As I wind down my engagement with Rackspace, and the incredible experience I have had in serving as the Brand Ambassador to Israel, I’ve been thinking back on what I have learned from having the opportunity to meet with, speak to groups, mentor, and more than anything — listen to the stories, hopes and dreams of close to 1,000 startups.
When you are singularly focused on doing one thing for what will be 16 months, you not only get good at doing it, you also see patterns. From the patterns there are lessons. And from the lessons there are surprises.
I am often asked “what was the coolest company?” “who has something that is under the radar that is going to change the world?” “what company has nailed it in a space that no one thought they could figure out?”
While I certainly have met many interesting and compelling companies – I generally ignored the “companies,” and focused on the people. I was more intrigued by what drove people to do what they did, why they did it, and where the inspiration for their startup came from.
Being in Israel, you not only meet Israelis — people who are of, and from here, but you meet people from all over the world who, for a multitude of reasons, have decided to live and make their lives here.
Some come for religious reasons.
Others come because they were on a trip and met someone and stayed.
Others have family here and some live and base here, and keep their ties, and possibly another residence elsewhere. During my sixteen month run here, I also met many people from France who decided to leave because of the situation there and have decided to join the wave of French immigration that Israel is witnessing.
It’s no secret that Israel is a cool place to be. The global media covers all the amazing investments that are being made, the fabulous exits and wealth that are being created that brings entrepreneurs back to the ecosystem to not only re-invest their money, but more importantly, their time, love, and expertise for doing something amazing again — and doing it here.
Geektime just released their 2015 Annual Report on Startups and Venture Capital in Israel, and OurCrowd has a great post they released earlier this week on the Democratization of Investing, highlighting many of their Israel-based investments.
While I am thrilled to be part of this incredible ecosystem, and while it is truly amazing to see history unfolding before our eyes, I think we often miss what I call “Israel’s Other Unicorn Economy,” the thousands of small, and sometimes lifestyle businesses that may never see the light of day with an exit or IPO, but provide a nice income and standard of living for its owners and employees.
In 2016, we have 500 Startups, the Barclays/Techstars, and MassChallenge programs all expanding and scaling up here. You’ll be hearing more about these programs as they expands.
At the other end of the spectrum, and the one that I think matters more, I invite you to pay attention to Hub Etzion, SUBS, and MESH, located in Gush Etzion, Bet Shemesh, and Modi’in respectively. See how PresenTense is helping communities in the periphery of the country embrace entrepreneurship. Keep your eyes on what is happening in Nazareth in the Arab-Israeli ecosystem with programs organized by the Nazareth Business Incubator Center.
These programs make entrepreneurship more accessible and real. They provide an alternative to having “a real job,” and more than just being all about money, they empower people to help each other win.
If I had a choice of having a single billion dollar exit, or one thousand small businesses that do one million dollars in annual revenue, would take the latter all day long.
Do the math.
It comes to one billion dollars.
Yes, it’s a unicorn.
And it’s spread wide and deep.
Let’s honor and celebrate the big wins.
But let’s not ignore the other unicorn economy: the thousand small businesses that are leveraging the power of our collective smarts, will, and drive that not only provide intellectual and capital wealth for the country, but set an example for the rest of the world.