von: Markus Rems, Bundesvorstandsmitglied Progress Austria
Beim diesjährigen „Wiener Kreis“-Seminarwochenende der PROGRESS Austria in der NH Danube City Wien konnten wir für einen Impulsvortrag zum Thema „Start-up Nation Israel“ die israelische Speakerin Inbar Fruchsad Weil gewinnen. Frau Fruchsad Weil ist User Experience Designerin, kommt ursprünglich aus Tel Aviv und verbrachte Ihren Lebensmittelpunkt die letzten sieben Jahre in Wien. Sie leitet Workshops zu den Themen Kreativität und Business Development für Organisationen in den USA und Europa.
Q: Mrs Fruchsad Weil, in 2019 Israel’s population grew over the number of nine million inhabitants. Despite being a relatively small country, Tel Aviv’s Start-up scene is among the biggest in the world. What are the main reasons for that?
The thriving start-up scene in Israel is really a combination of culture, circumstances and governmental support. It is hard to point on something specific but there is a mix of reasons that led Israel to become a world leader in high-tech. One of the reasons may be found in Israeli education, which fosters critical thinking, arguing and daring to express personal opinions. The mandatory army service, in which one found himself at the age of 18 in situations where leadership must evolve. Moreover, Israel is a small country, low of natural resources, in constant threat, so what we can mostly rely on is our brains.
Q: Why are especially high-tech Start-ups so successful?
The reasons I mentioned in the previous question have definitely set up the ground for a flourishing start-up scene, but I believe that the most prominent reason is immigration. Israel is an immigrant country, a unique mix of people from different countries, continents, traditions, and lifestyles who share only one thing in common -- being Jewish. Immigrants are risk-takers in their essence and they tend to be more entrepreneurial and innovative, simply for the reason that they must invent themselves and survive in a new country. With that, the biggest influence on the Israeli start-up scene was the post-Soviet Union immigration in the late '80s and beginning of the '90s. It was the biggest wave of immigration -- slightly more than 1 million people while the existing population at that time was about 6 million. The post-soviet immigrants brought among them great knowledge and skills, but still, it required finding employment solutions for such a growth in the population. The government established a program that aimed to encourage the high-tech industry by investing in venture capital and attracting international investors for that. This program has fostered new companies and new ideas and actually was proven to be very successful -- within 12 years the funds were invested in 168 companies (13 foreign and 153 Israeli, two of the total were merged with other companies). From the Israeli ones, 103 companies survived 12 years after the investment, which is a record number.
Q: Is there something like a “Start-up mentality”?
When it comes to "start-up mentality", we can see that the Israeli society has a unique mix of innovation and entrepreneurship. It is easy to think only about innovation as something that leads to a thriving start-up scene, but higher innovation can be found in other places in the world. For example, if you look at the rate of patent registration per year, Finland, Korea, and Singapore are leading. However, the level of entrepreneurship in those countries is pretty low. On the contrary, in countries like Colombia, Thailand, and Bolivia there's a high level of entrepreneurship, but not innovation. People in those countries are opening more traditional businesses such as restaurants and market stands.
Q: How is the Israeli understanding of “education” and what are the possible differences to the European understanding?
As Israelis, we grew up with the notion of questioning everything. The Israeli society has a very flat hierarchy and everyone shares their opinion all the time, for good or bad. As a matter of fact -- if you don't have an opinion, if you don't pose questions and challenge an idea, if you don't argue -- something is probably wrong with you. This quality may be annoying at times but allows people to get ahead in their jobs, gain knowledge, and have the courage to go on their own venture.
Q: Israel is located in the middle of a geopolitically turbulent area – how does this affect the development of Start-ups?
Israel is a very small country with almost no natural resources and not enough land for large scale agriculture. To economically survive, Israel had to rely on human capital. Therefore in Israel, everything is centered around creativity, excellency and daring to make things happen. On top of that, living in a constant threat forces Israel to find real-time creative and innovative solutions, in order to not only survive but also to thrive. It also created a kind of mentality of seizing the day which allows people to be restless and dare more.
Q: Austria and Israel are both countries with mandatory military services. Some Austrians claim that this timespan could be utilized more effectively in education or work experience. What is your opinion on that?
Even though in both countries the military service is mandatory, it is very different in its essence. The army in Israel functions as real-time protection of its citizens and it is a source of national proud. The mandatory army service is 3 years and happens between the ages of 18 to 21 - a timespan that shapes your personality tremendously. The role you have in the army has a big effect on your life later -- how will you be perceived in society and what jobs would you be able to get.
I think most of the weight the Israeli army service has on a person's life comes from the fact that you meet real-time situations while serving, which shapes your personality and forces you to make decisions and develop leadership. I don't know if that could use be achieved here in Austria in that sense.
Q: Can you mention popular companies which have been Israeli Start-ups?
First of all, the most popular of them all in the last few years is Waze, the social navigation system which is in worldwide use and eventually was bought by Google. So even if you didn't know about it, you probably use it.
There is also Check Point, which provides IT security solutions worldwide. Wix, the world-famous website builder. And one of the most exciting in my opinion is Mobileye, which develops vision-based self-driving cars and advanced driver-assistance systems. Recently, it was bought by Intel.
Q: From your point of view, is religion playing a role in the Start-Up ecosystem?
Interesting question. From my personal point of view, I don't see a connection. I believe that it is more the Israeli inherent nature, the cultural mix and the circumstances rather than any religious aspect. With that, I think that the fact that Judaism is not merely a religion but also a notion, there is something innovative in the Jewish people, who tried to survive and thrive within a hostile surrounding throughout its history.
Q: How does the future of the Start-up Hub Tel Aviv look like?
That's a good question! I personally believe it will continue to succeed but would be most dominant by larger players such as Google, Intel and so on. But who knows. How do we say here -- Schauma mal!
Thank you for your time!