Amiram (Ami) Isser Applebaum is a doctor of materials engineering, scientist, entrepreneur, lecturer and senior business and technology manager at international high-tech organizations. Dr. Applebaum serves as chairman of the Innovation Authority, which promotes innovation in Israeli industry, with an emphasis on the high-tech industry, including manufacturing. Funded by the Israeli government, the Innovation Authority’s role is to initiate research and development activities, and to provide budgets to entrepreneurs and manufacturers. Dr. Applebaum also serves as Chief Scientist, Ministry of Economy and Industry, and Chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority. Prior to his appointment as Chief Scientist, he served as President of KLA-Tencor Israel and as Senior Vice President of KLA-Tencor Global Corporation, headquartered in Silicon Valley, California, researching, developing and manufacturing innovative equipment for the semiconductor industry.
We asked Dr. Applebaum to answer a few questions about innovation and the connection between academia and industry in particular:
- What does innovation mean to you?
Innovation is the ability and courage to think differently, to understand a situation differently from others – whether it’s a scientific model, an everyday problem, or a solution no one has thought of before. By beginning with this type of thinking, a person can begin the activity of achieving the “other approach”. It’s an entire culture, and we Israelis have been gifted with this culture, expressed through courage and audacity for thinking outside the box, creativity, and purpose.
We are known as the ‘start-up nation’; thus, innovation is mainly expressed through the establishment of small, groundbreaking and flexible action start-ups that eventually get acquired by large international organizations.
Today, we want to be a ‘smart-up nation’ and to enable startups to develop into large and complete organizations, to expand the sphere of high-tech practitioners into the social and geographical periphery of Israel. At the same time, to convert the public sector into a more digital sector, and to enable innovation to enter every area of our lives so it may benefit all citizens in Israel.
- What do you think is the importance of implementing innovation in organizations / community / industry?
The importance is that it facilitates economic growth for the State of Israel, and improves the standard of living and well-being of Israeli society as a whole. Unfortunately, innovation today hardly permeates into community and the public sector. While Israel is a world leader in health, medical devices, fintech, e-commerce, and more – Israeli citizens do not experience this innovation on a daily basis – in the HMOs, the post office, banks, insurance companies, etc.; certainly not in any government services. Increasing the integration of innovation in all of these will not only better serve Israeli citizens, but will also increase labor productivity, improve health, and be a lever for increasing the ecosystem in Israel, creating large organizations, and increasing quality employment in the country.
We need to understand the main barriers to this challenge – manpower, taxation, regulation and more, and to try to resolve them through strenuous inter-office efforts.
- What is your most complex challenge?
There are two major challenges these days, rapidly changing technologies, perhaps the fastest in the history of mankind, influencing us, and more broadly impacting all areas of our lives. From education, health to employment to food and more. The first challenge facing the innovation industry in Israel is the issue of manpower. The second challenge is readiness and investment in future technologies that will dictate who leads the world and who is left behind. Technologies such as data sciences, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies are the future. The biggest challenge is maintaining industry as a world leader and continuing its growth in the coming years by increasing human capital at all levels related to the innovation industry, and by making significant investments in future technologies.
- What’s the biggest change you would like to lead during your tenure?
Expansion of the manpower supply in the academic innovation industry, in non-academic training, in the social and geographical periphery of Israel. Growing capital to allow startups to become large successful companies, for example institutional incentives to invest in high-tech. In addition, financing the development of production processes to enable Israeli startups to develop production technologies to enable them to become large global organizations.
Another issue is the issue of regulation. Bringing innovation to regulators in the early stages to allow the industry and regulator to “grow” together, rather than having regrets in retrospect if technology harms society as in the case of loss of privacy on the one hand or stopping progress on the other.
Leading national programs for future technologies in the fields of quantum, artificial intelligence, and bio-convergence.
- What advice would you give to institutions of higher education when planning future curricula or changing teaching methods to suit market needs?
Curricula must be flexible and in line with what is actually happening in the real world – industry. But one must also remember that academia is not only meant to create programmers for industry, but to be the source of future knowledge, and to train professionals to suit the needs of future markets. Therefore, the curriculum planning should work in collaboration with industry in order to understand today’s industry needs, and where it’s going in the future. Overall, in my opinion, both academia and industry would benefit from more frequent manpower exchanges; such exchanges would be easier if the capacity and interest of commercialization in academic knowledge increases, and thereby brings academia closer to industry, which will increase collaborations between them.
In addition, I would suggest and ask academia to begin efforts to offer non-academic training, and assist in employee retraining, improving knowledge among employees, and more.
- How do you imagine a utopian world where academia and the labor market work side by side in harmony and cooperation to maximize the potential of both partners / parties?
In an ideal world, academia meets the full needs of industry – with human capital and knowledge transfer at all stages. Academia must be flexible and diverse so it can provide human capital that is diverse in quality, professionalism and speed of training, both in academic training, semi-academic, or quicker professional training. Additionally, to provide expert manpower that has the knowledge base that can create industry.
Academia should be fertile ground for transferring knowledge, and an engine for encouraging academics to implement their research. This requires close collaboration between academia and industry to build a business model that encourages academic faculty members to commercialize the products of their research, and simplify processes for industry to acquire the knowledge developed in academia. This requires an up-to-date business view of how knowledge generated in academia is commercialized, and is propagated in industry in a way that serves both parties economically and commercially.
We see that there are steps being taken in these areas – ‘micro master’ degrees, changing the model of university economic companies, establishing entrepreneurship and innovation centers at universities and colleges – as was established at Kinneret Academic College – are all positive steps towards maximizing cooperation.
- What do you think is the best way to promote optimal connections between industry and academia so that the latter produces graduates tailored to the needs of the new world / the market?
Academia needs to train its students to integrate into industry right after graduation. The fierce global competition does not allow Israeli industry to compromise on the quality of engineers. In my opinion, a greater integration of industry is required during studies, so that practical elements convey more and direct connection between a student and industry, already during studies.
- Today’s youth, those born into an era of entrepreneurship, change and innovation, are still learning in the old-world format; does the Innovation Authority feel there is a need to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship programs into early education, which would be integrated into the Ministry of Education curriculum in collaboration between the two offices?
The Innovation Authority certainly feels there is a need to incorporate innovation within the education system in Israel. Entrepreneurship education, connection to industry at an early age, can make a significant contribution to the ecosystem, and to the introduction of additional populations into the high-tech field. Hi-tech could be an engine for reducing the country’s large socio-economic gaps.
The Innovation Authority is already working with the Ministry of Education on a number of channels and collaborations – for example, the Unistream Foundation won a tender from the Innovation Authority to promote young entrepreneurship (for the second time). It operates about 120 entrepreneurial groups in about 90 locations around the country.
- If you were a potential student, on the eve of choosing a study track, what would you study?
Unequivocally, one of the STEM occupations, that is where the future is, and to open up as many horizons as possible in as many fields as possible. Innovation is everywhere and in every field, and therefore it is likely that almost every profession will lead to work in the field of innovation.