Over the past few years, Israel has produced a disproportionately large number of successful companies relative to its population. Unicorns, as they are known, have become an integral part of what gave Israel the nickname “Start-up Nation.”
With no clear geographical benefit or another known privilege, it’s evident that the ‘secret’ behind Israel’s innovation is its innovators.
During the nation’s short history, Israel has been able to raise generations of entrepreneurial spirits who continually make groundbreaking headway in a wide variety of fields.
“The wilderness and dry land will be glad. The desert will rejoice and blossom like a lily. It will blossom profusely…” Isaiah 35:1-2
As an ‘Ole‘, an immigrant to Israel since 10 years back, I have seen firsthand that government support programs are secondary to the common startup founders mentality, a unique mindset harnessed in Israel’s short history through overcoming impossible difficulties.
Israel’s unique approach to innovation garners the question:
‘what sets an Israeli start-up founder apart from others?’
Here’s what I’ve found…
They don’t ask for permission
The history of early Zionism tells a story of Jewish settlers arriving in their ancient homeland, which then, after 2000 years of exile, had become a desert plain.
In 1867, Mark Twain described Israel as “desolate and unlovely”, which it had been for hundreds of years. So how did the Jewish population change the land?
During the 1936 Arab revolt, building Jewish settlements became illegal under the British mandate, putting the Jewish population at risk due to rising tension in the area.
To combat this, Jewish communities began establishing new ‘Moshavim’ overnight. A campaign later named ‘Tower and Stockade’, utilized an Ottoman law which stated that ‘no illegal building may be demolished if the roof has been completed.’ Buildings with walls and roofs were built from sunset to sunrise and were protected by law, circumventing the restrictions.
During these three years, around 57 Jewish communities were erected, which later became foundational in the establishment of the state of Israel.
Would the Jewish settlers at the time waited for any type of authoritative approval, the chances that the state of Israel would come into existence would highly diminish.
The complete disregard for the ‘courtesy’ of receiving approval to fight for your success, the Israeli startup founder often finds himself launching a product to market and gaining traction before social norms frown on him for having the audacity to believe he can succeed.
With or without your approval, Israel, and the Israeli innovators, will continue to innovate.
They don’t get fancy
If you have ever stepped foot in an Israeli startup office, or an Israeli wedding for that matter, you’ll notice that everyone is, according to international standards, severely underdressed for the occasion.
While a formal suit and tie is the official dress code for most formal events and distinguished offices, you’ll often find CEOs sporting a t-shirt and jeans, no matter what social protocol dictates.
In Israel, you’ll notice that the dress code doesn’t signify social status, and that’s because social status doesn’t signify success.
In Israel’s modern history of having to make something out of nothing, making the desert bloom, the idea that people are to be marked and set apart from one another based on their success never stuck. The kibbutz movement, a strictly communist concept, made sure of that and has since marked the Israeli innovator to never forget where he came from – from generations of Zionists willing to work the land for a better future for their children.
They know their tribe
In Israel, the sense of community and belonging is deeply ingrained. From the early days of the kibbutz movement to the modern tech hubs of Tel Aviv, Israelis have always valued the power of collective effort.
This tribal mentality is not just about knowing who your family or immediate community is, but about understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations of the larger Israeli collective.
Israeli entrepreneurs often leverage this deep sense of community, collaborating with others, seeking advice, and sharing resources. This interconnectedness is a driving force behind the rapid spread of ideas and the collaborative spirit found in Israeli startups.
One place where this sense of belonging is fostered, only possible in Israel, is the army. Men and women alike spend 2-3 years, some in intelligence units that focus on engineering and innovation, forming bonds of comradery that make teamwork an internal part of the Israeli startup sector, as many modern innovators begin their careers in the army.
They dare to look foolish
Israeli innovators are not afraid to challenge the status quo, even if it means facing ridicule or skepticism. This boldness stems from a cultural acceptance of failure as a stepping stone to success.
In Israel, failing in a startup is often seen as a rite of passage, a learning experience that equips entrepreneurs with the insights and resilience needed for future ventures. This acceptance of failure encourages risk-taking and fosters a culture where unconventional ideas can thrive.
This stems from Israel’s early days when degrees, titles, and experience were superseded by the urgent need to find solutions to survive.
They innovate at every corner
Innovation is not just limited to the tech sector in Israel, it’s an integral part of society, and an obvious approach to problems.
From agriculture to water conservation, from defense to healthcare, Israelis are constantly seeking ways to improve, optimize, and revolutionize where it’s possible.
This pervasive culture of innovation can be traced back to Israel’s challenging beginnings, where resource scarcity and external threats necessitated creative solutions.
Today, this mindset is embedded in the national psyche, driving Israelis to constantly question, adapt, and innovate.
Things are never ‘not their job’
The Israeli work culture is characterized by a lack of strict hierarchies and a hands-on approach.
Employees, regardless of their position, are often required to step out of their designated roles to get the job done. This flexibility and willingness to take on diverse tasks is a testament to the country’s startup mentality, where roles are fluid, and everyone pitches in to ensure the company’s success.
It’s a mindset that overcomes ego and pride, which exists in every society, and that mindset is fueled by unity and the Israeli sense of belonging.
They don’t wait for ‘the right moment’
Procrastination is not a trait commonly associated with Israeli entrepreneurs.
If someone tells you ‘no’, that just means that that specific someone told you ‘no’, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a definition of your solution or your character, so don’t use it to discredit your potential for success.
Whether it’s launching a new product, entering a new market, or pivoting their business model, Israeli innovators are action-oriented. They believe in seizing opportunities as they come, rather than waiting for the perfect moment.
This sense of urgency, combined with a willingness to adapt, ensures that Israeli startups are agile and responsive to the ever-changing business landscape.