From the Valley to the Desert

Shedding light on the Israeli hub of innovation

By: Julia Taitz (Wharton ‘19)

When everyone hears Silicon Valley, they immediately think of the happy-go-lucky town full of startups. Whether we imagine Bachman or Owen Wilson, we’re certain that some of the projects young entrepreneurs are working on will make turn into the next big things.

However, we tend to overlook what’s going on in an entire country on the other side of the world whose population is no larger than that of New York City: Israel. Instead of picturing a magical land full of fancy headquarters and free t-shirts, we often view the country as an area divided by war and history. Yet, amidst constant political distress, Israel has also been able to emerge as a hub of innovation. Israel has the most number of companies on the NASDAQ and prevails as having the most startups per capita.

How, then, has such a tiny country been so successful? For years, most companies have adopted similar strategies: find the best technologists and exit early. With a small local reach, startups have relied on proof of concept and then sought out foreign investors shortly thereafter. This seemed like a strong plan for Waze which got acquired for $1 Billion.

But Israel’s primary focus is not on making the flashy apps we all use, like Facebook and Instagram. With its rising success, Israel continuously produces high-technology, for instance, in the cybersecurity space. The Israeli Defense Force’s Unit 8200 might not seem as glamorous, but the ex-members are the people behind companies like Check Point. Perhaps the success of these startups stems from the founders’ combined IDF and engineering backgrounds. They might not have the degrees that Americans are accustomed to, but these individuals have an abundance of practical experience.

Source: http://nocamels.com/2016/11/tel-aviv-startup-ecosystem-third/

A recent trend has been Israeli startups opening up global offices in the hopes of becoming global companies, as opposed to settling early for acquisitions. While the main engineering teams stay within Tel Aviv or other cities, marketing and operations move to Silicon Valley or New York. This allows Israeli founders to develop stronger relationships and survey the target segments. Rather than run betas within Israel, companies like Juno and Via immediately move to major American cities and scale. With an abundance of users, startups are more attractive to late-stage VCs and larger companies.

Harvard Business Review does a fantastic job synthesizing the paths and success of Israeli startups into four simple points: pack your bags early, think bigger, partner with foreign VCs, and lead your company to scale. If I’m to bet, combining technical skills and innovation with this plan will result in more Israeli companies joining the likes of Teva and Viber.

Why Are We, in Philly, Talking About Israel?

College students are constantly looking for ways to gain experience. While it’s nice to be able to live at home during the summer, there are huge opportunities in Israel. Whether you are interested in the business or engineering sides of tech, you can get the hands-on experience in Tel Aviv. At the Innovation Fund, we’re always trying to find new ways to help our peers get more experience in technology and entrepreneurship. If you are looking for ways to learn about Israeli tech companies and opportunities for the summer, here are some ways to get started and navigate your options:

Internships: Birthright Excel, TAMID Fellowship, Internships Israel, Destination Israel

Israeli Tech Landscape: Mapped in Israel, Startup Nation, Forbes, Freakonomics

Feel free to reach out if you want more info on internships at Israeli startups!

P.S. We just relaunched the Innovation Fund last week. Please take a read, and if you’re in the Philly area, we’d love to see you at our relaunch event!


Julia is an Innovation Fund Project Manager and our Marketing Director. Julia studies Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Computer Science. She enjoys learning about both web and mobile software companies and has previously worked as an engineer and teacher at Planvan and the Flatiron School.

Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund is dedicated to funding, promoting, cultivating, and supporting student entrepreneurship in the UPenn community. Working on a startup? Interested in partnering? Want to get involved? Drop us a line at apply.innovationfund at gmail.com.