Building Innovation and Opportunities

The Irvine Global Innovation Group (IGIG), a non-profit student organization with the purpose of exploring global innovation while establishing professional relationships with foreign businesses, has been developing an innovation-driven partnership between firms in Israel and UC Irvine this quarter.

Founded in April 2012, IGIG seeks to create a global strategic innovation network, and thus aims to foster professional relationships between UCI faculty and Israeli institutions overseas and also provide opportunities for students. IGIG’s specific targets for collaboration include the Schools of Engineering, Information and Computer Sciences, Medicine, Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences.

Israel, which is known to have the second largest number of start-up companies worldwide and more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any country outside the United States and China, has often been compared to the Silicon Valley in regards to its level of innovation.

This is what led IGIG CEO and founder Francisco Williams, a fourth-year political science and international studies double major, to choose Israel as the country with which IGIG will work.

“[Israel] has been able to start up highly successful high-tech companies over the last [roughly] twenty years,” Williams said. “A lot of technologies that are very instrumental to the way we live our lives today were developed in Israel […] and today, there is so much more being developed there.”

Williams also emphasized that IGIG’s relationship with Israel is solely based on innovation and technology.

“I wanted to get away from the politics and focus on technology,” Williams said. “I saw that as a better avenue of exploration, I wanted to tell people about my passion for Israel, my passion for the technology in Israel, even the culture. But the thing is, I understood how [complicated it is] to be involved with Israel. I didn’t want to express my passion to people and have them politicize it. So I tried to figure out how to make this not political […] and I created my own organization, the Irvine Global Innovation Group.”

IGIG has taken the step of making their intentions and work known to the community. Williams and his team of fellow students were able to develop relationships with the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, whose diplomats are supportive of IGIG’s endeavors. Furthermore, IGIG also built a tangible relationship with the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, which is often described as Israel’s MIT.

On Oct. 22, IGIG organized a series of meetings between Professor Oded Shmueli, Technion’s Executive Vice-President for Research, and the UC Irvine administration on both the UCI campus and the Samueli Foundation headquarters. In an  effort to establish a dialogue for future partnerships between the two institutions, the meetings covered the establishment of a possible student exchange program as well as opportunities for postdoctoral and graduate research internships for student researchers.

Two days later, on Oct. 24, IGIG hosted their first annual Irvine Global Innovation Summit, a conference on international research collaboration, innovation and investment at the California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology building (Calit2) on the UCI campus. IGIG invited researchers from around the world, who participated in panel discussions and research presentations. Also in attendance were speakers such as David Siegel, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles; Dr. Steven Cramer, Clinical Director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center; and Benny Soffer, Managing Director of Technion Technology Transfer, among several others.

With IGIG’s objective to provide opportunities to students in mind, Williams believes that these two events, in addition to IGIG’s other efforts as of late, have prompted students to take note of what IGIG can offer.

“[Our greatest achievement so far is] having students believe they can actually enter the global economy as undergraduates, that they can actually believe in themselves to reach out to professionals, to engage and network simultaneously.”

However, this is only the first step in the process in which students can take part of, should they take interest in IGIG’s entrepreneurial opportunities.

“I believe that students need to learn about how to engage with a foreign partner, to be able to work these individuals and actually produce projects, because to be an entrepreneur, [one] must develop [his or her] own projects,” Williams said.

Though IGIG has already covered much ground this quarter, Williams is already looking forward. In addition to fundraising and training for IGIG, he foresees a possible change in focus as well.

“Israel is my passion, but also is a [strategic] model right now that we have. A lot of students want to go to China, a lot of students want to go to Korea […] all over the world. Right now, I think it’s a matter of building a foundation [so we can] find commitment from the administration, the community, and building a structure so that generations on can build relationships with foreign economies.”