Israeli-Canadian entrepreneurship exchange kicks off

Jul 21, 2022

A visit to Toronto by young Israeli entrepreneurs marked the start of an International Entrepreneurship Highway—a collaboration between U of T and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A panel discussion at Collision Conference with Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on stage.
Left to right: Janice Stein, Leah Cowen, Amnon Dekel and Ido Kaminsky. Photo by Lisa Sakulensky

Toronto and Jerusalem are burgeoning global hotspots for entrepreneurism and innovation, with many exciting opportunities for collaboration between them. To help accelerate these efforts, the University of Toronto and Hebrew University of Jerusalem have come together to launch an International Entrepreneurship Highway, which sees teams of university-affiliated entrepreneurs visit the partner city to learn about its innovation ecosystem and meet influential local players.

The International Entrepreneurship Highway kicked off in late June with a visit to Toronto by a delegation of Israeli entrepreneurs. The exchange was timed to coincide with Collision, North America’s leading technology summit, and included tours of JLabs, AmacaThera and the Vector Institute at the MaRs Building, as well as an introduction to U of T’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. The Israeli delegation also met with influential venture capitalists, lawyers and government representatives who support innovation in Toronto.

“I have been blown away by the diversity of the ecosystem here, the culture here,” said Amnon Dekel, Executive Director of startup incubator ASPER-HUJI Innovate, which coordinates the International Entrepreneurship Highway on the Israeli side. “The scale of what’s happening at the University of Toronto, in Toronto and Ontario, is simply astounding.”

During his visit, Dekel participated in a panel discussion with innovation experts from Israel and Canada, exploring fundamental issues affecting innovation in Toronto and Jerusalem and how the two regions can support one another.

The panel, which was a highlight of the week, was moderated by Professor Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. In addition to Dekel, the panel featured Leah Cowen, U of T’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives, and Ido Kaminsky, Director, Technology & Venture Development, at Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners.

Stein summarized the wide-ranging discussion by emphasizing a key benefit for Canada and Israel of working more closely together in an increasingly unstable global innovation landscape. “I think that is going to be the word—trusted and secure partners—for the next decade,” she said.

The next installment of the International Entrepreneurship Highway takes place in November when U of T-affiliated entrepreneurs visit Jerusalem. University of Toronto Early Stage Technology (UTEST), a U of T incubator, is coordinating the exchange for the Canadians. Kurtis Scissons, co-Director of UTEST, says the tours can have a significant impact on the bilateral relationship. “Visiting a market and seeing firsthand the realities and opportunities on the ground is powerful. These kinds of exchanges help shape investment decisions,” he said.

Efforts by U of T and Hebrew University to forge closer ties extend beyond the International Entrepreneurship Highway, which is part of a larger initiative called the University of Toronto—Hebrew University of Jerusalem Research & Innovation Alliance (see sidebar). An endowment established by U of T, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) and the Halbert family was used to launch the Alliance in 2021, and several donors have since contributed generously to sustain this effort.

Ronald Appleby, a U of T alumnus and past president of CFHU, chairs the campaign cabinet leading efforts to raise an additional $15 million for the Alliance. He addressed attendees at the end of the panel discussion: “The Alliance emphasizes the need for the University of Toronto and Hebrew University of Jerusalem to work together. It’s very important and we need everybody—everybody who can—to participate and to get their friends and colleagues involved, as well.”