In November last year, I had the opportunity to visit Israel with a group program that showed Argentinean entrepreneurs, among other things, the startup ecosystem of the so-called startup nation.
The program was intense, the group was great and the overall experience quite amazing.
Earlier in 2017 I had been in several startup events and meetups in NYC and Silicon Valley and spending over a month there was able to experience first hand how the mindset of these entrepreneurs was set, how they pursue their ambitions, how they committed to their ideas and projects.
Israel, was somewhat similar or even greater if comparing commitment and mindset; and definitely different if comparing the context and the scope of their projects.
We kicked off the program in Tel Aviv, we met with executives from big companies, CEOs of startups, enthusiasts of their country and government authorities… from 8 am to 7 pm meetings nonstop. It was if we had to keep up with their pace, military-like, taking the most out of every second.
Each person we met, they spared aside some time of their busy day to share with us what they did, and especially their passion for their country, their life experience, and the cultural reasons that made Israel the country with more startups per capita in the world. From each meeting we left with a lot to process, some ideas, and what I valued the most, a piece of advice.
After the day was done we headed for dinner and drinks… such a lively city, full of bars, restaurants, and an amazing vibe.
We continued the trip to the desert, we stopped at an Innovation Center that was built from scratch in the middle of nowhere with the support of government, education and private sector… and then on to a Kibbutz where we experience first hand the angular stone of this whole thing about community, about survival, about the love for the land.
People in a Kibbutz live within communism, they don’t have private property and they are all assigned their duties according to capabilities, and at the end of the day, they all receive the same. It was very interesting to hear their story, and see their approach to life, so far from the world, we are used to that somehow reminded me of Cuba, but with far more resources and possibilities.
After the desert experience, we headed to Jerusalem… and I dare to say I’m still assimilating its energy… so much history of love and hate… so holy and yet so full of blood for centuries and centuries… so majestic, elegant and at the same time so mundane that God’s will is taken into human hands and results in deaths, in separation, in fanaticism. A city of contrasts, a city of cult, a city where the daily things feel tiny, where one feels tiny, where one feels lost and at the same time caught by its spell and end up loving it.
Appart from the religious and city tours, we also made it to some very interesting companies before heading to the north, to Haifa and then back to Tel Aviv where we got to rest and enjoy the beach for a few days.
Going back to my previous point of the startup ecosystem, what makes them different?
History, context, and more history. They were chased for more than 2000 years, they were landless for most of their existence, they had to be together to survive… once they got their land ( and with this, I’m not saying I support the way or outcome) they are surrounded by nations that want them gone, they live in constant threat of war and yet they’ve built an impressive country.
All these make them have a huge community feeling that it’s more than strengthened in the several years that instead of partying like we all do after high school, they spend in the army…
Quite a context, quite a history, and it goes through not only their social habits, their economic and political as well. And, what is more, it gives them a tremendous sense of purpose. We can argue that purpose, yes, but I somehow envy the deep conviction they have that if it’s good for all is good for me. In Israel the greater good is bigger than the good for each individual, and that it’s definitely something we could all implement in our communities.
Also in scope, they are different. Being such a small market they think their projects on a global scale from the start. Some have the Israeli market as a prototype, but others target abroad first or at the same time. In spite of their complex position in the region, they think globally and target the world with their solutions… although, more often than not, the world means the US.
So yes, they implement similar techniques as in the US, they follow more or less the same books and theories… but the Israeli ecosystem stems from deep and meaningful beliefs, ideas, and experiences. They get them by thinking in a collective way, by strengthening their communities, loving the land, sometimes even by having strong religious beliefs and, overall, by having to confront the reality they live in, every day.