Are these principles the secret to Israel’s start-up success?

In recent years, countless articles, books and essays have tried to grapple with how Israel became a “start-up nation.” Today, Israel has more high-tech start-ups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country in the world. Its entrepreneurs have led to some of the biggest technology success stories over the years; just look at CheckPoint, MobileEye, and Waze, to name a few.

The main recurrent factors to Israel’s entrepreneurial success are its lack of resources – which has left Israel no choice but to show exceptional ingenuity; immigration – creating a magical melting pot of diversity; and the hypothesis that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) creates talented entrepreneurs.

One aspect of the mandatory military service that hasn’t been analyzed is “The Ruach Tzahal”, better known as the Spirit of the IDF. This is a treasured document that every 18-year-old Israeli receives when they begin their mandatory service. This is more than a code of ethics, but rather a way of life to help these soldiers mold their mindsets and make strategic decisions at the most critical times.

The Spirit of the IDF principles are applied and expected to be sustained in every moment of the soldier’s time in the army – and mostly under critical conditions – when life is at risk. At the age of 21, when most young people are at university and whose main worries are to pass exams and party, young Israelis have already been through real life experiences and sometimes even risked their lives.

Developed by Major General Yoram Yair and Tel Aviv University professors, the Ruach Tzahal encompasses a list of core principles for soldiers to abide by throughout their service. Coincidentally, these principles also represent major values for every start-up:

  • Dedication to the mission and the pursuit of victory – This essentially teaches that notwithstanding the difficulty of the task, one is expected to overcome any situation and always have the outcome in sight. Everything will be tested to accomplish the mission – abandoning the mission is not an option. It is an essential quality for an entrepreneur to be dedicated to the job and always have their sights set on the final goal.
  • Responsibility – His or her actions shall be characterized by constant involvement, initiative, and diligence, demonstrating good judgment in the scope of his or her With this in mind, the young soldier learns the true sense of accountability.
  • Reliability – Reliability is the guarantee that people can count on you to get the job done and to get it done well. A common example is the importance of perfect coordination between a squad team. Each member has a precise role and everyone assumes that the other is fulfilling his or her role with diligence. Any mistake, any deviance can lead to aborting the mission or more severe y consequences. Start-ups live and die based on the team’s interdependence, and it is therefore vital that team members can count on one another to fulfill roles and actions.
  • Professionalism – The individual shall endeavor to acquire the professional expertise and proficiency to carry out the role, and shall implement them, continuously seeking to improve his or her achievements and those of their unit. Translated to the corporate world, professionalism is opposed to amateurism. It distinguishes poor-quality work from successful and high-quality achievement. By fully embracing his role and understanding that expectations are high, a successful entrepreneur will act in the most professional manner with his employees, clients or investors.
  • Discipline – The individual shall do his or her utmost to carry out fully and successfully what is required of them. Especially at the beginning, where roles in organizations are not yet clearly defined, it is important to remain focused on the work at hand and figured out what’s required to get the job done. Without a doubt, the training, method, and organization received at the young age of 18 give Israeli entrepreneurs a natural sense of discipline, autonomy, and management.
  • Comradeship –There is no room for individualism, and every soldier is expected to act out of solidarity, support and come to the assistance of his or her comrades. In a less dramatic way, a successful entrepreneur will also be expected to be a good comrade with his fellow entrepreneurs and business partners. A practical example is the natural ability to share one’s network with his or her colleague’s ecosystem. As described by Deborah Mills-Scofield,One of the biggest assets in anyone’s life is a generous network. It is a gift that grows simply by sharing it.”
  • Vocation – The individual shall see his or her service as a vocation and be willing to contribute all he can to defend the State. Equally, entrepreneurs shall be the ambassador of their business or activity and dedicate their lives to ensuring their company succeeds no matter what.

As described by Izhar Shai – General Partners at Canaan Partners Israel – “The values that we are looking for in entrepreneurs in order to invest in their start-up are values that originate from the the IDF, such  as a leadership mind, reliability and the belief that the mission will be accomplished no matter what!”

Entrepreneurs around the world can point to their inspirational book or document that influenced their paths to start their business. Yet, if you walk through the streets of Tel Aviv and around the country, the Ruach Tzahal is the Israeli entrepreneur’s common denominator, and it is easy to understand why they are very well “armed” to continue churning out successful companies for the world to marvel.

About the Author
Steve Elbaz has spent nearly a decade in business development for major international companies in the fields of energy, mobility and startups, along with extensive experience in the European VC community in Israel and currently is Head of Technology Scouting and Investment for a global automotive group. Steve spent 3 years as a combat soldier in the IDF and regularly does reserve duty and strongly believes in the connection between the IDF and Israel's global reputation as a technology powerhouse. Steve is a board member & strategic advisor to the technological accelerator IsraeliHub, which is focused on combatting incitement and racism on social media. A native of Paris, France, Steve made aliyah in 2003 and holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and lives with his family in Tel Aviv.
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