How Israel Marches Through Economic Meltdown


Interesting piece in the Daily Beast notes: 

For all the press coverage of the Middle East, there is one side of Israel that gets scant attention: the country’s economy has the highest concentration of innovation and entrepreneurialism in the world today. For years, multinational technology companies and global investors have been beating a path to Israel. Even in 2008—a year of global economic turmoil—per capita venture investments in Israel were 2.5 times greater than in the United States, more than 30 times greater than in Europe, 80 times greater than in China, and 350 times greater than in India. And Israel still boasts the highest density of start-ups in the world (a total of 3,850 start-ups, one for every 1,844 Israelis). More Israeli companies are on NASDAQ than companies from all of Europe, China, India, Korea, and Japan combined.

“When it comes to U.S. military résumés, Silicon Valley is illiterate. It’s a shame. What a waste of the kick-ass leadership talent coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Israeli entrepreneur Jon Medved.

The root of Israel’s economic dynamism—and the way it weathered a global downturn—can be traced to government policies that cultivate a unique entrepreneurialism. These include innovative immigration policies and disproportionate research and development spending (Israel is the world leader in the percentage of the economy that is spent on R&D). But the real turbocharger has been its universal military training and national service program.

...While students in other countries are preoccupied with deciding which college to attend, Israelis are weighing the merits of different military units. And just as students elsewhere are thinking about what they need to do to get into the best schools, many Israelis are positioning themselves to be recruited by the elite units of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).

One IDF Army officer with whom we spoke knew when he was just twelve years old that he wanted to learn Arabic, partly because he realized even then that it might help him get accepted into the best intelligence units.

While it’s difficult to get into the top Israeli universities, the nation’s equivalent of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale are the IDF’s elite units. The unit in which an applicant served tells prospective employers what kind of selection process he or she navigated, and what skills and relevant experience he or she may already possess.

“In Israel, one’s academic past is somehow less important than the military past. One of the questions asked in every job interview is, Where did you serve in the army?” says Gil Kerbs, an intelligence unit alumnus who today works in Israel’s venture capital industry, specializing in China’s technology market.

The advantage that Israel’s economy and its society gains from this equally dispersed national service experience was driven home to us by neither an Israeli nor an American—but rather by Gary Shainberg, an eighteen-year veteran of the British navy. Today, he is vice president for technology and innovation at British Telecom.

“There is something about the DNA of Israeli innovation that is unexplainable,” Shainberg said. But he did have the beginnings of a theory. “I think it comes down to maturity. That’s because nowhere else in the world where people work in a center of technology innovation do they also have to do national service.”
The JIDF thinks it comes down to Hashem, but that's another story. Read the full piece in the Daily Beast here.



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