Keen observers of the tech world will no doubt be aware of the buzz surrounding the global startup scene. From traditional hubs like Silicon Valley to young pretenders like London's Tech City, early-stage ventures seem to be everywhere these days. Another major player in the startup game is Israel, which has stepped firmly into the limelight in recent years due to a series of high-profile acquisitions, arguably headlined by Google's $1 billion purchase of Waze earlier in 2013. But in fact, the country has a history of startup innovation that transcends the current craze.
Think back to 2006, for instance, and you may remember HP's acquisition of Mercury, or mobile point-of-sale behemoth VeriFone buying Lipman Electronic. Always keen to expand our perspective, we jumped at a recent opportunity to sit down with Israel's UK Ambassador, His Excellency (HE) Daniel Taub. HE Taub has certainly been busy recently, helping to spearhead the Bizcamp Tel Aviv startup competition in conjunction with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Without further ado, let's hear from the diplomat positioned at the heart of two of the world's foremost startup nations.
1. What can you tell us about the Israeli startup scene? Why has it been so successful and what has it meant for the country's overall IT business landscape?
The startup scene in Israel is very energetic, and a great source of pride to Israel. I'm not sure that we ourselves fully understand why it has taken off in quite the way that it has, but it seems to be a combination of structural and psychological factors. On the structural side the strength of the relationships between universities and business has been very important, and the same goes between the government and industry. The Israeli government has been very helpful in providing funding to support these relationships. In terms of psychology, with very few natural resources in the country Israelis have always known they need to innovate and develop intellectual resources. At the same time Israelis tend not to be afraid of failure. If something doesn't work we will keep on trying until it does.
2. As the London-based Ambassador, you are obviously also familiar with Tech City. What are you thoughts on the UK's startup culture?
The UK startup culture is growing at an impressive rate. There is a tremendous amount of creativity in the UK market and we can see this reflected in the variety of entries in the Bizcamp Tel Aviv competition. Areas such as Tech City and Google Campus are extraordinary incubators for talent amongst the up-and-coming young entrepreneurs in the UK.
3. Are there any specific lessons that Tech City can learn from Israel's startup scene? Conversely, has Tech City now evolved to the extent that it can provide inspiration for other countries?
I don't think there is a single model for success in the startup arena, and rather than copying other models, each country should think about their own comparative advantages and their best route to fostering the innovation sector. In some specific areas, there may be aspects of the Israeli model that are useful for the UK, like the industry wide investment, from both the private and public sector. It seems that the UK is moving towards this model and areas such as Tech City encourage such investment and nurturing of skills and ability to be at the forefront of the tech market in the future.
4. One of the perceived problems for startup hubs is talent retention. Do too many startups migrate (usually to the US) at the first available opportunity and how does this affect local economies?
It is natural for businesses to locate themselves where their largest market is located, and of course where they can find investment to continue. Israel is starting to buck that trend with many of Israel's startups choosing to remain in the country. When the Israeli startup Waze was bought out by Google for a reported $1 billion, it was interesting to see that one of the terms of the contract was that it would continue to operate in Israel.
5. How important is it for startup hubs to collaborate with governments on both a national and international scale? What is the role of initiatives like Bizcamp Tel Aviv in fostering early-stage ventures?
Governments can give great added value to startups and startup hubs, both through investment and business development. When governments working in partnership together, they can strengthen the partnerships that can take place between businesses in other countries. Bizcamp Tel Aviv enables businesses to build links that they may not have been able to build under their own steam, not only with funders, but with other entrepreneurs working in their area. This starts the journey on the way to creating multinational relationships and a real step in the direction of success.
Image credit: RayaCottrell Photography