South Carolina, Israel team up to fund high tech

The S.C. Research Authority and a government agency in Israel each have set aside $1 million to invest in high-tech collaborations between Palmetto State and Israeli companies over the next two years.

The twin pledges are a major part of a research and development agreement unveiled Tuesday during a business exchange between South Carolina and Israel at the Medical University of South Carolina.

While a handful of other states have brokered similar deals with Israel, S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the SCRA agreement will be the first of its kind in the Southeast.

The pact isn’t yet finalized, but everyone involved is optimistic that it could lead to the commercialization of promising Israeli technologies in the United States.

Nili Shalev, Israel’s economic minister to North America who traveled to Charleston this week along with seven Israeli companies for the U.S.-Israel Neurotechnology Business Exchange, recalled when General Electric bought a small Israeli imaging company and grew it into a $2 billion business.

“I think this is a perfect example of how the two sides can win from this relationship,” she said, matching Israel’s innovation with American scaling and marketing.

The memorandum of understanding with MATIMOP, Israel’s agency for industrial research and development cooperation, still must be translated into Hebrew, SCRA CEO Bill Mahoney said.

And details like whether participating companies will have to pay back the money they are awarded must still be worked out.

The general idea is that this summer, the SCRA and MATIMOP will simultaneously release requests for proposals for collaborations in six high-tech industries, including biomedical, aerospace and information technology.

Then, pairings of South Carolina and Israeli companies will submit ideas for projects they can complete only together. The SCRA and MATIMOP have to approve a project before releasing funding, said Russ Keller, SCRA’s vice president of applied research and development.

The SCRA money will come from Keller’s unit of the publicly chartered nonprofit corporation that plows revenues back into the state’s tech industry.

While the money is likely to be given as grants, Mahoney said it will likely follow the process and pattern of SCRA’s SC Launch program, which tends to invest in $200,000 increments. Keller said two or three projects will be funded each year and that the typical project length will be two years.

The idea is the Israeli companies will set up affiliates in South Carolina, Mahoney said.

One such collaboration is already in the works and another is on the cusp.

Funded in part by a grant from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co. has been working with an Israeli advanced materials company on a product that could be announced as early as next month, Mahoney said.

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv-based NeuroQuest, whose executives are in town this week, is well on its way to opening its U.S. office in Charleston.

Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, an Alzheimer’s disease specialist who recently became executive director of Roper St. Francis’s Clinical and Biotechnology Research Institute, is the company’s vice president for clinical affairs. The company has already taken an investment from North Charleston-based InterTech Group Inc. and is meeting with SC Launch and Charleston Angel Partners.

“I think the opportunities are incredible,” Mintzer said of the collaboration.

Jonathan Zucker, president of The InterTech Group and an organizer of the S.C.-Israel connection, said many potential company pairings have been fostered through recent delegations to Israel and this week’s get-together at MUSC. The new agreement is the next step.

“Now these people have more incentive to get the ball rolling,” he said.

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