What is BIRD?
The Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) was established by the U.S. and Israeli governments in 1977 to encourage cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies in a wide range of technology sectors by providing funding and assistance in facilitating strategic partnerships for developing joint products or technologies.
BIRD provides support of up to 50% of a project’s budget, beginning with R&D and ending with the initial stages of sales and marketing. BIRD shares the risk and requires repayment only if the project achieves revenue. BIRD supports projects without receiving any equity or intellectual property rights in the participating companies or technologies.
BIRD’s scope extends to Advanced Manufacturing, Agrotechnology, Cleantech and Environment, Communications, Construction Tech, Electronics, FinTech, Gas, Healthcare IT, Homeland Security and Cyber Security, Life Sciences, Nanotechnology, Semiconductors, Software, and other areas of innovative technology with commercial potential.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman signed an agreement on October 27, 2020, extending the United States and Israel’s scientific cooperation to apply to Israeli institutions in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The deal removed geographic restrictions on funding from BIRD, the Binational Science Foundation (BSF), and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) which previously were not allowed to sponsor projects in “areas which came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967” and related “to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”
Since 1977, the Foundation has approved investments in more than 1,000 projects, which have yielded direct and indirect revenues of more than $10 billion. More than $125 million worth of grants have been approved for projects in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
BIRD approves projects twice a year. Projects are evaluated by expert reviewers appointed by the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Foundation manages the BIRD Energy Program focused on promoting and supporting U.S.-Israel joint development projects relating to clean energy technologies. This program is the implementation of a cooperation agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israel Ministry of Energy jointly with the Israel Innovation Authority. BIRD Energy adheres to the same rules and procedures as BIRD.
Since 2009, the program has financed 55 projects with a total investment from the U.S. and Israeli governments of $42 million ($21.7m from the U.S. as of 2020). This funding has been matched by private money for an additional total of $55 million. Among the projects it focuses on are those promoting projects in the fields of renewable energy and efficiency, natural gas, water and energy initiatives and the use of artificial intelligence for better energy management.
The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 reauthorized the U.S.-Israeli Energy Program for an additional 10 years until September 2024.
BIRD Homeland Security
In addition, the BIRD Foundation also manages the binational program, BIRD Homeland Security, a joint U.S.-Israel program to foster and support the development of advanced technologies for First Responders, technologies and methods to secure critical infrastructure and public facilities, safe and secure cities, border protection, including maritime security, technologies in the use of unmanned aerial systems and law enforcement supporting technologies to combat cyber-crime.
This program was established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Israel Ministry of Public Security (MOPS) as part of the agreement between the United States and Israel on Cooperation in Science and Technology for Homeland Security Matters. The collaboration agreement was designed to improve and enhance the preparedness of national rescue forces including fire, police and first-aid units, and their capabilities in the field. This program supports collaborations between U.S. and Israeli companies and allows for universities and research institutions to participate by partnering with a company/corporate entity. As of 2020, the U.S. had provided $9 million in funding for the program.
U.S.-Israel Energy Center
In 2018, the BIRD Foundation was selected to manage the U.S.- Israel Center of Excellence for Energy, Engineering and Water Technology. The goal of the Center, established by the U.S. Department of Energy, Israel Ministry of Energy and Israel Innovation Authority, is to promote energy security and economic development through the research and development of innovative energy technologies.
The Energy Center is a five-year program, covering four areas: Fossil Energy, Energy Storage, Energy Cyber, and the Energy-Water Nexus. For each topic, a consortium of U.S. and Israel companies and/or universities and/or research institutions will jointly perform research and development, leading to know-how/technology transfer from academia to industry and significantly accelerating deployment of technologies.
“The U.S.-Israel Energy Center is a premier hub for innovative energy research, and sends a strong signal of the long-standing special relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “From our collaboration through the Energy Center, we expect to see market-moving technologies that will strengthen our energy security and strengthen our economies. We look forward to continue fostering deep institutional relationships through this groundbreaking initiative.”
His Israeli counterpart, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, said, “I am proud of the collaboration we have established with the US Department of Energy, of which the U.S.-Israel Energy Center is an important part. It is a day of pride in partnership and technological excellence, as evidenced by the many proposals we have received for research and development in the core areas of the energy world.”
One component of the Center is the multi-institutional, international program, called the Collaborative Water-Energy Research Center (CoWERC). In 2020, funding was given to Northwestern University and BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), for the development of new technologies to solve global water challenges. The project has a budget of $21.4 million, including a $9.2 million grant over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of Energy together with the Israel Innovation Authority.
A second project funded in 2020 was led by Tulane University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It aims to work toward safe, sustainable, and resilient development of offshore reservoirs and natural gas upgrading through innovative science and technology.
The third 2020 grant went to the University of Maryland and Bar-Ilan University to develop lithium and sodium metal solid state batteries for advanced energy storage applications.
In 2021, the Center funded a consortium led by Arizona State University and Ben-Gurion University to research and develop comprehensive cybersecurity technology for critical power infrastructure AI based centralized defense and edge resilience.
How Does BIRD Operate?
Any pair of companies, one Israeli and one U.S.-based, may apply jointly so long as they can demonstrate the combined capabilities and infrastructure to define, develop, manufacture, sell and support an innovative product based on industrial R&D. The companies may be simply cooperating on an ad hoc basis, linked through a corporate joint venture, or commonly owned (in whole or in part). The key criterion is that each corporate entity shall have the ability to carry out its part of the joint development and commercialization. Their willingness to share in the financial risk of product development as well as in the financial gain of commercialization, are also key factors in BIRD's evaluation.
Typically the role of the larger company is product definition and specification, sales, and service, while the role of the smaller company is in product development and some manufacturing. Up to 35 full-scale projects and 20 mini-projects may be approved each year.
The BIRD Foundation offers conditional grants for joint development projects on a risk-sharing basis. The Foundation funds up to 50% of each company's R&D expenses associated with the joint project. Repayments are due only if commercial revenues are generated as a direct result of the project. If a project fails, BIRD claims no repayments.
A Full-Scale Project is defined as one in which the total development cost to the two companies (up to the point of commercial readiness) is at least $400,000. BIRD's cost-share is up to 50% of the total cost of such projects.
Decisions whether to approve or reject proposals for funding full-scale projects are made by BIRD's Board of Governors. The Board of Governors convenes semiannually to act on proposals for full-scale projects.
It is often appropriate for two companies contemplating a partnership to define an initial project of modest size rather than to plunge into a higher-cost, full-scale project of greater risk and duration. BIRD has, therefore, designed and introduced the Mini-Project, which has proven to be a powerful and successful tool for rapid and relatively low-risk involvement of U.S. and Israeli companies in relatively small but meaningful product developments of a cutting edge technology.
The Executive Director is empowered by the Board of Governors to allocate up to 20% of annual conditional grant funds for the support of mini-projects. The budget of a BIRD mini-project is limited to $400,000. Therefore, the grant is a maximum of $200,000, or 50% of actual project costs, whichever is less.
Projects Approved in 2020 Include:
BIRD HLS Approved Projects
2018 BIRD Energy approved projects:
Israel Headquarters Office
Eitan Yudilevich, Ph.D., Executive Director
Sources: Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation.