B.C. Industry News

Vancouver Sun – Column: Unique Surrey-Israeli partnership driving innovation

February 26, 2014

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun columnist

From crime-ridden municipality to innovation hub, with a little help from the state of Israel, Surrey is overhauling its image.

It is an unexpected pairing, a densely packed Middle East country populated by a Jewish majority, and a sprawling Vancouver-area suburb characterized by cultural diversity.

Whatever the differences, Mayor Dianne Watts says she is keen to play matchmaker.

Watts led a 16-person delegation (paying their own ways) to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba in December, determined to advance a plan that would bolster her community’s economy and its profile.

One sign of the new relationship will be in evidence Thursday when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak addresses Surrey’s high-profile Regional Economic Summit.

The municipality of 400,000 has been dogged by a bad reputation, labelled the car-theft capital of North America in 2002.

More recently, Surrey has been plagued by drug wars and gang violence. And in late December, a hockey mom, Julie Paskall, was beaten outside a hockey rink in Newton and died shortly afterward.
But Surrey is more than a city wrestling with public safety issues. It’s a place where an Innovation Boulevard is under development.

The initiative aims to accommodate health institutions and innovative business spinoffs in the square mile around Surrey city hall, near both Surrey Memorial Hospital and Simon Fraser University’s digs.

New enterprises would augment a contingent of 180 health-related businesses already located in Surrey.

Watts reports the city — with inspiration from Surrey Memorial’s Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, a neuroscientist — began working on a plan in late 2012 to have local organizations become partners with research organizations in the Jewish state.

Several partnerships have been signed since December with two Israeli research institutes: Israel Brain Technologies, and the Israeli Centre for Medical Innovation.

More signings are imminent.

The innovation is to focus on improving treatment for diseases such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease and brain disorders. It potentially could translate into new capabilities, involving remote monitoring of patients and lower cost diagnostic testing.

Israel has been making stunning progress in the health field.

Some examples: Researchers are developing a “pill camera” to replace invasive colonoscopy exams.

They are conducting clinical trials on a “nano artificial nose,” mimicking the canine ability to detect, through smell, cancer or epilepsy. The device detects tumours early by analyzing a person’s breath.
The nano retina, or bionic eye implant, helps those blinded by macular degeneration to see again, albeit in shades of grey.

In a 2010 book Startup Nation, the Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, authors Dan Senor and Paul Singer describe the war-battered country of 7.5 million as a research dynamo leading the world for new patents for medical equipment.

Between 1980 and 2000, Israelis registered 7,652 patents while neighbouring Jordan registered 15.

They attribute Israel’s remarkable innovation record to distinctive cultural factors.

For example, Israelis by nature question authority, and the country’s mandatory military service teaches citizens discipline, and a comprehensive skill set. Military service also fosters societal interconnections.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear Israelis excel in the area of scientific know-how, particularly in the health sciences.

Why wouldn’t Surrey try to take advantage?

To its credit, the city is paying no heed to proponents of a growing boycott movement targeting Israel, a movement seeking to demonize the democratic state for “apartheid” policies. (This, when Israeli Arabs hold seats in the Knesset and an Israeli Arab judge sits on Israel’s Supreme Court.)

And the benefit of the fledgling association runs two ways. Thanks to this experiment in teamwork, Israel is receiving an opportunity to show how much it has to offer the world.


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