Israel is Detroit’s innovation twin for mobility

Detroit’s reputation as an automotive powerhouse is recognized the world over. And Detroit wouldn’t be so well positioned to lead in future mobility if it didn’t have a similar level of recognition and respect for the skills of its neighbors, both in the United States, and across the globe.

Israel is one such neighbor. A close cousin to Detroit in optimistic ambition, if not in geographic proximity, Israel is the center of tech innovation, a “startup nation” where entrepreneurs are engaged through access to healthy financial backing, and a truly robust accelerator climate.

EcoMotion is one of these accelerators. With 600 startups and 7,000 community members, EcoMotion is a public-private partnership support platform specifically for the transportation industry and a joint venture of the Israel Innovation Institute, the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative (under the PMO office) and the Ministry of Economy. 

Each spring, EcoMotion hosts its Main Event, a single-day conference that brings together funders, entrepreneurs, governments, businesses, and other stakeholders to network and knowledge share.

“Main Event is this is where high level business is done in the most grounded way,” says EcoMotion executive director Orlie Dahan. “That’s the charm of the ambiance of the event. Here, the highest levels in business will be speaking to first-time entrepreneurs while drinking a beer or a cocktail.”

Among the two thousand or so participants at EcoMotion later this month will be Justin Robinson, vice president of business attraction at the Detroit Regional Chamber. Robinson knows that success is about strong relationships, and he recognizes the startup climate in Israel as an appropriate complement to Detroit’s mature automotive industrial expertise.

“We have learned through some exploratory trips that Israel is one of the most important tech markets for future mobility in the world, especially from a startup and emerging technology scene,” Robinson says. “There is a robust, dynamic infrastructure to support these startups, and no place else in the world do you see startups in that level of density.”

Many Detroit companies, including GM, have built a presence in Israel, which is the the birthplace of Waze, Mobileye, Moovit, and other highly regarded mobility solutions. Among featured speakers at Main Event are several Detroit transportation professionals, including Andre Weimerskirch of Lear Corporation, Chris Thomas of Fontinalis Partners, and Ami Dotan from Karamba Security.

A nation about the size of southeast Michigan, but with a population of about 8.5 million, Israel is similar to the Detroit region in many ways, says Robinson. And Israel’s approach to innovation is woven into the fabric of its culture.

“From a young age, the best and brightest are plugged into intelligence and cybersecurity and artificial intelligence and the military, and then they graduate and go on to universities or to work in established companies or startups,” Robinson says. Those who have a spark of an idea can apply for initial seed funding through the Israeli government.

“So there are some of the brightest people in the world who have had great training, and the idea of failure doesn’t scare them. It’s a part of the culture,” Robinson says.

Orlie Dahan is the executive director of EcoMotion.
Still, Detroit has a large, established automotive industry that Israel doesn’t have, and Detroit is, in a sense, a gateway to the larger U.S. market where Israeli innovation can scale quickly. And both regions recognize the tremendous opportunity ahead in mobility.

“Detroit has been an automotive industry giant for many years, with amazing great industrial strength. Now the industry is changing, and the way forward is through new technology,” says Dahan. “Israel has all the tech and startups and is on the cutting edge of front-of-the-line innovation. Together with the megapower of the auto industry, we are creating the true new mobility.”

In fostering change, collaboration is critical, Dahan says. Monolithic corporations that once operated independently behind closed doors are making way for new collaboratives and consortia, or they are not moving forward.

Among the highlights of EcoMotion Main Event is a new platform called Government Supporting Innovation. Representatives from Spain, Ohio, and potentially the U.S. Department of Transportation will gather to recognize the strides made in mobility innovation, and learn of the value of supportive regulation.

“The way we see it, the technology can be ready today. But the government must create the structure for implementation and enable regulation to move things forward,” says Dahan. “This is exactly the time for everyone to come together and reshape the transportation landscape.”

The time is certainly right for the Detroit region. Through wide-reaching efforts by the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Business Attraction Program, MICHauto, and the newly-created Michigan Israel Business Accelerator, for which Robinson serves as a board member, Michigan, and the Detroit region specifically, will establish new relationships and strengthen existing ones for the economic benefit of both areas.

“It’s our mission to help bring the world’s best and most disruptive technology back to our companies here,” Robinson says. “Our ecosystem has the technology it needs to help lead the future of automotive.”

And that future, where innovative mobility solutions create equitable and accessible transportation to move goods, services and people more efficiently on safer roads, is sooner than we might imagine.

“This is not the future anymore,” Dahan says. “This is the now.”
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