Thursday, March 11, 2010

Start-Up Nation, Start-Up Mania, Start-Up Fever?

The recent book about Israel: "Start-Up Nation" [Amazon] [B&N] [Borders] brought for the first time the amazing story of Israel's technology start-up world out in the open. In Israel, high-tech entrepreneur success is a 20 year phenomena. The dream of many engineers is to develop an innovative product, sell a few units to show how great the product is... AND sell the venture to a US company. What a simple recipe for a get rich quick dream? The more ambitious entrepreneurs want to take the company public on NASDAQ. (Israel is the number two country with NASDAQ listed companies after the US.) Start-up success is held in almost mythical terms in Tel Aviv. Besides the financial rewards there is a reverence to entrepreneurs as creative inventors and productive managers. This attracts all kind of people to the world of entrepreneurship. Start-up fever or start-up mania (see blog) are a common condition seen around the high-tech community. Start-Up Fever condition comes in many forms, from chronically unemployed (or under-employed) entrepreneurs to job hopping early start-up engineers. There are also the "always in attendance" at tech meetings denizens. Essentially start-up fever is the blinding desire to have your own start-up regardless of reality. Let's face it, not all engineers are able to produce a good product and get on a shelf.

But if you speak to entrepreneurs around the world, they will say exactly the same thing as Israeli entrepreneurs. They also have a blinding desire to do something fabulous, sell it somehow (the company not just the product) and get rich. As Vinod Khosla states on his venture fund site:

"An entrepreneur is someone who dares to dream the dreams and is foolish enough to try to make those dreams come true."

This idea of going crazy over a unique idea is not that crazy for Israelis. It goes back to imaginative rabbis and Theodor Hetzel. Zionists imagined a state for the Jews despite all the facts of not having one for 2,000 years. The idea of creating a vibrant, intelligent and caring religion is also one that seems to slip the imagination. Until Israel was a state, Jews tried as hard as they might to be the light bearing people. Today we have lost these communities in Europe and in Arab countries so we seem to forget the long history of crazy idealism. The imagination of great things seem is what I see today expressed as start-up fever. While most Tel Aviv entrepreneurs know they will not succeed, this does not stop them from trying.

I think that outsiders do not see the subtle environment of life in Tel Aviv. This environment helps entrepreneurs here more than in other places. The combination of history, lifestyle and modern push does not exist in other places. Even some Israeli entrepreneurs do not see this combination of elements which creates a warm and fuzzy petri dish for new ideas. There is help from the outside world, American venture capital firms bring experience and money. Israeli government directly and through universities and "greenhouses" (incubators) offer advice, seed financing and even physical office and lab space. But even without all these helping hands Israelis seem to be inventing and innovating. To the ones looking at the long historical footprints of time, entrepreneurial spirit has been here a long long time.
To the new comers from the technology world of Internet companies and medical devices that peer deep into the human body... welcome... this may surprise you... more to come on innovation, entrepreneurs, start-ups and the Israeli spirit in Tel Aviv.

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