When Dr. Klara Vinokur came to Israel four years ago, after leaving her post as a physicist with the Georgian Academy of Sciences, people told her she'd never make it in an all-male field where thousands of immigrant scientists were competing for a handful of jobs. Today she has every reason to thumb her nose at the skeptics -- thanks to the Kiryat Weizmann Incubator for Technological Entrepreneurship, established on the initiative of the Weizmann Institute and Africa Israel Investments Ltd.
Vinokur is the senior researcher at Fabia Engineering Ltd., a company created in the Incubator to develop her idea for making innovative liquid crystals -- important components of watches, computers and other electronic devices -- that are 1,000 times faster than existing ones and are unique in possessing a memory.
Recently, Vinokur's success was crowned at a ceremony in the Jerusalem residence of President Ezer Weizman, where she received the 1995 Excellence Award for an outstanding incubator project. The occasion marked the fourth anniversary of the technological incubators program, an idea first conceived at the Weizmann Institute with the help of Africa Israel Investments Ltd. The nationwide program is run by the Chief Scientist's Office of the Israel Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Today the non-profit incubator program, of which Vinokur's enterprise is but one example, is a success story in its own right, meeting its goal of helping immigrant and Israeli entrepreneurs bring their ideas from lab to life. Of the 149 projects "hatched" by the country's 28 incubators up to May 1995, 70 percent are functioning independently, thanks to private investments or profits from sales. In contrast, only 20 percent of high-tech start-ups worldwide generally survive the two-year milestone.
While major funding for the Kiryat Weizmann Incubator is provided by the Chief Scientist's Office, the Incubator is also supported by the Weizmann Institute (via Yeda Research and Development Company, which deals with commercialization of Institute research), by Africa Israel Investments Ltd., and, more recently by the Discount Investment Corporation Ltd, and PEC Israel Economic Corporation, both members of the IDB Group.
The Incubator's Board of Directors is headed by Weizmann Institute Vice President for International Scientific Relations Prof. Ruth Arnon, who holds the Paul Ehrlich Chair of Immunology.