Yonatan Avraham, student ambassador of HUstart, left, and Tamir Huberman of Yissum are two of the four speakers who will be participating in Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech on July 16. (photos from CFHU Vancouver)
“I have always loved the thrill you feel while creating your own project, seeing it grow and being responsible for the outcomes – and the satisfaction you feel while convincing a stranger to give his or her resources (time or money) for your product,” said Yonatan Avraham, student ambassador of HUstart, Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s entrepreneurship centre, about what excites him about being an innovator and entrepreneur.
Avraham is one of four speakers who will participate in Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech, which will take place on July 16 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. The event is being hosted by Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, the Jerusalem Foundation and JCCGV. Avraham will be joined by Lior Schillat of Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research; Maya Halevy of Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem; and Tamir Huberman of Yissum, HU’s technology transfer company. The Jewish Independent’s interviews with Schillat and Halevy appeared in last week’s issue (see jewishindependent.ca/jerusalem-a-high-tech-hub).
“All of the speakers are coming from Israel especially for this tour in Western Canada. We will be in Vancouver on July 16, Calgary on July 17 and Edmonton on July 18,” said Dina Wachtel, Western region executive director of CFHU, of the tour, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
“Tamir is going to give a talk on Friday, July 14, at Simon Fraser University titled The Power of Social Networks: Boosting the Marketing of Innovations, organized by Fred Popowich, executive director of Big Data Initiative at Simon Fraser University,” she said. “Part of our mandate is to create these living bridges between Hebrew U and our local universities; hence, this is part of this initiative.”
Huberman is Yissum’s vice-president of business development and director of information technology. At the JCCGV, he will talk on Marketing Innovation: Changing Israel and the World.
In the press material, Huberman notes, “As the only university in Israel with a school of agriculture, research in non-GMO hybrid seeds at Hebrew U is changing the way millions of people eat now and into the future.” He also notes that Mobileye, which recently sold to Intel for $15.3 billion US, was founded by HU Prof. Amnon Shashua.
Yissum “operates on a royalty-based model which channels proceeds from successful products back to the researchers, their labs and the university itself,” he explains. It also generates funds “by attracting corporations to collaborate with Hebrew University labs to find the answers the businesses are seeking.”
About what B.C. (and other) universities could learn from HU, Huberman told the Independent, “I believe that the top lessons are how to be more effective and how to remove barriers for doing business. In most cases, tech transfer companies around the world are [viewed] as a bureaucratic entity that complicates things. The greatest lesson is making adaptations that would make things simpler for the companies that want to do business with us…. The second lesson is the realization that, for each new technology, there either has to be someone in the world that would be interested in acquiring a licence, or someone in the world that knows the technology does not have a chance. It is the ‘job’ of the tech transfer to find that ‘someone’ and, from my experience, the best way to do that is by using social networks. The revolution of social media allows getting fast replies from people all around the world, even if you’ve never met them.”
Huberman has always loved innovation and, he said, “it was a big dream of mine to be an inventor and work with new inventions.”
While working for the company Medis from 1996 to 2002, he was exposed to the world of patents and the process of writing patents as an inventor. “After my own experience as an inventor,” he said, “I knew I had to find a place that works with new patents at a massive scale.”
It was his “strong passion for new patents and ideas that was the top reason for joining Yissum,” he said. “Second was the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant researchers in their fields. Third was my realization that there was something missing at the time before I joined Yissum, which had to do with the very low use of the internet in order to expose the technologies from the universities to the world.
“Before I arrived at Yissum, I made a simple search using freely available patent databases and saw that only a small fraction of the patents I found [were] on the tech transfer websites. When I realized this, I had a vision of changing how tech transfer companies worked…. My dream materialized when I created the first portal for all the technologies at Yissum and later created the ITTN website (Israel Technology Transfer Organization). ITTN was the first website in Israel that allowed all of the inventions from academic institutions in Israel to be found in one central portal.”
He added, “I believe that there is a lot that can be done to make a better and faster connection between companies seeking talent or innovation to the offerings of universities…. [B]uilding a portal that connects more universities in Israel and the world could help make that matching much more efficient.
“Another realization is that tech transfer companies traditionally showcase technologies and I believe that this is not the best approach…. [T]he portals should focus on the researchers and their capabilities, rather than just the patents that a small portion of them invented. We have multiple examples of companies that were interested in researchers that we did not even know [because] they never had any patents.”
One of the jobs of HUstart – of which Yissum is part, along with HU’s science faculty and business school – is to provide “practical education, support, mentorships and connections needed” for students and others “to become effective entrepreneurs.”
Avraham is a third-year physics student at Hebrew U and is in the first cohort of the new Physics and Entrepreneurship program, which connected him – during his second year of study – with his business partners. Avraham and fellow students Michael Levinson and Tom Zelanzy co-founded the start-up Gamitee, which “links social media and shopping websites, making it possible for friends to easily invite others to join them in a shopping experience.”
Avraham has other ideas, such as one for an “infant sleeper that monitors a baby’s vital signs, a technology that could potentially prevent SIDS.” And he and his wife – who is an archeologist – also run a tutoring business. In Vancouver, he will speak on The Making of a Serial Entrepreneur.
“I think they have a lot of similarities,” he said about physics and building a tech start-up. “In both, you need to solve complex questions and problems that are comprised of several independent factors. Both of them are professions that people rarely choose. And they are both very, very hard to understand. I think my physics background [increased] my range of abilities needed [to be] an entrepreneur.”
Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech is open to the public. Tickets are $45, though students who register at the CFHU office can receive a free ticket. For tickets and the speakers’ bios, visit cfhu.org, email [email protected] or call 604-257-5133.