Innovation In Israel – Revealing Some of The Secrets

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I was approached by the organizers of this seminar and asked to take part in this respectful event, I was surprised. Unlike previous years in which Israeli participants took place in this conference, this year brought together mainly participants from Bulgaria, all experts in the field of innovation. That made me wonder:“why me“? probably because  my country is  a synonym for the word innovation , Israel -the start up nation, Israel – a small country in the Middle East  which is  a world leading state in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Let us speak in numbers:

Economies with innovative capabilities –According to IMD competitiveness Yearbook 2014, Israel is ranked as  the first out of 148 countries in Innovative abilities, second in the field of entrepreneurship and third in Global Innovation.

Apart from the Silicon Valley in California, the highest density of hi-tec companies is in Israel, 4000 firms chose Israel as their home offering solutions to the world most „burning questions“.

Just  a small example: Neo natal’s mortality in remote and cold  areas was one of the subjects which was mentioned as an obstacle in achieving one of the UN Millennium Development Goals 2000. In those areas lack of electricity and advanced medical services caused the death of thousands of new born babies. PenZa, an Israeli innovation services company challenged its experts to find a sustainable solution that will be accessible and cheap. The experts, working in unique teams, came up with an envelope, made of an advanced material that uses even the faintest temperature of the baby’s body and becomes a movable incubator that last up to 48 hours. By this time the baby can be brought to a more advanced clinic and his life be saved. The envelope is easy to produce, accessible for all and costs less than 10$.  That is just one out of thousands of ideas that touch multiple dimension of human life and came from Israel.

40% of 230,000 hi-tech industry employees in Israel are R&D people, most them working for large international companies who found the Israeli infrastructure as the best option for their development.

How a country, that practically had nothing, did become a start-up Nation? What is the secret behind the facts?

In the Bible it said that Moses was murmuring ( his language was not his most remarkable skill) when he wanted to tell G_d to take the sons of Israel to Canada he started to say the word:“ KKK…“ and the almighty immediately understood Moses intention to go to the land of Canaan. Ever since this philological mistake we have been trying to overcome the hardships of our country: a land of Milk and honey but no other natural resources, no water and no oil (natural Gas was recently found and change the picture although cashing the treasure is complicated…) . Already in old time we were handed the first challenge that needed solution, the first trigger to a nation of innovators who mastered the art for thousands of years . Therefore, there is no wonder that until these days Israel is number 5 in the world in the number of patents per capita. From ancient time to these days we have to find solutions, think out of the box, be flexible and quick, be ambitious and competitive in order to survive, in order to develop and succeed.

Ever since the creation of our state in 1948, we have met every possible hurdle:

Social- we are a nation of immigrants from four corners of the world, a large number of the founders of the country survived the biggest tragedy of modern time, the Jewish holocaust during the second World War.

Geographical- small arid land without natural resources.

And mostly,  political- since 1948 we haven’t had a moment of peace, we are facing threats and danger we have to strive for our lives.

 Instead of giving up we saw a window of opportunity in every challenge.  It is no secret that the IDF (Israeli Military) is the biggest green house for innovation: most of the fire walls in your computers are a result of the Israeli Intelligence efforts to protect itself. Iron Dome – an advanced air defense system, developed by REFAEL and IAI that intercepts and destroy short range rockets was developed as a result of the need to protect the population on the border with Gaza which was under fire for years. Necessity is indeed the mother of all our inventions, in our case of creativity and innovation.

I mentioned the fact that our nation is a mosaic of cultures and languages, one might think about it as a disadvantage but we know that this is one of the keys for the Israeli success.

People from different cultures tackle problems differently. When they work together as a team, each one brings a different viewpoint that enriches the discussion and forces the members of the team to be attentive ,to make the necessary effort to accept suggestions that sometimes look strange to one own line of thoughts and to be open minded. That enable the team (be it small or be it the whole country) to think out of the box- mainly because there is no box and nothing is conventional.

The heterogenic nature of the Israeli society is an endless source of ideas, the Israeli society is very direct and informal and thus creates a very unique working environment in which hierarchy hardly exists. The freedom of expression is highly praised (some might argue that it is too much so), ready to adapt itself to all changes, ready to take risks and fail. Failure is seen as a great mean to improve.

That is all true, but without a little help from friends Israeli entrepreneurs would have never made our country into a Start-up nation. The Israeli government is a helping friend and partner to sucsses, it is highly committed to making these dreams come true : 4% of GDP id invested in R&D- one of the highest in OECD countries.

 One of the main advantages of such support is that it is self generating, according to the research of Prof. Lach from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem every sum invested by the  government as support to R&D, creates another investment in R&D which is 2-3 times bigger than the original. Governmental investment is the best guarantor for private funds to join in.

So here we are, a small nation, facing daily challenges but at the same time does not stop looking for solutions, innovating – it becomes our second nature even if we do not think about it anymore it is part of our national DNA, we cannot live without it.

 We educate the new generation to have a free spirit, to express themselves, to be mindful, direct and energetic, to be creative and always find and define new goals to reach. We hope that amongst them we find the future Noble Prize laureates ( who will join at least  8 scientists, academicians and politicians who are the pride of our 8 million citizens), those who will heal maladies, those who will be social entrepreneurs and make our life better – we trust them.

I would like to wish you all a very fruitful conference, may you adopt the guidelines of the startup nation into your daily and professional lives, because your success is our success, your ideas will shape our future and we are already grateful for your future contribution.