UA partners with Israel, Mexico on technology research

Universities in Arizona, Mexico and Israel have formed a three-way partnership to cooperate on research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The partnership is made up of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the University of Arizona and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

According to Bruce Wright, associate vice president of the UA’s Tech Park Arizona at the Bridges in Tucson, the joint research projects will focus on six technology sectors: arid lands agriculture and water; alternative energy; defense and cyber security; intelligent transportation systems; health care information technologies; and sustainable mining.

“Israel is among the leaders in the world in bringing that kind of technology to the marketplace,” Wright said. “As we began to really think about how we could attract these fast-growth technology companies in these areas, we decided to do a concentrated outreach effort to Israel and see if we could offer the UA Tech Park in Tucson as a location for Israeli companies looking to enter the U.S. market.”

Wright added that the UA first began working with Ben-Gurion before partnering with UNAM.

“We have a similar effort to attract Mexican technology companies and that was the basis for putting the three universities and their research parks together in this effort,” he said.

The partnership includes knowledge sharing and collaboration between Beer-Sheva’s Advanced Technologies Park, the UA’s Tech Park Arizona and UNAM’s high-tech initiatives.

The UA and the state of Arizona could benefit from the cooperative effort in a number of ways. The UA might receive royalties for the technology produced, and the partnership could connect students with prospective employers, as well as bring a number of jobs to the state.

“We want to make sure that we create high-wage job opportunities for our graduates,” Wright said. “We’re also, as a state public university, looking to help grow not only the regional but also the state economy.”

Collaborative work in applied research can lead to the development of lucrative commercial products.

“We can then help move those products and either license them to an existing company or to a start-up company and help that company through the business-development process,” Wright said.

While visiting Israel, the UA and UNAM met with BGU researchers and the heads of major research centers, including the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev, the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology and the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research.

The collaboration is made even easier because of regional similarities and cultural connections. Forty percent of Tucson residents are Hispanic, and 25 percent have family ties to Mexico. As for Israel and Arizona, Wright said, “we’re very similar in terms of climate and topography and all those kinds of things. There is a very large and active Jewish community in Tucson, so there are very strong ties between Israel and Tucson. We actually first got started in this effort in partnership with the America-Israel Friendship League here in Tucson, and we’ve gotten great support from the [Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona].”

Another aim of the partnership is to help Israeli companies access U.S. markets and talent without selling out to large U.S. firms. (Israel-based Mobileye, which develops driver assistance systems, was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion earlier this year.)

“A priority of the Israeli government is to retain their companies, but also give them market access,” Wright said. “So that’s really why our program has gotten some attention, some traction, because it’s speaking to the next generation of Israeli technology companies.”

Jeff Kronenfeld is a staff writer for the Jewish News in Phoenix, where this article first appeared.