Meeting with 15 journalists from top European economic and business media on a 4-day press trip to Israel last week, Yossi Vardi explained, "The secret of Israel’s entrepreneurial dynamism is that everyone here has a Jewish mother.’’
The 72-year-old Vardi, known as the Guru of Israeli internet, and founder of some 60 successful Israeli high-tech companies in a variety of fields, attempted to explain to the visitors why Israel has the largest number of start-ups in the world – 6,000 – and the largest number of companies on the Nasdaq.
"Every kid in Israel aspires to create his start-up," Vardi said, European Jewish Press reported. "It’s a cultural phenomenon – but the secret of Israel’s entrepreneurial dynamism is that everyone here has a Jewish mother.’’
"What is happening in Israel over the past 20 years is something unique," Vardi continued. "The country’s dynamism, and in particular of its youth, is very clear. Everyone wants to develop a project. Recently, as I was talking to a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, I asked a young waitress in a café what else she was doing, and she said she was studying for a degree in language in Tel Aviv to create a start-up specializing in translation… This is very common. Everyone has the entrepreneurial mind."
Vardi himself is internationally recognized for his accomplishments, having acted as an advisor to the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program on issues of energy policy and strategy in the developing world. A member of the World Economic Forum, he served as Director-General of Israel's Ministry of Energy, and took part in the business aspects of the peace negotiations with Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and even Syria in the Wye Plantation talks.
"The reality is the caricature of the Jewish mother who is excessively proud of her children’s success and pushes them to excel," Vardi said. "Innovation has been in the heart of the country even since before the country was created. Israel itself is a start-up…"
He said that one need not have a large company behind him to put a new idea on the market: "If you want to create a start-up, you only need the internet, a table, a phone and a computer… The government finances innovation via 21 structures and research centers, such as the Weizmann Institute of Science. We have very good universities with good synergy between the academic and industrial world. The IDF, which is compulsory for 18-year-old boys and girls, is also a formidable asset because it is a catalyst for research and development and shapes the mentality of young people."
Vardi's own son Arik created his own start-up – ICQ, the world's first instant messaging system, later purchased by AOL for $400 million. Many Israeli start-ups have been purchased by foreign companies, 65% of which are from the US, 20% Europe, and a growing number from China.
It helps that young Israelis are not afraid to fail: "Failure does not have a bad image, like in Germany or France. Here it is considered a tool to do better. Israelis also like to take risks.’’
High tech and Israel’s entrepreneurial experience was the main focus of the journalists' trip, which was organized by the Brussels-based Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA).
During their visit, EJP reports, the journalists visited several high tech companies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. On the itinerary were Agrexco, NazTech, officials of the Ministry of Economy, Knesset Members, TheHive, the financial newspaper Calcalist, and i24news.