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Israel in the spotlight: what India can learn in its quest to become the global innovation hub

Neha Jain
17th Nov 2017
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At the MeltingPot2020 Innovation Summit held in Hyderabad recently, the spotlight was on Israel with bureaucrats and officials from Israel and India coming together to exchange insights and share lessons that each can learn from the other in its quest to become the hub for global innovation.

Israel’s transformation into one of the world’s most innovative countries has been nothing short of miraculous — right from its model of desert agriculture to the recent metamorphosis into a high-tech superpower. Barring the US and China, Israel has more Nasdaq-listed companies than any other country. It also has more venture capital invested per capita and a greater number of startups than any other country in the world.

Research and development is a thrust area for the country, which has more scientists and tech professionals than any other nation. In fact, as Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, likes to point out, the city itself is a startup. It has been built from scratch in the desert, outside the old Arab city of Jaffa, or Yafo as it is now called, over the last 100 years. Tel Aviv is now the fifth most robust startup ecosystem in the world, according to a study by research firm Compass.

At the MeltingPot2020 Innovation Summit organised by Career Launcher Educate, an education platform, along with Kestone, an integrated sales and marketing services company, in Hyderabad from November 14–15, the spotlight was on Israel. The panelists — bureaucrats and officials from Israel and India — got together to exchange insights and share lessons that each can learn from the other in its quest to become the hub for global innovation.

The session was chaired by Satya Narayanan R, Chairman, CL Educate, and the panelists included Gadi Ariav, Professor, Tel Aviv/IIMB; Aaron Jaffe, General Counsel, Yeda; Jay Krishnan, CEO, T-Hub; and Dr G Raghuram, Director, IIMB.

Excerpts from the discussion:

Innovation sandbox

According to World Bank statistics, the population of Israel stood at 8.547 million in 2016, whereas India’s in the same year stood at 1.324 billion. While a country-to-country comparison in terms of population becomes void, comparisons between the startup nation and India’s startup capital are aplenty, starting from the latter’s population of 8.426 million in 2011.

The State of Israel got its independence in 1948, a year after India, and Satya in his opening remarks said, “Every region, whether it is Bengaluru or Hyderabad, let alone the country as a whole, must learn from Israel and build a symbolic relationship. The entire country was crowdfunded when the founder of the nation went around asking Jews for help and today it is a brilliant innovation sandbox.” 

What makes Israel the startup nation

The basis of Israeli culture lies in optimism, which, according to Prof. Gadi, is “not a chalta hai attitude” but the strong belief that “everything will be fine.” People in Israel learn mostly by questioning and there exists no hierarchy or sense of distance within the people.


ALSO READ: Chutzpa and 6 things you should know about the Israeli startup ecosystem


‘Israel’ is a Biblical term. The story in the Bible says that the patriarch Jacob was given the name Israel after he "wrestled with the angel.” The logic of challenging anything — that one can fight with God and win — is present in its very name. The ecosystem and lively culture, therefore, are not surprising.

When one digs deeper for a better understanding of the ecosystem and its achievements, it becomes clear that imagination forms the core. As Prof Gadi said, “The ability to imagine different ways of doing things is the core. When it comes to entrepreneurship, I feel we are no better than others. Israel is an anomaly because of the imaginative nature and culture among the people.”

When asked if any other country can copy/replicate Israel, Gadi said, “It is impossible to copy but one can definitely take inspiration from it and connect to it. Given the size of Israel, we would always like to have statistics per capita. We are a small country, but the propensity to create, innovate, and venture lies in complex culture and social ways.”

Panelists at the MeltingPot2020 Innovation Summit

Bilateral ties

Although India and Israel’s relations for many years rested mostly on defence and aerospace deals, it is actually the fields of agri-food tech, digital health, fintech, Industry 4.0, mobile, telecom, water, and energy that present the widest opportunities.

Aaron spoke about how universities can collaborate with researchers and students from India and make a difference in fields like drug development.

Lo and behold

Discussing the paradigm of open innovation at length, Jay narrated various instances and reasons why companies are adopting it.

The one piece of advice he gave entrepreneurs was to go all in. He said, “Most entrepreneurs today go out and build business plans to demonstrate the need to raise capital. However, the reality must be the exact opposite. One needs to build business and raise capital that solves a pain point and creates a new path.”

Indo-Israel collaborations

India and Israel have had a long and fruitful history of bilateral development cooperation, especially since 1992 when formal diplomatic relations were established. With the Indian government’s emphasis on the promotion of entrepreneurial activity, business and academic contacts between the two countries have assumed heightened significance.

Given the nature of complementarity, the essence of the India-Israel business relationship will be boosted by a deeper appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides and the judicious and contextually intelligent structuring of collaboration.

Dr G Raghuram highlighted the creation of the ‘Israel Centre at IIMB’. He said, “India’s strong aspirational entrepreneurial spirit stands to gain from Israel’s vibrant technology-based innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Israel’s aim for market scale-up would be aided by India’s large market with innovative opportunities. The Centre will provide the perfect platform for the two countries for the understanding of technology innovation, business strategy, history, government policies, and culture, which, in turn, will lead to many more collaborations in the realm of academics, research, business, and beyond.”

Israeli business culture

To conclude, defining what makes Israel special and what drives it to be an innovation hub, Prof Gadi said, “It’s driven by necessity and survival instincts, it is fed by military experience, marked by an attitude of irreverence, enabled by a resilient acceptance of failure, informality and relaxed attitude towards hierarchy, made imaginable by a legacy of entrepreneurship and public policy, and enhanced by cultural diversity.”

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