Celebrating 25 years promoting trade and investment between the US and Israel
Barry Bogage is the director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center (MIDC), a nonprofit membership organization that promotes trade and investment between Maryland and businesses and research institutions in Israel. The organization is a public–private partnership of the Maryland Department of Commerce, Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Trade, and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. On levels local and international, the MIDC works with companies based both in Israel and the US, providing funding, strategic business development, and networking opportunities during entries into and exports from the US market. Barry has been with the MIDC since its creation in 1992.
This month, the MIDC is celebrating its 25th anniversary. For information about the celebration event this Sunday, May 7th, at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, click here or visit marylandisrael.org.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Thinking back to 25 years ago, can you tell us about the early days of the MIDC? What were some of your first successes?
BARRY BOGAGE:June 1992 was when I started. That was the official opening of the Maryland/Israel Development Center—professional staff ready to go. If you think back then, the internet was not even really anything at that point. Fax was the way to communicate with Israel at the time, so it was really quite something to try to set up a trade mission at that point without the internet and without the ease of the phone calls that we have now.
In starting a new organization, there were several things to do all at once. One was the economic development—the business development—getting a pipeline to companies going both ways and developing that. The other was organizational development, and establishing the organizational procedures, and working with the State Department of Economic Development with the Associated, with the funders. The funding was really only raised for two years. It was kind of an experimental program. Different foundations that gave the money said, “let’s see if this idea can work”—promoting economic development between Maryland and Israel. They got two years of commitments to funding from the family foundations in Baltimore that fund a lot of the philanthropic activities—the Meyerhoffs, the Weinbergs, the Hoffbergers, the Blausteins, the Shapiro Family Foundation, and so forth. They said, “Barry, you’ve got a job for two years. We’ll see if you can make something of it, and we’ll keep it going.”
I was single, no kids, so I could take an experimental job. And it worked. We were able to get some projects going. The first project was in aquaculture, I remember. We involved—at the time it was the Christopher Columbus Center—the University of Maryland Center in Marine Biotechnology, and some private companies here and in Israel, to develop an aquaculture project. Eventually, they created a new product that was a fish food with special enzymes for the fish farming industry, but then was commercialized through a company here in Columbia called Advanced BioNutrition. It’s still on the market, and a lot of the research for that came out of Israel and then it was the joint research that led to the product, and people could see that we could create new technologies through these partnerships, spinoff companies, and that they could grow and create jobs. Those were the early successes.
We had a sister city program with a town in Israel at the time called Kiryat Gat. That’s when Israel was really starting to flourish as a high-tech location. They had a huge percentage of the Russian immigrants who were scientists and engineers. Israel set up this whole network of high-tech incubators around the country and they set one up in our sister city, Kiryat Gat. Marvin Shapiro actually was the Chairman of the Board of the incubator, and we set up a loan fund to help companies in that incubator. The government had set up a structure where the government provided some funding, but there was a gap that the entrepreneurs still had to fill, and they had to raise the money—but being from a communist country, they didn’t really know anything about how to raise money and how to write a business plan or position a company, so that’s where we kind of jumped in and mentored the companies and provided this loan fund for them to help build their companies.
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