Entrepreneurship in Tel Aviv (#israeluncovered Bus 1)


Krishan Kania is a sophomore at Princeton University, where he studies Molecular Biology and Global Health. On campus, he is co-director of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, a non-profit student organization that focuses on helping college students launch their own startup ventures and learn about entrepreneurship. Krishan is also on the Natural Sciences Review Board of the Princeton Undergraduate Research Journal, and writes for the Princeton Public Health Review.  He is pictured (at left) on the first day of Israel Uncovered orientation.

During our first full day in Tel Aviv, our Israel Uncovered group had the privilege of listening to Noa Singerman and Dan Balter, representatives of the Tel Aviv University Entrepreneurship Center and StarTau (a non-profit startup accelerator). 
Hearing them speak, we learned about the growing spirit of entrepreneurship in Israel. In the relatively short history of the sovereign state of Israel and through wars and conflict, Tel Aviv has come to be one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world, ranking second to Silicon Valley. Israeli companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals as well as the R&D facilities of big tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google have shaped the landscape of a city that warmly welcomes young entrepreneurs and their startup ventures.

It was interesting to learn how the culture of Israeli life also breeds this environment. Noa described the concept of "chutzpah." Chutzpah, a Yiddish word, encapsulates the sentiment that anyone — a young boy or girl, an incoming soldier, a student, truly anyone — can raise their voice and speak out when they have a need or see a problem. According to Noa, in daily Israeli life having chutzpah is not considered disrespectful. In fact, it is encouraged. While in other cultures it is considered audacious and rude to so bluntly ask for things or challenge others, especially superiors, that is not the case in Israel. And because of the “pro-chutzpah” culture, entrepreneurs feel at home in Israel. When they see a problem in the status-quo, they are able to invent their own solution and fix the problem. This creates opportunities to disrupt the market, and the possibility for huge success.

Another important aspect of Israeli life that affects entrepreneurship is the reality that nearly every young person must in some way serve in the Israeli Defense Force, or participate in national service. After serving the minimum requirement, many soldiers will follow up on their education at the university level. This combination of leadership and skill training within the IDF and academic education is a critical success factor for Israeli startups. Interestingly, the units that young soldiers are assigned to also provide a networking opportunity for them to meet their future business partners, investors, and consumers. The presentation of Noa and Dan appealed to me very much as I am also interested in technology and entrepreneurship. Noa noted that Israel today has more high-tech start-ups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country in the world. And although Israel is a small country, it is considered to be a great place for soft launches and testing new products.

Learning about entrepreneurship while learning about Israel at large has also led me to think very critically about the foundation of Israel and its narrative through time. In a way, I feel as though the incorporation and evolution of the State of Israel has been an ongoing startup venture. In Start-up Nation, a book written by Dan Senor and Saul Singer about the economy of Israel, Israel is described as a “country of 7.1 million people that is sixty years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources.” Like many start-ups, Israel has had to overcome, or at least manage, many obstacles in a short period of time. As start-ups do, Israel has had to also reach out to the world for help and in turn has benefited from the resources of wealthier nations.

I joined The David Project trip to Israel as a representative of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. So, prior to this trip I had been thinking about ways to define entrepreneurship in order to explain what I do to everyone else. One definition I found was that it is the creation of an idea, beyond the resources you control. By this definition, I feel that what I have heard from Noa and Dan, and what I have seen during my time in Israel, encapsulates the spirit of entrepreneurship.