No country in the world has more high-tech start-ups per capita than Israel. In the week of the Eurovision Song Contest, Innovation Origins pays attention to this startup nation in a short series. Today: what can the Netherlands learn from Israel?
Peter Ester, sociologist and economist and Member of the Senate for the Christian Union, a Dutch political party, previously published two books about Silicon Valley. He is now working on a book about the start-up climate of Israel. According to him, it’s unlike any other. “Because of the small domestic market and the ongoing boycott by the Arab neighbours, internationalization is in the DNA of the Israeli entrepreneur.” That, in combination with a culture that is full of ‘gotspe’ (Yiddish for guts), is the reason for the country to have all the right circumstances to help start-ups scale up.
“I think that the Netherlands can learn a whole lot from the Israeli ecosystem, where talent, incubators and facilitators are tremendously stimulated by the government. That is also what happens in the Netherlands, but in my opinion, the government doesn’t do enough bold things. The Netherlands is suffering from a culture of mediocrity: start-ups, that’s just another thing we’re involved in. Whereas if you want to be successful as a start-up nation, you really have to go for it.”
Besides the stimulating role of the government, there’s also something in the Israeli mentality, according to Ester. “Because of the history of the country’s development, of immigrants in a hostile environment, which is involved in a permanent struggle for survival, Israel itself is actually a start-up. At the end of the last century, more than a million Russian Jews, including many technicians, researchers and engineers, immigrated. Their arrival has certainly had an impact on the technological progress.”
In addition, Ester believes, the culture is characterized by perseverance, risk management, cooperation and leadership, which many Israelis have acquired in the army. “Values that are indispensable for entrepreneurship. Moreover, there is a culture of ‘being allowed to fail’. When you go bankrupt in the Netherlands, you only just get away with it without being tarred and feathered. In Israel it’s almost the other way around: especially successful entrepreneurs confidently talk about how many times they have gone bankrupt.”
Ester even believes that start-ups can be a key to the solution of the conflict with the Palestinians. “We can conclude that violence has not solved anything. That’s a dead end. But we haven’t tried to do business together. Imagine the push it could give if Israeli and Palestinians would have a couple of successful companies. I believe that could work. Last year, I ran into a few Palestinian girls from Gaza when I was in Stanford, on the West Coast of the United States. They also realized that violence doesn’t solve anything, and they were working on start-ups. If that succeeds, you could give the history a whole new perspective. Maybe the youngest generation can contribute to the solution of this conflict in the 21st century.”