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Maryland, Israel find common ground in cybersecurity

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley has called Maryland the “epicenter of cybersecurity;” similar superlatives have been used by Israeli officials for their own growing cyber industry.

It makes sense, then, says Peter Telem, director of business development for the Maryland/Israel Development Center, for these communities to collaborate.

“The Israelis, of course — because they’re under direct and continuous attack and threat — have developed some pretty exceptional technologies and solutions over the years,” said business consultant Art Jacoby. “It would be very natural to find applications for some of these companies here in our commercial and defense industries.”

Collaboration is the driving spirit behind MIDC’s second trade mission to Israel, planned for March 20 to 26. Across that week, Maryland companies will visit Israel’s budding CyberSpark cybersecurity center in Be’er Sheva – an initiative Lockheed Martin recently partnered in – and attend the second annual CyberTech conference and exhibition in Tel Aviv.

MIDC is a nonprofit, public-private partnership between the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The group’s primary goal is to build business and trade between Israel and Maryland. Telem says they focus on life sciences, IT and defense – areas Marylanders are strong in, he said.

MIDC has been conducting trade missions for years. But cyber security is a relatively new area for the group – one that Telem is working to grow, both to make the state a leader in the technology as well as create jobs and bring in tax revenue by attracting more Israeli companies.

One of the methods MIDC is using is organizing reciprocating trade missions. Last year was MIDC’s first such trip to Israel, whose guests included Jeffrey Wells, director of cyber development for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, and Frederick-based information and network security firm Patriot Technologies.

In October, MIDC brought four Israeli companies to the CyberMaryland conference. And this year, Telem said there will be a bigger turnout for the second Israel trip. About 10people have signed up so far, he said, and he’s expecting a few more before the delegation heads out in a couple of months.

Howard Feldman, co-chair of the cybersecurity and information privacy practice at Baltimore-based law firm Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, is one of those guests. He sees the trip as a way to make contacts – particularly, to offer counsel to Israeli companies that choose to enter the market here.

“Israel is a hotbed of innovation, particularly in the cybersecurity area as well as life sciences,” Feldman said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to network and meet some of those folks with companies who want to expand their reach to the U.S. market.”

Steve Keefe, president and co-founder of Patriot Technologies, went on the trip last year and plans to send another representative from his company this year. Keefe said MIDC coordinated meetings with Israeli cybersecurity companies through networking events and private meetings, introducing them to potential partners.

It wasn’t the first time MIDC had a hand in a fruitful introduction: In 2013, the board of governors of the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, which funds joint ventures between American and Israeli companies, awarded $9 million in funding for 11 projects – among them, a smart-grid security project between Patriot Technologies and Tel Aviv-based RADiFlow Ltd.

“[The trip] allows us to explain to the Israeli companies what we do and what our initiatives are,” Keefe said of the trade mission. “It’s a very good ecosystem to get involved in.”

Wells, DBED’s cyber development director, said the trip – which he’ll be embarking on again this year — is as much about collaboration as it is about simply observing how Israel’s cybersecurity community operates, and bringing knowledge back home.

“We felt that moving in to this year, it would be of great interest to attract a larger trade mission, have them come to meet not only potential partners, but also potential customers, and to learn from, in a collaborative way, what the environment, the ecosystem looks like,” he said.

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