Things moved pretty quickly following a recent week-long economic mission to Israel sponsored by the City of Vaughan. Within days of the return of the 23-strong contingent, Centennial College, one of the participants, had signed seven memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Israeli academic institutions.
The MOUs were concluded “with learning institutions and organizations in Israel… as part of a concerted effort by [Centennial] to enhance student mobility and learning internationally,” the college said in a statement.
The agreements are meant to create linkages between Centennial and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem, the College of Law and Business, the Jerusalem College of Technology and Tel-Hai Academic College. In addition, there are new ties with the Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, and VARAM, Israel’s board of public academic colleges.
“Centennial and other colleges are looking for new academic partners to enhance learning opportunities for their students, as well as opportunities for collaborative research, innovation and commercialization,” Centennial said.
Vaughan city councillor Alan Shefman, who, along with Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, spearheaded the mission and accompanied it to Israel, said that’s just the kind of outcome he’d been looking for.
Vaughan has been working on a new economic development plan geared to increasing economic ties with three countries: Israel, Italy and China. The idea is to bring together Canadian and foreign firms, along with educational institutions, who can partner in pursuing business opportunities. On the educational front, it was hoped that it would lead to student exchanges and training programs, he said.
During the trip to Israel, organizers arranged 160 meetings with local companies and agencies, most of them one-on-one sessions, Shefman stated.
ColdSpring Commerce, a Canadian company that specializes in facilitating business partnerships, created the network that brought together Canadian and Israeli participants. “They were critical to the success of the program as they were on the ground in Israel,” Shefman said.
The initiative was mounted in co-operation with Israel’s Toronto consulate, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
“Any trade collaboration has to be mutually beneficial. This is the philosophy I bring to international trade for the city. It has to be a win-win that fosters further growth and expands both economies,” Bevilacqua said.
“Israel is a country that is widely admired,” particularly for its advances in the tech sector,” he added.
One of the Canadian participants, Gino Di Rezze, founder of Groundheat Systems, was impressed at the vitality of Israeli entrepreneurs.
“I was excited seeing the energy of a small country. It was amazing,” he said.
Di Rezze participated in one-on-one meetings that appear to have already spawned business relationships. In conjunction with an Israeli company, Groundheat is bidding on the installation of a geothermal power plant in a government building near the Knesset in Jerusalem.
The company’s Rome office is also partnering with an Israeli firm to bid on installing a geothermal plant at an Israeli army base, Di Rezze said.
Shefman said Canadian participants represented a wide range of industries, from those specializing in security products, to metal fabricators, to investment funds.
Shefman said one Israeli company, A.B.A. Science Play, produces “high-end, scientific playgrounds” that add an educational element to children’s playground activities.
“They’re looking to establish a Canadian office in Vaughan,” Bevilacqua said.
Another Israeli company that participated in the meetings makes an advanced automated parking system that moves cars to designated spots on a conveyor system and does not require a driver. It’s a real money-saver, said Shefman, since it reduces the costs of excavating underground parking and allows more cars to use less space.
Canadians can offer their marketing and management skills to the roll-out of those sorts of products, or perhaps provide infusions of capital to develop them. For its part, Vaughan can serve as “a jump-off point in North America,” providing a base from which Israeli firms, with a limited local customer base, can sell to a huge market, Shefman said.
Adding to the Vaughan sales pitch is the fact that many Israelis are quite familiar with the community.
“You can’t believe the number of Israelis who have knowledge and connections to Toronto and Thornhill,” Shefman said. “Then you start playing Jewish geography with them. It’s a huge issue that we have a significant Israeli population that helps for familiarity. The fact we have a dynamic Jewish community adds value to them. They’re not going to unfamiliar territory.”
As part of the initiative, Vaughan will open a business development office in Tel Aviv, “to show Israel’s business community we’re serious and to continue to build relationships,” said Shefman.