Adventures in the Startup Nation: DBi Israel 2018

Leaving New York City’s zero-degree temperatures behind made arriving at our hotel on the beach in Israel all the sweeter. It wasn’t quite summer weather in Tel Aviv, but that didn’t stop many of us from jumping in the Mediterranean anyway. #DBiIsrael2018 begins.

This DBi focused on exploring what led Israel to be nicknamed “The Startup Nation.” The name is well earned. According to the World Economic Forum, Israel has approximately 4,000 startups and raises more than twice as much venture capital as the US on a per capita basis. We spent two weeks hearing from professors and meeting with entrepreneurs to learn what they think makes Israel special when it comes to startups.

Hint: it isn’t just one thing. We heard a lot about chutzpah. The wry smile and inevitable nod Israelis give when someone remarks on how they’re known to disrespect authority is telling. Israelis take pride in questioning authority, moving quickly, being aggressive, and being unafraid of business failure.

We learned how the government supports research & development efforts, leading Israel to spend more on R&D as a percent of GDP than any other country. We also discovered that Israeli citizens often credit mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for much of their startup success. It is through IDF that many receive training in high tech as well as exposure to people of different backgrounds and specialties, a key to sparking innovation.

It was fascinating to meet entrepreneurs working on everything from a small plastic device that will help reduce the spread of HIV, to technology that enables in-house rapid prototyping of circuit boards. Many of the other highlights of the trip were things unique to Israel. We kicked off with a tremendously useful lecture that used a well told story to teach the history of Israel. We visited a kibbutz, a long-standing traditional communal settlement that, like many socialist societies, is moving towards capitalist values over time as business opportunities expand. We also learned how Israel addresses its water shortage and visited one of their desalination plants, part of a system of technology that supplies 60 percent of Israel’s drinking water.

Outside of class we spent a lot of time walking Tel-Aviv and eating all the things. It is a fun and lively city and I was finally convinced that falafel, when done right, is delicious! We discovered that we may be the best chefs of all when we took a cooking class and then devoured everything we made.

On the weekend many people took the chance to travel around Israel from Haifa, to Masada, to floating in the Dead Sea. Some even made it to Jordan for a tour of Petra and Wadi Rum.

In short, there was no shortage of adventure, food, and Israeli pop music! From rainy tours of Jerusalem to sing-alongs on the bus, it was an incredible trip with an amazing group of people.

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