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IAI’s Innovation Director in an interview to iHLS: “Innovation is part of our DNA”

In an era when innovation in the commercial arenas is developing in an overwhelming rate, especially higher than the development and innovation rate in the traditional industries, we had a conversation with Adi Chen Menaker, Israel Aerospace Industries’ Innovation and Knowledge Manager, to figure out how a 67-year old organization still keeps the spirit of innovation and preserves its competitive advantage at the scene.

Chen-Menaker said: “Innovation is an inseparable part of IAI’s DNA from the outset. IAI invests hundreds of thousands of NIS in R&D, registering dozens of patents every year – leading this field in Israel. In 2019, our own and funded R&D operations reached $909 million.”

Regarding the extent of the company’s innovation activities, Chen-Menaker asserts that the CTO organization leads innovation operations in a cross-divisional collaboration, working in cooperation. “The diversity of innovation processes is critical to an organization with technological and human excellence, in order to preserve our technological superiority, discover and develop the next big thing, preserve our qualitative human resources, and enable the continuing growth of the company. In parallel, these processes are ‘disrupting’ the market in ground-breaking technological fields, and can serve as the basis for IAI’s future building blocks and technological and business resilience.”

Chen-Menaker added: “Currently, we are working in various channels in order to ensure that we continue with organic innovation, and in parallel – with open innovation as part of the company’s strategy to encourage human and business, excellence, entrepreneurship, and of course, business growth.”

Referring to the extent of the ‘open’ innovation activities and IAI’s shift towards the civilian realm, Chen-Menaker said that beyond the innovation hub, IAI is working with external accelerators in Israel and abroad. “In Israel, one of the accelerators we have been working with for the past for years is iHLS Accelerator. A collaboration that leads to a wide dialog with the startup community’s ecosystem. In the world, we are working with additional accelerators, such as Starburst and Techstars – leading aerospace accelerators, and we are partners in a consortium alongside the US Air Force, NASA, Lockheed Martin, MAXAR, and SAIC. Recently, IAI has established its own innovation program.”

According to Chen-Menaker, IAI’s Innovation and Knowledge Manager, these activities lead to technological collaborations. “IAI gains access to new technologies, connection with the ecosystem, the streaming of added value and knowledge from content worlds that were not part of the company’s traditional activity. The startups get marketing, technological and business access to mutual development programs, IAI as a first customer, technological capability proof and POC or demonstrations, access to labs and testing equipment – a win win situation for both sides. With this regard, dozens of collaborations have been forged along the years, and this time we are producing an acceleration process of a mutual development – innovation in the realm of accelerators.”

How does she see Israel’s advantage in the defense startup arena? Chen-Menaker replied: “The State of Israel is the startup nation, and its technological capabilities are immense – it is called the startup nation for a good reason.” She added that the collaboration currently scought by IAI relates to various content fields that may exist in non-defense companies. “The connection between IAI and the industry at large, and startup companies is vital to the Israeli ecosystem as a whole. The capability to rapidly forge connections enables us to create technologies, applications, and innovative solutions in an agile procedure – this is a major advantage of Israel. As a leading defense industry in Israel, IAI sees this connection an inseparable part of the innovation processes currently required, and operates in various channels in order to advance such open innovation.”