes 120 start-ups under its wing every year.

“There’s a very welcoming community for Israeli innovators in the Boston area,” Harthorne said. “We are eager to support more Israelis and strengthen that existing bond.”

To that effect, the accelerator will likely be launching an initiative called MassChallenge Israel toward the end of January, the first accelerator program designed for start-ups from a specific country, he explained.

Not only do Israelis tend to be well-educated and focused, but “because Israel is small all Israeli innovators are looking globally from day one,” Harthorne said.

From the Israeli side, a firm called Desalitech, which focuses on reverse osmosis processes for effluent treatment, used the event as an opportunity to announce that it would be launching its commercial and operational headquarters in Massachusetts.

“The State of Israel was welcomed so warmly there,” Desalitech CEO Nadav Efraty said.

As far as the competition goes, Gast – the CEO of TACount – stressed that “Massachusetts is a great hub for biotech,” and that he hopes to form strategic alliances there. As part of his win, he will get a week-long networking trip to the state to meet with potential investors and customers, and 20 hours worth of pro bono legal advice from Massachusetts and Israeli law firms.

“All of the types of companies we would be looking for have a presence there,” Gast said. “It’s a great opportunity to evaluate possibilities for R&D, sales and strategic alliances.”

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