Asper Foundation’s gift to boost innovation at Hebrew University

Members of the Asper Foundation, from left: Richard Leipsic, David Asper, Leonard Asper and Gail Asper.

Boasting the largest number of start-ups per capita in the world, Israel gained its reputation as a high-tech powerhouse years ago, but it is only recently that the status has been applied to Jerusalem as much as Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem’s rise in the start-up world is largely due to the development of a unique ecosystem that balances and merges entrepreneurial and technological innovation with government funding, unique partnerships, and the tremendous support of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its three-year-old multidisciplinary HUJI Innovate Center.

Earlier this month, the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation recognized the critical role that this center plays in ensuring both Jerusalem’s and Israel’s start-up status and gifted the center with a transformative $5 million donation. That donation will ensure that the center – now known as Asper HUJI-Innovate Center – will be able to continue supporting students, staff and alumni as they advance their research, create innovative technologies, seek solutions to global concerns, develop entrepreneurial skills, identify and overcome challenges, and bring their ideas to market.

A portion of the gift will be set aside each year for an annual juried competition designed to showcase student innovation and acumen in the start-up sphere. Each winner of the competition will be awarded the Asper Innovation Prize, valued at $35,000 (US).

As Asper Foundation president, Gail Asper, explains, her family’s donation represents a new beginning for the city, the university and the center.

“Today we start a new chapter,” she says, “one that furthers our understanding of the nature of entrepreneurship and responds to the need for creating a space that is holistic and nimble, and able to create programs for new generations of students, scholars and the community to learn and to lay the groundwork for advancing ideas in service to our world.”

Her family’s gift, she adds, is also intended to spark other philanthropy.

“The Asper Foundation is fortunate to be in a position to assist others in building capacity,” she says. But, she adds “we encourage the institutions and organizations we fund to leverage our giving to showcase the project in order to encourage additional support and bring attention to the funded initiative.”

The Asper HU Innovate Center is an offshoot of the Jerusalem School of Business Administration’s Asper Center for Entrepreneurship, which was also created with a $5 million gift from the Asper Foundation. That center, established in 2001, was modelled after a similar, and at the time similarly named, center founded by the Asper Foundation at the University of Manitoba two years earlier.

The Asper family’s philanthropy, through its foundation, has enriched their hometown, home province and Canada in myriad ways for decades. But the family has supported projects and initiatives in Israel with equal passion.

“Our foundation’s philosophy was developed with the entrepreneurial spirit and wisdom of our late parents, Israel and Babs,” Gail says, “and our most recent gift to support Asper HUJI Innovate at the Hebrew University, where they developed close ties nearly 45 years ago, reflects this vision.”

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