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Shadow ministers, Labour Friends of Israel and Labour’s NG Network held the first ever Google Hangout live video-link between tech experts in the UK and Israel last month, demonstrating the party’s seriousness about learning from the world’s leaders on innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Addressing an audience of UK entrepreneurs in Shoreditch at the Google Hangout, the shadow business secretary asserted: “We all share a desire to see more start-ups in Britain and need to see far more in our economy. We want to increase our trade and we are seeking to learn from others.”

The event followed last year’s front-bench high-tech focused LFI visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, led by Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna and Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne, along with former innovation minister David Lammy, senior businessman Sir Trevor Chinn and Lord Glasman, as a part of Labour’s new LFI UK-Israel Economic Dialogue.

Israel has the largest concentration of start-ups outside Silicon Valley and, per capita, two-and-a-half times as much venture capital investment. Israel’s experience of growth and entrepreneurialism contains many lessons for the UK and, if we are to win in 2015, we will need our own clear vision for how, in an era of low spending, our government can support the growth of small innovative businesses.

Announcing the launch of the economic dialogue last July, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls asserted that “the Israel experience teaches us that a strong and active partnership between businesses, universities and government is the right way forward, not laissez-faire.”

Ahead of Ed Balls’ own visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Google hosted Chuka Umunna, Liam Byrne, David Lammy and Sir Trevor Chinn at their Campus in East London’s Tech City, linking them with tech experts in Tel Aviv, as well as Lagos, Nigeria, to look at the success of the self-styled “StartUp Nation.”

Joining the Labour team at the Google Hangout was a panel of senior experts from Google’s research and development projects in Israel; Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist, which invests $500 million of tax payer’s money a year to support start-up initiatives; the British Embassy’s UK-Israel Tech Hub, which is successfully encouraging collaboration amongst British and Israeli innovators; Tel Aviv municipality’s Global City initiative, which is supporting the local start-up community; Tsofen, an NGO boosting opportunities in the high-tech industry for Arab citizens of Israel; and the Nigerian Co-Creation Hub.

Speaking at the event, Chuka Umunna said he had seen first-hand in Israel how its high-tech sector grows, explaining “there are important lessons for us, including how we support innovation at the heart of the UK economy, building on and reflective of the UK’s strengths.” He added that he was “particularly struck by the groundbreaking work of our embassy in Israel lead by our Ambassador Matthew Gould, who is developing the high-tech hub between Britain and Israeli businesses, which we want to see growing and developing further.”

 Liam Byrne argued that we need to replicate the embassy’s tech-hub model across the country, “creating trade corridors between British cities, which are home to global businesses, and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, taking their great ideas and energy, and uniting them with our strength in global business.”

Too often when we hear politicians and commentators talk about business, they are referring to huge banks and large established employers. However, with small businesses accounting for 47 per cent of private sector employment, we need a plan for how to encourage and foster growth in this area too.

We are therefore delighted that, with this Google Hangout, we were able to aid Labour’s policy development, and explore the answers that lie in the “StartUp Nation.” As Liam Byrne said, “we have a huge amount to learn from the way Israel has got the policy mix right.”

Ben Garratt is the Deputy Director of Labour Friends of Israel

Israeli Innovation and Entrepreneurship Models UK can Replicate
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