Israel's Innovations Have Korea, China Turning to Silicon Wadi

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Corp., speaks during the MobileBeat Conference in San Francisco on July 9, 2013. Close

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Corp., speaks during the... Read More

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Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Corp., speaks during the MobileBeat Conference in San Francisco on July 9, 2013.

Silicon Valley may get most of the tech world's attention, but for South Korean businesses, Silicon Wadi is increasingly their destination for innovation.

“Interest in Israel has accelerated in the past year since Korea declared its new economy,” said Israeli Chief Scientist Avi Hasson, referring to Korea's push to build a more creative and entrepreneurial business culture. “There are delegations coming nearly every week and companies who are here want to expand.”

In May, Samsung Electronics Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn announced plans to open a research center in Israel to improve wearable devices through sensors and algorithms. A month earlier, John Suh, managing director of Hyundai Ventures, was in the country looking at Israeli companies.

Around the same time, Cha Dong-hyeong, a director general at Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, called Israel "our great benchmarking model” because of its success with innovation despite the country's disadvantages, such as lack of land and neighboring enemies. A situation familiar to Korea.

The growing cooperation between the two nations benefits both sides. South Korean companies such as Samsung can tap Israel's technologies to fend off competitors. Last year, the world’s largest smartphone maker bought set-top box maker Boxee, which was founded in Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli companies gain access to the Asian market at a time when sales to Europe and the U.S. are flagging.

Korea isn't the only Asian nation that's increasing its presence in Israel's tech scene. Hasson, Israel's chief scientist, said in February that his office collaborated with China on dozens of technology projects last year. Three years ago, there were none.

Trade between Israel and Korea doubled in the past 9 years to $2 billion in 2013. Both economies depend on technology exports: Sales abroad account for about a third of gross domestic product for both countries.

This month, Korea and Israel plan to hold a public-private technology meeting in Seoul to boost cooperation between the two countries. Korea's Ministry of Trade said drones and information security, technologies that Israel is known for, are among the areas of collaboration.

“Korea and Israel complement each other," said Ofer Fohrer, head of the economic department at the Israeli Embassy in Seoul. "Korea manufactures cars, phones, televisions and consumer products that are mainly technology-oriented and Israel provides the tech solutions.”

Jaewon Peter Chun, a former adviser to the Korean government and currently executive director of the Korea-Israel Chamber of Commerce, is also looking to imitate Israel's success. As CEO of APEX Investment, he's including Israeli venture capitalists in his private equity fund and forging partnerships with technology transfer officers.

“I came to Israel two years ago and saw a lot of opportunity,” Chun said. “There are a lot of things in common. I see a lot of synergy.”

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