In a partnership backers say has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to New Jersey and Israel, Rutgers University and Tel-Hai College have formed a medical food research and development alliance.
The alliance will be headquartered at Tel-Hai, located in the Upper Galilee three miles from the Lebanese border, promoting research on foods that treat specific medical conditions, and acting as an “incubator” for start-ups in food technology. It will collaborate with regional organizations to strengthen Israel’s northernmost periphery region in education, employment, and resettlement.
The New Jersey-Israel Healthy, Functional, and Medical Food Alliance was launched at a Sept. 18 ceremony at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition & Health on Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus.
Officials from the colleges, state business leaders, and Israeli government representatives attended as a memorandum of understanding was signed.
Tel-Hai’s incoming president, Dr. Yossi Mekori, a physician who specializes in immunology and allergies, called the alliance a “top-notch international relationship.”
“Tel-Hai College itself is a successful start-up,” said Mekori. “The possibilities of success are tremendously high. A partnership with an institution like Rutgers is like a dream come true.”
Mekori said the alliance would give Tel-Hai “unparalleled access” to the global outreach, investment, and research capabilities of Rutgers.
The partnership will combine agriculture, food, and life sciences both in Israel and New Jersey to develop new approaches for using food to cure disease and address health issues, including obesity, diabetes, genetic disorders, irritable bowel disease, and food allergies.
It will concentrate on scientific research, technology, and business incubation to create “a world-class business cluster,” according to its proponents.
The initiative aims to foster academic cooperation among students and professors at both institutions and provide entrepreneurial training and instruction, binational industrial research, and cooperation between New Jersey and Israeli companies.
“This innovative collaboration is exciting because it promises to further engage Rutgers researchers with some of New Jersey’s most important industry sectors,” said Christopher Molloy, senior vice president for research and academic development at Rutgers. “We’re enthusiastic about its potential for having a substantial economic impact.”
Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center and president of the New Jersey Business Incubation Network, went to Tel-Hai in June for a food technology conference. He was accompanied by Jessica Paolini, economic development manager with Choose New Jersey, a state economic development organization.
Cooperhouse noted Israel and New Jersey are similar in size, population, and diversity. “But we also share more things: chutzpa and tachlis. Tachlis was what this was all about,” he said, using the the Yiddish form of the Hebrew word that means “concrete results.”
During the visit, Cooperhouse and Paolini met with Erel Margalit, chair of the Knesset Task Force for Economic Development in the North and South and an entrepreneur who has led start-ups for 30 years.
Cooperhouse said he and Margalit had “quick chemistry” that allowed them to speedily cobble together a joint plan.
While in Israel, Cooperhouse said, they had “amazing meetings” and “amazing cross-pollination” with Israeli counterparts.
Cooperhouse said Israel and Rutgers could be “what Hollywood is to entertainment” in the rapidly growing medical food field.
Margalit said he believed the new alliance would “create a revolution” in the food and medical industries and agriculture.
Turning the upper Galilee into a hub for medical food research fits into Margalit’s vision of creating seven such hubs specializing in various innovations throughout Israel.
“They tell you Israel is a great innovation country, but it is also a country with the biggest gaps and highest rates for poverty for kids, about 30 percent,” Margalit said. “A lot of that is in the North.”