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Business: Israel Learning Expedition

April 1, 2013 -- Guest post from Alexis Kheir T'14, a participant on the Israel Learning Expedition. For Alexis's first post about the trip, click here.

The second half of our learning expedition was spend in Haifa and Tel Aviv, where we received great exposure to the business landscape in Israel.

Starting in Haifa we visited Intel, including a tour of their facility, and the IBM Research and Development Lab. At both we were able to speak to top level executives who offered great insights into their latest endeavors, such as Perceptual Computing at Intel and the Smarter Planet Initiative at IBM. We learned that the Israeli branches of these businesses were not necessarily started with strategic purpose; rather, when high ranking executives working in the United States longed to return to Israel, the companies opened up operations in Haifa in order to retain their talented employees. However, the success of these business centers in Israel has developed strategic importance and has inspired a move to establish high tech R&D footholds in Israel by the likes of Apple, Google, and Microsoft, among many.

Over the course of our company visits, we learned that the key executives who were personally drawn to return to Israel laid the foundation for what would become Israel’s high tech sector, but innovation and initiative were the key ingredients in the recipe for the ecosystem’s success. These factors stem from an attitude of questioning the status quo by Israeli people, a vast network formed during the two-year mandatory conscription term with the Israeli Defense Forces, a global outlook, an influx of highly educated immigrants, and a history of a people who started life in a country with limited resources and had to create opportunities, among many other factors. We saw hints of these factors at every company we visited, from the direct manner with which coworkers communicated with each other, to the aversion to hierarchical structures within organizations.  Another important factor underlies these businesses: local collaboration (even among competitors) with the shared goal to promote and develop Israel. I don’t think I’ve seen a dynamic like that in the United States; this makes Israel’s business culture truly unique.

After Haifa we continued to Tel Aviv where we visited IDC Elevator, a start-up accelerator/incubator. The goal of IDC Elevator is to leverage the connections and monetize the talent of entrepreneurs in Israel. After an introductory session, we broke out into mini-sessions with several of the entrepreneurs and listened to their pitches, business models, and go-to-market strategies, and offered constructive feedback. The entrepreneurs were focused on ventures ranging from hospitality to 3D printing to online photo sharing to PR event management.  The people we met at IDC Elevator reinforced the outlook to change what doesn’t work or is unsustainable, to question what you see, and to push boundaries. When we arrived at Better Place, the Israeli company focused on eliminating dependence on oil through electric cars and an infrastructure of battery swap and charging stations, we saw all of these attributes again. The visit wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to test-drive an electric car!

During many of our visits, we’ve heard Israelis reference the book Start-Up Nation. ICD Elevator considers one of its goals to perpetuate the Start-Up Nation and continue its momentum. Israeli President Shimon Peres wants to leverage Israel’s start-up success into what he hopes can be a Start-Up Region. I’m not sure what will come next, but the second half of our Learning Expedition gave us incredible exposure to the current Start-Up Nation and unique perspective on the drivers of its success.

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