SPRINGFIELD – Israeli Consul General of New England Yehuda Yaakov met with Western Massachusetts business leaders on Sept. 30 to learn about the region’s growth of technology-focused entrepreneurial companies and organizations with hopes of increasing economic ties with Israel.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, co-chair of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, invited Yaakov to Massachusetts during a tour of the Greater Springfield area, which also included visits to the Big E and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Lesser said there are more than 200 Israeli companies in the state, most of which are located in Eastern Massachusetts, but there is an opportunity for job growth with Israeli companies in the western portion of the state.
“There’s a great opportunity for synergy – especially as we look towards the future here in Western Massachusetts with the introduction of potentially a better rail service and growing [entrepreneurism],” he added.
Yaakov noted that Israeli founded companies bring $6 billion of revenue to the state each year and more than 30,000 people are employed by these businesses.
Lesser said the June introduction of three direct non-stop flights between Logan International Airport in Boston and Israel by El Al Israel Airlines allows for increased economic opportunities for the Commonwealth.
We need to make sure that those planes stay full,” he added.
Yaakov said Gov. Charlie Baker is anticipated to visit Israel during the first quarter of next year and he believes business growth should be a focus of that trip.
Yaakov was introduced to a number of high tech start-up businesses and organizations during a meeting in Springfield at TechSpring.
Scott Foster, a member of the Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) board of directors, said the Springfield-based program has seen success in creating a community of entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses – more than half of which have been women.
According to VVM’s website, the nonprofit group has grown from a pool of 100 mentors and coaches to a community of 1,000 mentors and 50 graduated entrepreneurs
Two organizations that have been created due to VVM’s involvement include Tech Foundry and Tech Spring, Foster said.
Jonathan Edwards, director of strategic partnerships for Springfield-based Tech Foundry, said his organization was founded with a focus on the developing the information technology (IT) workforce within the region.
“We have a huge IT demand in this region,” he added. “Tech Foundry was formed to fill that vacuum. You have the demand, but you also got a number of people in the area who are looking for a career path.”
Tech Foundry’s goal is to turn Western Massachusetts into the technology capital of the Northeast by offering free programs to applicants in order for them to enter into entry level IT jobs, according to the organization’s website.
Yaakov said in his country IT learning starts at the high school level.
Christian Lagier, managing director of TechSpring, a Baystate Health technology innovation center, said his company is looking at finding ways for doctors to engage with patients better via smartphones.
Luis Muñoz, founder and CEO of Springfield-based Edenis Intelligent Systems, said he met with VVM members about a year ago for advice about starting his company.
“Edenis was intended to consolidate the existing technologies for the provision of healthcare for patients that exist in rural [and] urban settings,” he added. “Focusing primarily on wound analysis because there’s so many – 40 million [people] in the U.S. – that struggle from non-healing wounds.
He noted that within a week, the advice he received from VVM led to developments with partners in Europe and raising the initial $50,000 to start-up the company.
Cari Carpenter, director of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s entrepreneurship initiative, said the enterprise was established 13 years ago and 14 colleges within the region collaborate to promote student entrepreneurs.
“It’s really helped these colleges, which are such an important asset in our region, build this entrepreneurial infrastructure on their campuses,” she added.
Also present were officials from Baystate Health, Mass Mutual and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Yaakov said he would like to obtain a concrete understanding of what local technology-focused business leaders are looking for from their Israeli counterparts, which would help continue the dialogue of investing in the region.
He noted that he would be happy to facilitate further discussions about Israeli CEOs investing in Western Massachusetts.