My Crush on Israel
It almost feels like I’m cheating on my country.
But I’m not. I’m looking out for my country.
Here’s why Israel has caught my fancy-
1. Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a true Startup City.
“The Second Most Developed Startup Ecosystem in the World” — Startup Genome
Definitely the fact that one out of every three Tel Avivians is between age 18 and 35 contributes to the vibrancy of the city. There is something about youth… being young is anyone’s excuse to dream up all kinds of ideals and really truly chase after these dreams with very little time for second guesses.
Superstars like Hila Oren play a major role in keeping Tel Aviv on the map. She refers to herself as a non stop woman in a non stop city (go girl!). I like something else she said in an interview:
“For those that visit us, within 24 hours after they are here, they say they are shocked – they hadn’t known that it was so great. The food is good, the women are beautiful, the beaches are wonderful, and it’s truly secure.”
Spot on. I’d probably only add that the men are exquisite too ;-).
Back to why I brought up Hila. She is founder and CEO of Tel Aviv Global & Tourism, a company of the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo created to position Tel Aviv as a leading international business and innovation center. She carries the brand of Tel Aviv and does an amazing job with it. If you visit the Tel Aviv Global & Tourism page, you get a lowdown of everything. Tel Aviv’s master plan. Down to actionables, actual work plans. I don’t know how many other municipalities have their structure as defined and as public. Such motive. Such a sense of purpose.
“With all its problems, Israel has one commanding advantage: a sense of purpose. Israelis may not have affluence…or the quiet life. But they have what affluence tends to smother: a motive.” Barbara Tuchman
2. Top-Down Innovation
It is very striking the conscious efforts undertaken by the government to keep Startup Ecosystem thriving.
The Library founded by the Municipality is home to the Tel Aviv startup community. What started out as a normal public library evolved into a space for entrepreneurship and innovation after technology made sure off the shelf knowledge was less and less utilized. The Library now offers shared-working space and hub facilities for internet and technology startups. Also hosts networking events, these events are extremely popular as great platforms to network and connect with the local community. Evolero for example was a startup out of The Library at its [the Library’s] founding and is now a widely used tool by event organizers across the world. The next startup to watch out for would probably be Coralogix.
Governments at the end of the day play the biggest role in national development. There’s only so much (this can still be a lot, but never quite enough) the private sector and the greater civil society can achieve on their own despite best efforts. For starters, the government wholly plugging into the Israeli startup/innovation ecosystem e.g. through favorable policies, public/private partnerships communicates to the rest of the world a huge vote of confidence and sparks the need for collaboration. All this in the face of war. Totally against the grain.
3. At-Your-Fingertips Venture Capital
Israel is ranked #2 in the world for venture capital funds after the US.
The typical Israeli investor is an entrepreneur that had a startup, sold it and now wants to re-invest back into the startup community. Given that Israel has the highest number of startups per capita which amounts to over 5000 startups, means that the pool of investors is pretty huge. And the fact that it’s homegrown folk giving back means that it becomes a pretty easy sell for the entrepreneurs pitching their ventures. Plus the community is sizeable enough that almost everyone knows everyone. Especially given that meetups and networking events are so popular.
An environment like this can’t be replicated or invented, it just happens organically. And it sends such a powerful message to other VCs out there. Thanks to all the backing, Israeli startup IPOs and sell outs have become common place.
Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie? (This section, as an entrepreneur, I write very wistfully).
My favorite startup story from the entrepreneurs I got interact with is one where the team managed to raise $1M five months into the startup and without a product yet (call it selling hot air). That’s pretty cool from where I’m standing.
4. Yossi Vardi
In the book Startup Nation, Saul and Dan liken Yossi and his role in Israel’s startup ecosystem to J.P. Morgan stabilizing the U.S. economy during the Panic of 1907 and Warren Buffett’s intervention during the 2008 crisis. That’s huge, but definitely communicates what kind of reverence is held for him.
“If there is an Internet bubble in Israel, then Yossi Vardi is the bubble” — Sergey Brin
I didn’t get to meet him personally but was impressed by the role he played at the Cities Summit and the DLD Conference. Especially the Young and Restless panel he moderated where he interviewed 9 year old entrepreneurs about their ventures. He exudes intense dedication to the cause.
What I said earlier about government sparking innovation being a show of confidence to the outside world… Yossi manages to achieve the same effect as an individual. He has got over 80 startups under his belt. Speaks fondly of his journey:
“I have a very impressive list of failures, some of them are idiotic, some of them are embarrassing, and some of them are both embarrassing and idiotic…”
Saul and Dan call what he does profitable patriotism. Impressive.
The Jewish day of rest.
Had the best time at dinner.
Such a beautiful thing, that families get to come together like this every Friday. So simple, yet so profound.
All of that said, here’s my pitch to you Israel:
(if you’ll have me)
I propose a collision of both our worlds. A clash of mindsets. A union of genius.
Picture this: Israel’s best technologists team up with Kenya’s best entrepreneurs. Only one thing could come out of such a union: Leapfrog.
It’s already happening with mobile technology. FinTech, CleanTech, Big Data, Transport, Urban Planning… these are all sectors ripe for the leap. It is no longer about Africa catching up to the rest of the developed world. It is now about inventing the future.
“We must dare to invent the future” Thomas Sankara
Are you game?