President’s corner


Triple Helix Association

Visiting Professor
Birkbeck, University of London

*email address protected*

tm-mi-israelDeveloped during an undergraduate seminar led by Professor Drori, with Triple Helix suggested by the students


It is timely to address the continuing proposals for additional helices that, in my view, vitiate the force of the triadic model, but should nevertheless be taken into account. An expansion of the Triple Helix model has primary and secondary actors, working together. Subsidarisation unites the power of the original model with the ability to explain the role of hybrid intermediaries. As a predictive enterprise, employing historical methodology (Weber, 1949), Triple Helix Studies extrapolate future trends from a small number of existing cases. Going back in time to understand the origins of these cases, allows us to develop policies and proposals to move nascent innovation environments forward. As the closest innovation success case to Silicon Valley, Israel is a hidden inspiration to its neighbours, and an open one to developing countries globally (Wonglimpiyarat, 2016).


It is fitting that the Triple Helix, with universities as a key innovation actor, along with industry and government, has been taken up in Israel, a knowledge-based society, rooted in Talmudic scholarship and scientific research. Biblical literature provided legitimation for the creation of the Jewish state while science helped create the economic base that made state formation feasible. In this case, the establishment of a government followed the creation of (agricultural) industry and academia as the third element in a Triple Helix. Nevertheless, a Triple Helix dynamic can be identified in the earliest phases of the formation of Israeli society, well before a formal state apparatus was constructed. Founding a state was a key objective of industry and academia, but these intertwined helical strands did not accomplish the objective without assistance from other sources, nor is innovation in contemporary Israel, along with many other societies, solely a Triple Helix phenomenon.

Several analysts have identified additional helices as relevant to innovation (Drori, 2013). However, if everything is relevant then nothing is especially significant and a model that originally posited the transformation of the university from a secondary supporting institution of industrial society to a primary institution of a knowledge based society is vitiated. A second academic revolution expanded academic tasks from education and research to include entrepreneurship as a third mission. An entrepreneurial university, interacting closely with industry and government, is the core of a Triple Helix. By engaging in such relations an academic sector may, depending upon its previous experience, maintain or gain, relative independence. Triple Helix actors must also continually renew their commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation, lest they fall back into traditional roles and relationships.

What is the source of the Israeli Triple Helix? Drori et al (2013) have identified seven helical strands as constitutive of the Israeli innovation system. I suggest that these strands may be grouped into primary and secondary categories: the primary strands are the classic Triple Helix (university-industry-government), while the secondary strands are supporting linkages, like the two diasporas (Israeli and foreign), or hybrid organizations like the military and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Thus, the resulting Israeli innovation system takes the form of a Trivium and a Quadrivium consisting of three primary and four secondary strands, in a variety of relationships with each other in different historical periods. 1


The Triple Helix innovation model originated in the analysis of MIT’s role in the renewal of New England, a region suffering industrial decline from the early twentieth century (Etzkowitz, 2002). MIT was founded in the mid-nineteenth century, with industry and government support to raise the technological level of the regions’ industries but, by the time it had developed research capabilities, many of those industries had already left the region to move closer to sources of raw materials, lines of distribution and less expensive labor. It was in this context, during the 1920’s, that the governors of New England called together the leadership of the region in a Council to address the region’s economic decline. Given a unique feature of the region, its extensive network of academic institutions, it is not surprising that the governors included the academic leadership of the region in their call.

However, their inclusion of academia had an unexpected consequence, transforming the usual public-private partnership model into a unique configuration – a proto-Triple Helix with a proclivity to originality. Triads are more flexible than dyads that typically take a strong common direction or devolve into opposition and stasis (Simmel, 1950). Industry-government groups typically repeat timeworn strategies to attract industries from other regions in a zero sum game or attempt to revive local declining industries that may be beyond resuscitation. The inclusion of academia along with industry and government introduced an element of novelty into the government-industry dyad. A moment of collective creativity occurred during the discussions of the New England Council, inspired by the leadership of MIT’s President Karl Compton. A Triple Helix dynamic, with the university as a key actor in an innovation strategy, was instituted that was highly unusual at the time.

The Council made an analysis of the strengths and weakness of the New England region and invented the venture capital firm to fill a gap in its innovation system, expanding a previously sporadic and uneven process of firm-formation from academic research into a powerful stream of start-ups and growth firms. A coalition of industry, government, and university leaders invented a new model of knowledge-based economic and social development, building upon the superior academic resources of the region. This was not an isolated development, but built upon previous financial and organizational innovations in the whaling industry and in academia. In New England, industry and government, inspired by an academic entrepreneur and visionary, William Barton Rogers, earlier came together in the mid-nineteenth century to found MIT, the first entrepreneurial university, thereby establishing the preconditions for a Triple Helix dynamic in that region.


In a remote province of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, Jewish agricultural settlements and an agricultural research institute created a Triple Helix dynamic that assisted the formation of the State of Israel. An industry-academia double helix provided the knowledge-based foundation for the Israeli Triple Helix. It preceded the founding of the state of Israel and indeed supplied many of the building blocks from which it was constructed. In a possibly unique configuration, state formation built upon scientific research and an agricultural industrial base. Before the Technion, the Weizmann Institute, and the Hebrew University, there was the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Atlit, founded in 1909 by agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn, with the support of Julius Rosenwald, an American-Jewish philanthropist (Florence, 2007). Hints in the Bible of agricultural surplus, a land flowing with “milk and honey,” were investigated in an early twentieth century context of desertification in Palestine. The station’s researchers hypothesized that a seeming desert had a greater carrying capacity than was expected and thus could support a much larger population. Aronsohn and his colleagues’ advances in “arid zone agriculture” opened the way to the transformation of a network of isolated agricultural settlements into a modern urban society. The Atlit research program, conducted in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture, was then introduced to California.

However, in California, arid zone methods were soon made superfluous by hydraulic transfer projects, from north to south, of enormous water resources (Williams). Arid agricultural methods remained relevant in the Israeli context of scarce water resources. Israel’s first high tech industry was based upon the development of drip irrigation techniques in the late 1950’s that preceded the IT wave by decades. Labor saving methods of agricultural production were also driven by ideological concerns of not wanting to be dependent upon hired Arab labor. Science-based technology was thus at the heart of a developing Israeli society as well as a key link to a Diaspora that supplied infusions of support from abroad.

The Atlit agricultural research institute transformed itself into an intelligence network on behalf of the British during the First World War, betting that assisting the exit of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire could provide a pathway for the creation of a Jewish state (Florence, 2007). The Atlit network was uncovered, and some of its members perished, but it had already provided significant information on invasion routes that assisted the British takeover of Palestine. Its leader, Aaron Aaronsohn, died in a plane crash over the English Channel in 1919 while bringing maps to the post-war Paris peace conference. The Institute itself did not survive its repurposing but its mission was taken up by other agricultural research units.

A linkage between helices and the translation of social capital from one sphere to another was another element of the state building project. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government in 1917, favoured a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine, without prejudicing the rights of other peoples, and was the first such statement by a major power. Although the Declaration was part of a geopolitical balancing act to gain support for the British war effort, and may have occurred for that reason alone, British-Jewish scientist Chaim Weizmann’s accomplishments gave it a boost (Weizmann, 1949).

Weizmann’s invention of a bacterial method of producing the feedstock for explosives assisted the British war effort. Weizmann, a Professor at the University of Manchester was able to transmute this discovery into support for a projected Jewish state through his relationship with Arthur Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, and an MP from Manchester. Weizmann’s dual roles as an eminent scientist and as a political leader in the Zionist movement coincided, and he used an achievement in one arena to advance his goals in another. The Diaspora, of which he was a member in that era, aggregated international support for the state-building project.

Science also served to legitimate the new state of Israel. Albert Einstein was offered the presidency of the newly founded state of Israel. While the aura of his renown was one reason for the offer, that fame was primarily based on his scientific achievements. When Einstein turned down the position, the presidency was offered to another scientist, Chaim Weizmann, who accepted. The fact that the position was offered to two scientists in a row suggests that science was implicitly seen as legitimating the state, while also recognizing its role in the founding of Israel.


Identification of additional secondary contributors to innovation is a useful task but their relationship to the primary helices, and the roles that they play, should be specified. For example, the Israeli military may be viewed as a hybrid entity. In addition to the usual functions of a military, the Israel Defense Forces also serves as an educational institution for virtually the entire society, intermediating between secondary and university education and as an industrial development platform, spinning off aircraft and software industries. It has some of the characteristics of an independent helix but remains a part of the state, embodying hybrid elements that give it some of the characteristics of an independent institutional sphere.

It is a significant actor in Israeli society, having a significantly higher profile than the militaries in most societies. Therefore, we locate it in the “Quadrivium” of support helices that comprise hybrid organizations or links with other societies. The military derived from the “Shomrim”, watches mounted by isolated settlements while nascent governmental institutions were a confluence between the networks of settlements and more general support structures such as the Jewish Agency, a mix of local and Diaspora efforts. A proto-state was constructed from these elements prior to independence.

The Israeli Diaspora played a key role, along with government, in founding Israel’s venture capital industry. After several unsuccessful attempts at developing a venture industry, government hit on the idea of combining public and private elements, providing government funds to encourage private partners to participate by reducing their risk. Key to the efforts success was the recruitment of members of the Israeli Diaspora, working in financial and venture capital firms in the US, to return to Israel and participate in the Yozma project and the funds that emanated from it. 2


The Helix Model of Innovation in Israel, analyzing Israel’s innovation actors, makes a significant contribution to Triple Helix theory and practice by providing evidence of their relative salience. Identifying multiple contributors to the innovation project is a useful exercise but not all helices are equal. A key contribution of the Triple Helix model is that it identified the increased significance of the university in a knowledge based society and the fundamental importance of creative Triple Helix interactions and relationships to societies that wish to increase their innovation potential (Durrani et al, 2012). We can also identify the qualities of an emergent social structure that encourages innovation. Multiple sources of initiative, organizational venues that combine different perspectives and experiences and persons with dual roles across the helices are more likely to produce innovation and hybridization than isolated rigid structures, even with great resources behind them. The Israeli experience takes the Triple Helix model a step beyond organizational innovation by demonstrating the significance of Triple Helix roles and relationships to the creation of an innovative society.


Drori, G S, Ed. (2013) The Helix Model of Innovation in Israel: The Institutional and Relational Landscape of Israel’s Innovation Economy. Jerusalem: Bat Drora Publishing helix-of-innovation-in-israel.

Durrani, T S, Tjakraatmadja, J H and Dhewanto, W, Eds. (2012) Tenth Triple Helix Conference 2012 Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 52.

Etzkowitz, H. (2002) MIT and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Science. London: Routledge.

Etzkowitz, H, Ranga, M and Dzisah, J, (2012) Wither the University? The Novum Trivium and the transition from industrial to knowledge society. Social Science Information, June 2012, 51: 143-164.

Florence, R. (2007) Lawrence and Aaronsohn: 
T E Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Viking.

Simmel, G. (1950) Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations. Glencoe: The Free Press.

Weber, M. (1949) The Methodology of the Social Sciences. New York: The Free Press

Weizmann, C. (1949) Trial and Error: the autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. New York: Harper & Bros.

Williams, J. (1997) Energy and the Making of Modern California Akron: University of Akron Press.

Wonglimpiyarat, J. (2016) Exploring strategic venture capital financing with Silicon Valley style. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 102: 80-89.

1 The classic Trivium and Quadrivium were the core and supporting academic disciplines that constituted the knowledge-base of medieval Europe. See Etzkowitz, Ranga and Dzisah, 2012.

2 Author discussion with Yozma founders at the Third Triple Helix Conference in Rio de Janeiro, 1999. FINEPE, the Brazil Development Agency invited Yozma representatives to the conference and held side meetings to arrange transfer of the Yozma model to Brazil. FINEPE added an additional element, “FINEPE University”, a series of workshops held around the country to train entrepreneurs in “pitching” to venture firms.

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