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In Israel, Cheering For The Home Team Is Often About Tech

It's hard for an immigrant to make sense of the Israeli sports scene -- but start-up success is something everyone understands

One thing that is hard for American immigrants in Israel, like myself, is adjusting to the radically different sports culture here. Back home it was easy. I would cheer for my alma mater – Wisconsin, my parents’ alma mater – UCLA, and anyone playing USC.

Here it doesn’t make any sense. Most people are soccer fans and there seems to be an incomprehensible mishmash of different teams and leagues that sometimes play each other and at other times don’t. So I never really made much of an effort to follow sports here in Israel.

That all changed Sunday night when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Euroleague basketball championship. You could hear the screams of fans cheering for the Blue and Yellow from every mirpeset in the city. For the first time, I felt like a real Israeli sports fan and I was completely caught up in the wave of celebration that swept over the country.

Maccabi Fans Celebrating In Tel Aviv

But Maccabi is a rare example of Israeli victory. More often, when Israelis cheer for a winning team it’s for local startups and local tech companies. This is one area where Israel is a perennial champion. Right now, there are a number of industries where team Israel is going head-to-head with competitors from around the world.

Perhaps the most clear-cut example of a competition is the Google Lunar X Prize. There, team SpaceIL is working to send its dishwasher sized spacecraft to the moon and is competing against teams from all over the world for the $20 million prize. They’re currently looking for funds to help fuel their mission, and since I’m an unabashed SpaceIL fanboy, I’ve already donated to the cause more than once.

A different case is that of GetTaxi. In Israel, they are the unrivalled leader in the cab-ordering-app space. In the states, they face stiff competition from Uber, a rival car ordering service. Uber got itself into a bit of trouble when it came to light that they were using somewhat questionable tactics to compete against GetTaxi in the U.S., including ordering fake rides and then cancelling them – clogging up their rival’s system. For me this really hit close to home, since GetTaxi’s offices are right next door to my own.

The competition has also spilled over into the world of crowdfunding, with two Israeli campaigns live right now that are competing with rival products from around the world.

Sensibo unveiled their device that turns any remote-controlled A/C into a smart, connected system. Nest, which does something similar for thermostat-controlled systems, was recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, so this is one market that is as hot as it gets (pun intended). As Geektime pointed out, Sensibo is going head-to-head against a German rival, and they are in a literal crowdfunding race to the finish.

Finally, a local startup is looking to help Israelis, and people all over the world, stand up straight and proud with a device that helps users improve their posture. UpRight is a small wearable device that alerts the wearer to incorrect posture. It’s also running a crowdfunding campaign, but its competitor is already available. Fortunately for UpRight, their main rival was criticized by many in the media and was even described by TechCrunch as “amazifuriating.”

Israelis are known for their competitive and often aggressive personalities. Whether you call it chutzpah, or simply believing in your own product, Israeli entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to compete with anyone. Perhaps part of that confidence is inspired by the support they receive at home. It’s always easier to compete when you have the home-team advantage.

About the Author
Jonah Balfour is an avid fan of technology, Apple, and Israel. He has worked with some of the hottest Israeli startups and is an evangelist for the Israeli tech industry as a whole.
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