Governor Ned Lamont and other members of a trade mission to Israel say they returned to Connecticut with investment prospects and contacts in a small country that is the world leader in startups and venture capital per inhabitant.
The United States is a crucial second homeland for Israeli companies that have limited access to markets on their borders in the Middle East, with a focus on parts of New York and New Jersey within a 90-minute drive of the United States. JFK International Airport.
“But Connecticut just wasn’t on their map,” said David Lehman, the state’s economic development commissioner. “And what we’ve learned is that…it’s always about relationships.”
Aleph and Future Meat, two biotech companies set to establish facilities in the United States to produce meat and cultured chicken from cells, are considering sites in Connecticut, and the delegation has made contacts with the technology financial and other high-tech fields.
Lamont, the first Connecticut governor in a quarter century to make a business visit to Israel, met with the highest levels of government and business, including President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Herzog attended Jewish summer camps in New York, and Bennett is the son of immigrants from the United States.
“We are both small. We both punch above our weight class. We are both innovative. There is more we should do together. That’s pretty good of the president of Israel,” Lamont said.
Lamont, the founder of a cable television company, said he joked with Bennett that starting a tech company was an ideal background for political leadership.
Bennett was one of the founders and co-owners of Cyota, an American technology company which he sold in 2005, and was the chief executive of Soluto, an Israeli cloud computing service sold in 2013.
Bennett became prime minister in July, backed by an unlikely coalition that has spanned the political spectrum and includes, for the first time, an Arab Israeli political party. Under the terms of the coalition agreement, he will hand over the premiership to Lapid in 2023.
The governor briefed reporters on the trip with Lehman and two other members of the business delegation: Matthew McCoe, chief executive of the state’s quasi-public venture capital entity, Connecticut Innovations; and Radenka Maric, interim president of the University of Connecticut.
McCoe, who hosted the briefing at its New Haven offices, said the trip took years, designed by Connecticut Innovations before the COVID-19 pandemic made overseas travel difficult.
“We chose Israel about four or five years ago as the place where we want to start investing more capital. We want to have more partnerships with Israeli VCs, with Israeli universities. And this trip really came out of that,” McCoe said.
McCoe said face-to-face meetings were vital, as was the presence of the governor, his top economic adviser and the president of UConn.
“We have heard time and time again that having the governor here is so important. We need to see your governor, we need to see your leadership, we need to know there is mutual commitment, not just venture capital,” McCoe said.
Aleph, Future Meat and H2Pro, a startup developing hydrogen fuel produced by sustainable energy, were the prospects that seemed closest to developing the US facilities. H2Pro backers include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“Israel is a start-up nation,” McCoe said. “Over the past 30 years, they’ve made this journey from a fairly agrarian rural society to how we all think of them today, which is: it’s a technology hub.”
Israel has become a model for research and development, attracting interest from Google and other innovators.
“And so we want to understand what they are doing. What models can we bring back to Connecticut? said McCoe.
Maric, acting president of UConn, is also the university’s vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. UConn has had an academic relationship with Israel for a decade and recently signed a cooperation agreement with Technion, a leading science and engineering university in Haifa.
Her research background is in materials science and sustainable energy, and she said H2Pro would be a valuable collaborator in developing sustainable and clean energy sources.