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May 20, 2016

Mayo Clinic Ventures looks to Israel for collaborations

Looking to help boost a variety of medical start-up businesses, Mayo Clinic Ventures is targeting collaborations and investments in Israel with a new program.

The goal of the Mayo Clinic Israeli Startup Initiative is to work with companies either through sponsored research grants or co-development.  

Flags"Co-development can include licensing of Mayo Clinic know-how or an investment," explained Timmeko Love, of Mayo Clinic Ventures. "It's about matching the right opportunities with Mayo Clinic know-how for collaboration. It's all about finding the right strategic fit."

Candidates for the Israeli Startup Initiative can include very early stage companies to ones that are much further along in development. They can work in any area of health care. 

"We're not limiting our options," Love said.

The project announced this week actually is a new phase of an existing Mayo Clinic initiative.

It has been active in Israel for about a year, partnering with the philanthropic Merage Institute. The California-based Merage Institute awards up to $150,000 in annual research grants for Israeli companies working with Mayo Clinic. The most recent recipient was EyeYon Medical, which makes a noninvasive medical device to treat corneal edema.

Mayo Clinic Ventures recently took on the Israel initiative and that has put co-development on the table. That new approach is being launched next week in Tel Aviv at IATI-Biomed, Israel’s largest life sciences and technology conference. Mayo teams will meet start-ups to study their technology, and then consider making investments or collaborations.

This is first time Mayo Clinic Ventures has focused on one whole country for business opportunities, despite its long history of international projects. Many might not be aware of it, but Israel is a logical candidate for a such a relationship.

"It's a natural next step for us," Love said.

Israel is considered to be the worldwide leader in innovation in medical devices, biopharma, software and other types of health-care businesses. The U.S imported $600 million of Israeli medical devices in 2011. In 2015, Israel housed 725 medical-devices businesses with an overall total of 1,380 life-sciences companies.

While California's Silicon Valley is known as the hottest spot in the world for business start-ups, Israel is recognized as a close second. A 2009 book, "Start-up Nation," documents how Israel, with a population of 7.1 million, generates more tech businesses than many much larger countries.

"It's kind of a national sport in Israel," said Guy David, a professor of health-care management at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He was born and raised in Israel and tracks its medical businesses closely.

David said Israel's required military service coupled with an environment that encourages questioning and taking risks is a big factor.

"Israel is hugely innovative. The innovative spirit starts at a very young age," he said.

While launching technology companies is a big focus in the country, the entrepreneurs all know the market for their products or services is elsewhere.

"There is no market in Israel. Israel is tiny," said David. "If they invent something, they know it has to be a global product."

Does that mean businesses partnering with Mayo Clinic could open offices or build facilities in Rochester?

"That certainly could be a possibility. We do look at an economic development when considering companies," said Love. "But it has to make sense for that company. There would need to be a business reason for it."