CJP’s Israel Advocacy spent last week in Israel with a group from Harvard University, visiting some of the success stories that make up the Start-Up Nation. Nancy Katz, director of CJP’s Israel Advocacy and herself an alum of Harvard and a former professor at Harvard Kennedy School, is blogging about the group’s experiences and impressions. 

Today we visited Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, a school that like Technion, nurtures some of the country’s brightest minds, the ones who have contributed directly to Israel’s economic miracle. Weizmann President Daniel Zajman said the Institute has a simple approach – find the best scientists and let them pursue their work. The only requirement is they have to do it in Israel.

Their work has made quite an impact on the country. Scientists and students double as an idea machine. It’s not surprising that the magazine The Scientist rated Weizmann as the best place in the world to work in academia among non-U.S. institutions.

Zajfman, a physicist, is clear, smart and articulate. We were wowed by both the school and Professor Zajfman. It’s difficult not to be impressed by a man who recreates the conditions of outer space in a laboratory using “ion traps.”

Zajfman told us about Weizmann’s founding in 1934 by Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first President (and of course, a scientist), who had a vision for a center of scientific research in the land that would become the modern Jewish State. Fast forward 60 years, and that vision has become a reality, Zajman said.

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“Our strategy here is not to support science, but to support scientists,” he said. “We have nothing in our strategic plan about what kind of science we will do. Our approach is simply to find the best scientists and ask them ‘what would you like to do?’”

The management approach is quite a bit different from other universities. For example, if a chemist retires, unlike other universities, Weizmann does not try to replace her or him with someone younger from the same field. Rather than find another chemist, they search for the best scientist, looking across all fields. We all agreed – it’s an unorthodox way of managing a research university.

Yet Weizmann is at a disadvantage in recruiting, since living in Israel requires what Zajman termed a “special commitment.” Still, he believes the school has a world-class group that includes 1,000 graduate students and 260 scientists. If you manage to get accepted – the rate is 15 percent – there’s no tuition at all. Nearly a third of all science Ph.Ds in Israel received their degrees from the Weizmann Institute.

Weizmann has been extremely successful in generating royalties from research, at a rate four to five times higher than MIT. Weizmann’s YEDA R&D company is the most successful technology transfer office in the world, and the school earns “several hundred million dollars a year” on its research, Zajman said.

Weizmann’s research also generates an average of 110 patents per year, about 30 percent of which end up being commercialized.

Learn more about the Weizmann Institute here: http://www.weizmann.ac.il/