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Tech Transfer, the Secret Behind the Startup Nation’s World-leading Innovation Ecosystem

“We don’t realize it, but it is quite obvious that the most outstanding technology starts in academia. That’s where the thoughts are, that’s where the labs are open to all ideas,” Molly Livingstone, director of creative and communications at the Yissum Technology Transfer Company, told The Media Line.

Yissum, founded in 1964, is the exclusive owner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s intellectual property. It oversees its protection and the process of turning all that innovative knowledge into products that reach the market, providing an essential connection between the world’s needs and the great minds of the researchers in academia.

“Our role is to support the Hebrew University’s cutting-edge technology and innovative researchers to commercialize their technology and their know-how,” Livingstone said.

Tech transfer is a key part of the startup ecosystem, benefiting society by addressing the most urgent global challenges.

Livingstone explained how it works. “We have a team that meets with all the researchers to identify their research, in what stage it’s at, and whether it has potential commercial value.”

When there is intellectual property that needs to be protected, Livingstone continued, “we have a patent committee that goes through the process of submitting the patent application, which takes around a year to be approved, and we pay for everything along the way including payments to keep the patent every year.”

Once the technology is protected, the business development team identifies the partnership model best suited to protecting the researchers’ rights.

Then, Yissum connects the researchers with companies that may want to sponsor research in an early stage. “We need approval of concept and viability and then the company may take a research option and fund the next step to the next milestone for the technology. It could mean becoming a spinoff,” Livingstone said.

A spinoff company is an independent entity created through the sale or distribution of new shares of an existing business or division of a parent company. The spun-off companies are expected to be worth more as independent firms.

Yissum established 15 spinoff companies in 2021 that are based on the Hebrew University’s technology.

Livingstone cited Future Meat Technologies as an example of a Yissum spinoff company that is a “unicorn,” a startup with a current valuation of at least $1 billion.

“It is a company that produces cultivated meat. They were founded a few years back. They just had the largest funding round for any cultivated meat company in the entire world, and this year will start scaling up to sell their product.”

Another example is Kinoko-Tech, which is creating the “next generation of superfood” using the “power of fungi and deep-tech fermentation to produce sustainable, delicious, and highly nutritional food.”

It was founded by three women – Dr. Jasmin Ravid, Dr. Daria Feldman, and Hadar Shohat − while the former two were studying for their doctorates at the Hebrew University.

Kinoko-Tech founders Dr. Jasmin Ravid, Dr. Daria Feldman, and Hadar Shohat. (Courtesy Jasmin Ravid)

Ravid, CEO of Kinoko-Tech, told The Media Line it is very hard for researchers in the technology sector to get funding with just an idea and nothing tangible.

“When you come up with a technological idea, no one looks at you. You need to provide proof of feasibility, and the university enabled us to do that, and then we could create our own lab,” she said.

They could not have gotten to where they are without the university’s support, Ravid explained. The research needed to get to a viable idea cannot be done at home, she said. “We needed the lab and the machines, and that is what the university gave us.”

Today, Kinoko-Tech is about to start its first funding round.

Yissum is a for-profit part of the Hebrew University, and all its profit goes right back into the university, to once more “fund curiosity-driven research that can have an impact in the world,” Livingstone said.

The concept of technology transfer originated in America during World War II.

“I think it’s because of the Israeli culture, the innovative conviction, the lack of resources and partnerships, that’s why Israel took on the tech transfer concept so early in the 1960s, [with Yissum] becoming the third tech transfer company in the world,” Livingstone said.

Today, technology transfer companies, universities, and hospitals all over the world are asking Yissum how it does it.

“A lot of universities are missing out on potential millions of dollars because they are not protecting their intellectual property and they are not commercializing it,” Livingstone noted.

The innovative spirit that abounds in Israel, harnessed by tech transfer outfits such as Yissum, is key to the Startup Nation’s ability to compete with the world’s greatest minds when it comes to creating cutting-edge technology.