‘Startup Nation’ at the Crossroads

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel’s reputation as a leader in high-tech innovation, aka the “Startup Nation,” will be put at risk if the state fails to support research and development, an Economics Ministry official warned on Tuesday.

“If the state does not increase funds for research and development, the idea of Israel as a “Startup Nation” will be only in the past,” Avi Hasson, chief scientist of the Economics Ministry, told the Knesset Science and Technology Committee. Funding for this purpose has declined distressingly over recent years, The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.

Israel’s success is based on budgetary investments of 15 and 20 years ago, Hasson asserted. “If the country thought in the long-term, it would understand that it must invest more money at a time of economic crisis. Every shekel spent on research and development will come back seven times larger at least. It is the country’s main engine for improving the economy,” he said.

Dr. Benny Leshem, director of the medical research administration, added that an examination of the planned per-capita R&D budget for 2013 reveals that “it comes out to only three shekels per citizen.”

Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni said that compared to 2012, the Treasury plans to cut R&D this year by one-fifth. “This is a catastrophe. It is unbelievable. The Treasury should at least promise that in the coming year, it will leave the ministry chief scientists with the same amount of R&D money as last year. If not, we will see the damage for many years.”

Finance Ministry representatives said during the discussion that Israel continues to lead in R&D budgetary investment, especially due to money from private companies. “As a result, we don’t find that the development of companies has been hurt as a result of cuts. We must not forget that we’re in a very difficult budget year that will include many cuts, so it’s logical that the chief scientists’ budgets are liable to be hurt,” they said.

Intel-Israel CEO Muli Adan stressed that “it seems the relevant authorities are apathetic to the processes we are going through. We are resting on our laurels from investments of 15 to 20 years ago. We have already harvested the fruits of the past. We must ensure that there will be seeds for the future. Every error we make today will have major implications in the coming years that will be difficult to correct. Don’t take the future for granted,” he warned.