Building a Strong Foundation for UAE-Israel Business Ties

November 18, 2021

By Avi Hasson

Start-Up Nation Central has adopted innovation diplomacy as the central pillar of its organization’s strategy, meaning the partnership with the UAE will continue for many years to come

A bit more than a year after they were signed on the White House lawn, the Abraham Accords received a burst of vitality last week with the arrival of a large, high-level delegation of Emirati government and business leaders to Israel. The UAE Embassy in Israel, led by Ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja, in partnership with Start-Up Nation Central and the Israeli Ministry of Economics and Industry, had the privilege of hosting a first-of-its-kind business and innovation conference in Tel Aviv. Our event, dubbed the UAE-IL Business Forum, was dedicated to building relationships between the top echelons of the two nations’ business ecosystems

While groups of Israelis, including representatives of the organisation that I lead, have been travelling to Abu Dhabi and Dubai fairly regularly for the past 14 months, the visit of the delegation, including two ministers of state, felt like a major step forward. Like so many of the speakers that graced our conference with their presence noted, there is nothing like stepping out of the boardrooms and Zoom calls and finally meeting your counterparts in-person to get the wheels of collaboration rolling in earnest.

There is much to build on. As we heard from various government officials from both sides, trade in goods and services between the UAE and Israel surpassed the billion-dollar mark in just the first year since the normalisation of relations, already outpacing Israel’s trade volume with neighbouring countries Egypt and Jordan roughly fivefold. But there is potential for much more. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said that he expects that number to more than double and surpass the $3 billion mark in a year, with more than 1,000 Israeli companies active in the UAE by September 2022. “This is more than simply a foundation to build on. It is a solid partnership of real significance, not just for our nations, but for the region and the world as a whole,” he said, sharing his vision for more robust commercial relations.

The areas that hold the most potential for collaboration are healthcare, agriculture, security, finance, space, advanced manufacturing, water, energy, and tourism. The speakers who took to the stage acknowledged the two countries’ complementary strengths in generating, financing, and developing new solutions to help overcome global challenges, and stressed how the combined resourcefulness, entrepreneurial spirit, and business acumen of our two nations are capable of achieving great things.

As Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises, said in his keynote address, “Everywhere I look, I see alignments, both in our strengths and our challenges. There are a lot of ways that we can work together and enable our respective businesses to expand from the UAE to Israel and the other way around.” We believe that cooperation at the state level — and particularly the signing of the free trade agreement, which is currently being negotiated — will improve the chances for successful joint ventures.

Having been part of the Israeli innovation ecosystem for 30 years, both in government roles and in the private sector, if there’s one word that I think is the most important, most intrinsic to what we at Start-Up Nation Central do, it would be “Collaboration”.

Innovation cannot exist without collaboration, whether it be among scientists, among firms, among countries, or among regions. There’s no way of achieving any of our goals by working in independent silos. During the conference, participants heard from our distinguished lineup of speakers — including senior representatives from the government and business worlds — about not only the distinct characteristics that make up our ecosystem but also the interconnectivity among its various aspects — startups, investors, accelerators, government, academia, and non-governmental organisations – that makes it a world-leading hub for technological advancements.

We, at Start-Up Nation Central, are strong believers in innovation diplomacy. For me, the Abraham Accords provide perhaps the most striking example of this new development in international relations — nations that identified such immense opportunity in each other’s capabilities that they forged official ties in order to make them flourish. It is the perfect complement and natural continuation of the formal ties that were enacted by our political leaders, and it is now on us, as leaders of the business community, to translate it into a relationship that extends also to people. We have adopted innovation diplomacy as a central pillar in our organisation’s strategy, seeing it as a vital element in our overarching mission of strengthening the Israeli economy. We believe that with the UAE, we have found a partner for a long-term relationship, one that we plan to continue investing in for many years to come.

Israel is a nation of problem solvers and we, at Start-Up Nation Central, occasionally ask ourselves if the business model of importing other countries’ problems to Israel makes sense. At the end of the day, that is exactly what we do. We provide a window into the Israeli innovation ecosystem through our free-to-use Finder database, a platform that includes data, insights, and contact information on more than 8,000 Israeli tech companies, R&D hubs, accelerators, investors, multinational corporations, and academic institutes. We develop relationships with corporations, governments entities, and investors to identify their central challenges and create tailored engagements with the most relevant solution providers in the Israeli tech sector.

As someone who is deeply familiar with private-public partnerships, I would also like to highlight the importance of the state’s role in cultivating and complementing the business sector’s efforts. We, as an independent and not-for-profit organisation that isn’t monetarily motivated but deeply connected to the business ecosystem, are uniquely capable of recognising the interests of both sides of the partnership and bridging the gaps when the need arises.

Some of our Emirati visitors, including the two ministers, got a taste of our capabilities in an intimate roundtable discussion we hosted last Wednesday evening, introducing them to representatives of four Israeli unicorn tech companies, who spoke about how they managed to scale up their innovation and transform their startups into market-leading ventures.

I would like to end by sharing Ambassador Al Khaja’s main message from the event, he said: “As people of the region, in order to advance our own societies and our economies, it is imperative for all actors in this room, and our counterparts to find ways to ‘lean in’ to this relationship and work together to open doors and correctly navigate and fuse together the respective strengths of our societies and economies.” I second this call for collaboration.

We invite our partners in the UAE to bring us their challenges, but also bring us your strengths. We will combine your capabilities with ours and together we will come up with solutions that will benefit not only the people of the UAE and Israel, but the people of the region and of the entire world.

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