Israel: The Startup Epicentre of the World

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Mariama Zhouri is the CEO and Managing Partner at HammerSmith Consulting Group. She traveled to Israel with CIJA and Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard in 2017.

My husband used to say, “China is the back store of the world and India is the back office of the world.” I would add one thing to this statement: “Israel is the manufacturing startup epicentre of the world.”

I recently had the unplanned opportunity to be a part of the Quebec business delegation with Premier Phillipe Couillard on his and my first visit to Israel and the West Bank.

For a Canadian Muslim with deep involvement the community, like myself, this is almost like social suicide because the conflict between Israel and the Arab world cuts so deep. Nevertheless, I decided to embark on this trip because I fundamentally believe that the only way to undo judgment and prejudice is to experience the other side for oneself. Further, the ethos of openness – to people and experiences – can shed light on complicated foreign issues and contribute to peace in this world that has been made fragile by terrorism. Terrorism is nourished by conflicts around the world, but especially by the situation in Middle East and the Arab world.

Without a doubt, Israel offers an outstanding model from which the world can learn. Their astute and critical cognizance of their own strengths and weaknesses allows Israelis to plan – in a logical and methodical fashion – and target their areas of strength. Planning is good, but making it real is always better. Israel deduced that, in large part, its pathway to success would be to charge resolutely towards an atmosphere conducive to successful startups. They aspired to be a place where innovation would be nurtured and could prosper for eventual sale.

From my vantage point, as an outsider looking in, I can identify with the important mindsets that are unique to Israel and that make the country hugely effective in the area of manufacturing startups:

Mindset 1: Treating Science and Scientists with the Utmost Respect

When the focus of an industry is manufacturing, it is imperative that the men and women behind the innovations are respected and are looked upon as leaders. The Israeli population is rife with a determined and mature younger generation. These extremely driven individuals are oriented towards success thanks to the emphasis the community places on innovation. Their contributions are valued and highly sought after. Creative juices flow and grow to fruition in an atmosphere that is demanding, challenging and interesting. Public policy reflects this value placed on scientific discoveries, with emphasis on financial aid, incubators and business-integrated campuses. As a whole, the national focus in Israel is one where value is placed on creative and scientific solutions. At the Weizmann Institute of Science, for example, scientists are recruited to work on their passions, and they have the freedom to cross the lines between science and other disciplines such as human and social sciences. They are also encouraged to join interdisciplinary teams, and they do not have the added pressures of publishing.They can focus on research and innovation in a very stimulating and dynamic atmosphere.

Mindset 2: Research is Good Business

In Israel, research is considered good business. Unlike the traditional mindset, creative innovations and exciting research projects are to be expanded upon and widely used when mature. At all levels of research, the concept can be licensed to anyone who wants it. Consequently, startup consortiums and universities employ dedicated staff scientists and researchers who are tasked only with promoting their findings to the world, to be used and explored.

By turning the traditional “information hoarding” mentality on its head, Israel earns a worldwide reputation as a research and innovation leader. A good reputation, as we know, makes for good business.

Mindset 3: Startup Nationalism

Imagine what could happen if the national mindset of an entire country were concentrated on creating and selling startups for billions of dollars. All infrastructure, governmental policies and education systems would be oriented towards making this a reality for the business and for the population. This is the way of life in Israel, and it is this very cohesive attitude that makes the people here proud. It is hard to believe that a nation of only 8 million people, is so uniquely hooked on building their future in such a manner. Their passion is evident with such tremendous success.

Mindset 4: Failing towards Success

Failure can lead to major wins. It is a counterintuitive concept and one that we are not familiar with here in Quebec. Here, we have been brainwashed into believing that all failure is equal. We presume that failing at something means we are not good enough, and that maybe we should move on to something else. However, when the leaders of an organization have a military mindset, the very culture of the firm shifts drastically. In that corporate culture, any situation is resolved by trying again and again – and by coming at the problem from different angles, targeting only the most important facets. In the end, only the positive result is valued because lives depend on it. In that scenario, failures are accepted as part of the path towards the final, successful objective.

Additionally, because every member of the organization, society and government is moving towards a common goal, an individual can understand the importance of their own role inside the giant machine. This acknowledgement of the team effort gives a sense of pride for the individual contribution within the whole system of moving parts.

My experiences in Tel Aviv have opened my eyes to the opportunities that can occur when all institutions (be they governmental, educational, professional, etc.) align their goals to one end. The sheer quality of drive towards this purpose make this country a fascinating and successful testament to progress through innovation. Israel is fast becoming a world hub for startups and businesses, attracting multidisciplinary talents from all around the globe. Here in the West, we can learn from Israel’s model where collective vision and aspiration can lead. Hard work, holistic support and strategic determination can help us to achieve greatness as well.

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