'The Michigan automotive industry will benefit' says Michigan Israel Business Bridge founder Chuck Newman
Chuck Newman got an early start in entrepreneurship: The Ann Arbor business leader started his first company while still an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in 1961, and later founded ReCellular, an industry leader in refurbishing selling old cell phones.
However, he is not known only for his business successes, but also for his broader impact on the business community.
His most recent project, the Michigan Israel Business Bridge (MIBB) is a non-profit organization that will be hosting a breakfast Wednesday designed to match Michigan auto companies with Israeli companies looking to produce and supply auto-related technologies to a wider market.
"I'm quite certain that the Michigan automotive industry will benefit and gain a competitive edge by working with Israeli companies that are coming up with all sorts of exciting technologies," Newman said. "I very much love Michigan, and I love Israel, and the thought that they could help each other is very exciting."
Photo Courtesy Chuck Newman
"We are pleased that leading auto companies are opening their doors to our delegation to tap into the cutting edge technologies coming out of Israel," said Yariv Becher, consul for economic affairs for the Israeli government’s Econonomic Mission to the Midwest.
The MIBB started in 2007, when Jennifer Bloom, a student at Michigan State University, wanted to hold an expo showcasing Israeli business and technology.
Through the guidance of Newman and Susan Herman, a leader in the Michigan Jewish community, the expo became a dinner focused on exposing legislators to the benefits of doing business with Israel.
"I was the moderator of the dinner, and I was really hoping that someone would come to this event, be inspired, and take the initiative and run with it," Newman said. "Well, nobody ran with it. So I did, and Susan [Herman] did."
Newman first wanted to see if there was an audience for creating an organization to "bridge" the two economies. He invited prominent business and community leaders and held a series of meetings around the state to gauge interest.
"We met at Weber's, and it was just an absolutely packed room. Mike Finney, who was then the CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK and now serves as the president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, spoke at the first meeting and just said tremendous things about the possibility of the bridge," Newman said.
"We got similarly strong receptions in Lansing and Grand Rapids, so we incorporated as a non-profit and we were off to the races."
Newman's premise for the organization was that Israel is a hot-bed of innovation but has few natural markets for those ideas.
While the small state has the most start-ups per capita in the world and is second only to the United States in actual number of start up companies, they do not do much trade with their neighbors.
With these start-ups looking to locate their marketing support and production closer to their consumers, Newman wanted to make sure that the Michigan economy got a share of this commerce.
"We were there to be the matchmaker, to create the handshake," Ron Perry, the first executive director of the organization, said. "We wanted to connect companies and researchers in mutually beneficial ways. Michigan and Israel had so much to learn from each other, and could make tremendous profits together.
"They just needed to be introduced."
That introduction happened on business and legislative levels across the state. Then Gov. Jennifer Granholm went on an economic development mission to Israel that the MIBB helped facilitate, and Governor Rick Snyder has committed to go on a similar mission, according to Newman. There have also been business connections from companies in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing as well as many auto-industry and clean-tech businesses in Southeast Michigan.
According to current executive director Pam Lippit, the organization has not been plagued by the shadow of political disputes that often accompany any endeavor in the Middle East.
"The thing is, business is business is business, we’re not a Jewish organization, were a pro-business organization," Lippit said. "The first place Warren Buffet invested outside of America was an Israeli company [Iscar], so if it's good enough for Buffet, it’s usually good enough for everyone else as well."
Newman has founded numerous companies, including Astrotype, developers of the first computerized word processor, and Rent-A-Byte, the first computer rental store in America.
He said that the Bridge has been one of his most proud accomplishments, along with the founding of the Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor.
"It's fun to start up an organization that does good things, and that you have confidence it will thrive without you," said Newman as he prepares to pass the presidency of the MIBB to Hannan Lis, who runs Lis Ventures, a Venture Capital firm based in Farmington Hills.
"It excites me that Michigan companies are actively looking to pick up new technologies, and that Israel is producing them."