At 68, Start-Up Nation’s future is in the social margins
This past Sunday, I had an extraordinary day. A day which will make this Independence Day one of the most memorable I have ever celebrated.
As part of my ongoing mentorship for entrepreneurs in the Israeli start-up ecosystem, I was asked to address a special gathering of SheCodes, a community of more than 10,000 female software developers sharing with them my personal and professional journey.
On my way to the SheCodes session, I stopped to congratulate my colleagues from the 8200 Alumni Association, at the launch event of Hybrid, which promotes early stage Arab entrepreneurs. It was truly incredible to see a dozen early stage Israeli Arab entrepreneurs, and their mentors from the start-up ecosystem, many of which come from the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit.
This sounds like Israeli reality turned on its head: 10,000 women developers; Arab entrepreneurs mentored by 8200 Elite intelligence vets. But there’s more.
I arrived to Tel Aviv’s Google Campus for my talk and, on my way in, noticed a group of Orthodox women, about to enter the auditorium for a session titled: “Android for Orthodox Women.” Android (the programming language) for Orthodox women? What exactly does one have to do with the other?
As I walked into the event space where I would share my story, I realized something marvelous: In the span of three hours, I had the privilege of meeting 12 Israeli Arab start-up entrepreneurs, mentored by IDF 8200 unit alumni; of seeing Orthodox women learning Android coding at Google Campus all in addition to sharing my personal professional journey with more than 200 Israeli women taking part in SheCodes activities.
All this made me exceptionally proud. Proud of the Arab early stage start-up entrepreneurs who are eager to change the world through innovation; Proud of the 8200 IDF alumni mentoring them; Proud of the Orthodox women breaking barriers and learning to code; and proud of the hundreds of young women developing their careers as hi-tech professionals; Proud of my country and its flourishing hi-tech sector – our very own Start-Up Nation.
One might ask: what is so special about women in tech? Haredi? Israeli Arabs? And how is that connected to the strength of the Start-Up Nation?
Israel is internationally known for its entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem and it has become customary for the Israeli hi-tech ecosystem to get high rankings in international indexes as one of the most innovative places in the world, with the highest density of startups per capita and attracting more venture capital per capita than any other country. What people tend to overlook is the fact that this ecosystem is drawing talent from only about 40 percent of Israel’s population.
Today, the Israeli startup ecosystem is suffering from a severe shortage of quality human capital, which is a huge impediment to the ecosystem’s ability to grow. The solution may be tapping underutilized labor pools, such as women, Haredi and Arab citizens.
Based on recent data, female developers in Israel account for only 15% of all developers. Raising this figure to 30% over the next few years without changing the number of male developers could solve, by itself, the human capital shortage. Therefore, if Israel is aiming to reach even greater high-tech potential, efforts must be made in order to engage more women in this industry. This is the reason SheCodes was founded, with a goal of reaching 50% female developers within ten years.
The Haredi sector comprises 12% of the population in Israel. It is characterized by a low employment rate and severe poverty, and therefore a relatively low contribution to the economy. Today, only 44% of the ultra-Orthodox, ages 25-65, work. Based on the rapid growth of this sector, by 2030 it is estimated that over 40% of the population in Israel will be Haredi and that it will represent 18% of the workforce. So Haredi training and employment should be a top priority. And Haredi employment could also be one of the solutions for the shortage of professionals in the hi-tech sector.
This is why it is so important to have dedicated Android sessions for Orthodox women. This is why organizations such as Kamatech have risen to the task, promoting quality education for this population, exposure to the hi-tech ecosystem, placement in companies and many other activities. Since hi-tech is a leading field in terms of contribution to the Israeli economy, it can be assumed that the inclusion of Haredim in this sector will filter down into the community and encourage the same process also in other areas of employment.
Similarly, Israeli Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population, but contribute to only 8% of its GDP. It is estimated that of the 100,000+ software developers in the country at present, Arabs account for only 2,000. Organizations such as Tsofen, are already making an impact, with the goal of having Arabs account for 10% of the tech sector by 2020. However, with few Israeli Arabs in Israel’s Defense Forces, and intelligence units in particular, it is challenging for them to tap into networks built during military service. The 8200 Alumni Association is equivalent to Harvard Business School, Stanford & MIT Alumni Associations in the U.S. That is where you meet your colleagues with whom you partner to found startups and where you look to hire talent. Not being part of these networks creates a barrier, which is difficult to overcome. This is exactly what Hybrid is trying to do: bridge the existing networks from the military and hi-tech ecosystems and open the doors for the Arab entrepreneurs.
So Happy 68th Independence Day! With increasing diversity in the hi-tech and start-up ecosystems, I am very optimistic. I only hope the young women; the Haredim and the Arab entrepreneurs share this optimism with me, and will continue to join Israel’s innovative start-up ecosystem.
Happy 68th Birthday to the Start-Up Nation!
Inbal Arieli is VP Strategic Partnerships, Start-Up Nation Central, bringing 2 decades of experience working with start-ups and building companies of her own. Inbal writes a blog in which she analyzes how Israeli culture encourages entrepreneurship at a very young age. She was listed in the 100 Most Influential people in Israeli hi-tech, and selected as one of the 100-tech-business-women-speakers in the world.