In March 2013, US President Barack Obama came to Israel and, like every other high-profile visitor, was taken to Yad Vashem. Israel’s then-President Shimon Peres was eager for Obama to see not only the ashes, but also what Israel had built from them.
“His view was that Israel’s journey to becoming the Innovation Nation is as critical to understanding this country as its Holocaust past,” says Efrat Duvdevani, CEO of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. “But when we looked, there was no single place that told this story – and so Obama was taken to an Iron Dome battery.”
Peres’ flagship project
Completing his term as president the following year, Peres, then 90, embarked on his final flagship project: creating that single place where people can learn how Israel became a startup nation, and see Israeli inventions which have changed the world.
“The Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation embraces my father’s belief in Israeli innovation as a path to peace,” says his son, Chemi Peres, a venture capitalist, high-tech entrepreneur and chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. “He understood that technology would bring together the new generation in this region, to dream of a better world and build it together. ‘We can’t change the past,’ he’d say, ‘but we can shape our destiny.’”
Shimon Peres laid the cornerstone of the Israel Innovation Center in 2016, two scant months before his death. It is located within the Peres Peace Center complex in Jaffa, the NGO which, for 25 years, has been bringing together Israel’s Jews and Arabs, as well as others from the region – through sports, education, culture, healthcare and more. Metamorphosing into the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, it began the next stage of its journey: focusing on invention and technology to create lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.
“For President Peres, there was a direct line between innovation and peace,” says Duvdevani. “The experience at the Innovation Center enhances the ability to be creative, to be optimistic and to dream big. The impact of the message we are trying to convey on a global scale is the importance of harnessing innovation for the sake of Tikun Olam – bringing clean air, clean water and effective medical care to those in need, addressing climate change and world hunger.”
“Innovation is key to building a safe and peaceful tomorrow among nations,” agrees Chemi Peres. “Our era is one in which strong nations rely on their minds, not their might, with innovation nations tackling threats that affect us all. Look at Covid-19 and the speed with which vaccines were developed!”
In October 2018, after three years of conceptualization, with funding from donors worldwide, and in partnership with the government, multinationals and the startup community, the Israel Innovation Center received its first visitors, and quickly became the gateway of Israeli innovation for diverse Israeli audiences. They were the vanguard of over 100,000 people who came over the next 18 months before the pandemic struck – heads of states, CEOs of global companies, scientists, students, celebrities, tourists, entrepreneurs from all over the world, and Israelis of every stripe.
“We initially offered our tours, lectures and ‘Toolbox for Innovation’ workshops in Hebrew, Arabic and English, but so many Chinese delegations visited that we introduced Chinese too!” says Duvdevani. “We’ll soon be offering Russian, French and Spanish.”
How, then, does the world’s first innovation display center tell its story? In four galleries. The first takes INSPIRE as its theme, with a sign at its entrance exhorting: Dream Big! “Its message is that there is the power in every individual to create,” says Peres.
Shown here are Israeli inventions of global impact: drip irrigation, Copaxone for multiple sclerosis, the PillCam for visualizing the small bowel, instant messaging software (ICQ), flash-drive memory sticks, motion sensors, solar panels, Mobileye self-drive cars, digital printing and the Waze navigation app. Their stories are told audio-visually, on a 360º surround with 12 giant floor-to-ceiling plates, and through interactive holograms of Israeli entrepreneurs.
The next gallery presents a timeline of the 100 events that transformed Israel from a neglected land with few natural resources and without clear borders into a creative powerhouse which is helping shape a new Middle East. Selected by historians, sociologists, physicians, technologists and researchers over three years, “the timeline events show Israel leveraging innovation since its beginning,” explains Peres. “First, socially and culturally – reviving Hebrew, creating the kibbutz, establishing a healthcare system that has made us the vaccination nation. Then it was sustainability, which beat the path to agro-technology, irrigation, aquaculture, desalination and solar energy. Defense underlies our nuclear capability, cybersecurity, Iron Dome, drones and satellites. And the 1984 implosion of Israel’s economy sparked the rethinking and restructuring that has led to today’s thriving economy.”
The timeline gallery includes interactive puzzle-tables, a reproduction of Shimon Peres’s office, and landmarks of Israel’s innovation story. Among them are a model of Israel’s 1988 solar-powered satellite Ofek 1, a Centrino processor, and the Israel Air Force flag from Ilan Ramon’s fatal Columbia space shuttle.
The third gallery, the ‘Time Capsule,’ takes visitors on a virtual reality voyage to the challenges of the future, looking at Israeli innovations underway that address these challenges. “It invites you to imagine feeding, healing and transporting the nine billion people of tomorrow’s world, and ending their conflicts,” says Peres.
Developed with futurist and nanotechnologist Dr. Roey Tzezana and historian and philosopher Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, the interactive display imagines digital medicine, artificial anatomy, home food printing, autonomous transportation management and space travel between countries, among much else.
Showcasing Israeli startups
The Center’s final gallery is about contemporary innovation – what goes on today in Israel’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Each year, this gallery showcases 45 different Israeli startups developing groundbreaking technologies in digital health, agriculture, space, security, smart transportation, sustainability, information technology and more,” says Lital Kiperman, the Center’s head of Innovation and Strategic Partnership. “Annually, with the Innovation Authority and Ministry of Economy, we select 45 startups from among hundreds, favoring those trying to solve problems in technologically innovative and environmentally compatible ways with potential for positive change worldwide.”
Among the 45 that made this year’s cut and are now on display are Agrint smart-sensing solutions; CropX data-driven farming; Atlantium ultraviolet technology for global water safety; Aquarius Engines to generate power; Redefine Meat made without animals; Econcrete solutions; TIPA sustainable compostable packaging; Soos revolutionary egg production; Utilis satellite-based infrastructure intelligence; Axilion Smart Mobility to reduce pollution and congestion; Cybereason against cyberattack; JoyTunes music learning and playing; and NanoRetina restoration of vision.
“This cohort of startups serves as the base of the Center’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem, which also includes some of Israel’s leading tech companies. Importantly, the Peres Center’s work in innovation and entrepreneurship spans beyond the physical space as we build bridges between the Israeli and global innovation ecosystems and develop and implement numerous programs in peace, innovation and entrepreneurship,” adds Kiperman.
Home of optimism and hope
“The Center is still only starting out,” says Duvdevani. “With the global thirst for Israeli innovation, we expect not only our physical center to buzz, but our online platform to reach millions worldwide. A recent five-session course we ran, introducing innovation methodologies in organizations, based on Israeli case studies, attracted more than 50 managers from 11 countries. Innovation is a bridge between people everywhere.”
Shimon Peres did not live to see the launch of his Innovation Center, but over 1,000 people from 15 nations – from the Vice President of the People's Republic of China to senior executives from Google, Facebook and Alibaba – attended the opening event in October 2018 to hear his words read out: “My vision for the Israeli Innovation Center is to serve as a window to the future. A place for dreams… that expresses the desire to leave the next generation with a better and brighter future…a home of optimism and hope…a place for cooperation and coexistence between all sectors of Israeli society, and a link between Israel and the world.”
For more information about the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, click here