Dispatches from Jordan to Israel, part 3: Welcome to Startup Nation

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Editor’s note: Natalie Gochnour is traveling this week on a trade mission in Jordan and Israel led by the World Trade Center Utah. The Deseret News asked Gochnour to write about her experiences. In this, the third dispatch, Gochnour describes Israel’s economic success and what Utah can learn.

Warren Buffet once said, “If you’re going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel. If you’re looking for brains, look no further.”

I’ve felt that brainpower the past two days as we’ve met with businesses in Tel Aviv and visited Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There is a vibe and energy here that is unmistakable. This is Startup Nation.

 

Itay Friedjung directs innovation and entrepreneurship at Hebrew University. He showed the Utah delegation evidence of Israel’s economic miracle. He told us Israel ranks 98th in population size and 149th in territory, operates in an unstable environment with constant threat of war and terrorism, has extremely limited natural resources, and yet ranks fourth in the world (next to U.S., China and Canada) in the number of companies listed on NASDAQ.

He also pointed out that Israel spends 4.3 percent of its GDP on research and development (second highest in the world) and Israeli startups raised a record $4.8 billion in 2016.

Not bad for a population of 8.5 million people.

The presentations left many in the delegation asking: How do they do it and what can Utah learn?

The innovation expert from Hebrew University, who mentioned Karl Malone and John Stockton in his presentation, credited their success to a combination of factors:

  • Cultural diversity — When you have more minds and open minds it makes you more flexible. He said flexibility is critical to success.
  • Informal attitude — You have to tolerate failure. He said, “Don’t see failure as a bad thing.”
  • Heritage of risk taking — He encouraged us to encourage risk taking. This opens options for entrepreneurship.
  • Attitude of survival — A can-do attitude makes you try hard and “push the edge.”
  • Challenge conventions — This is what “gets you to the moon.” He said you have to ask questions.

Friedjung also emphasized the importance of Israel’s mandatory military service because of the skills it develops in their workforce. He said the two-year military requirement for women and three-year military requirement for men improves their workforce by making them more mature, responsible, tech-savvy, knowledgeable and team-oriented.

The chancellor for Hebrew University glowed as he told us about the importance of education to Israel’s economic miracle. He told us Israel is a country “rooted in science” and “it’s no accident that Hebrew University has eight Nobel laureates. We do world-quality research.” He emphasized that their economic success originates from a tradition of learning.

The whole discussion raised all sorts of Utah parallels for me. We simply must keep investing in human capital. Look no further than the corridor from Midvale to Pleasant Grove. We doubled the number of engineers graduating from Utah’s universities and now we have a tech corridor teeming with life. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s jobs since 2010 have been created along this 25-mile stretch.

I’m also fascinated by the benefits to the Utah economy of LDS Church mission service, just like military service in Israel.

I marveled at some of the Utah connections to Israel. We toured Israeli Aerospace Industries, also known as IAI, and learned that they import advanced composites from ATK in Utah to make the wings for the F-35 military jets, which they then ship back to the U.S. to eventually fly at Hill Air Force Base.

We learned about Zebra Medical Vision, a collaboration with Intermountain Healthcare that has the power to revolutionize radiology and help in our transition from volume-based to value-based health care.

We learned about PEEL Therapeutics, a Utah-Israel drug company delivering anti-cancer protein nanoparticles based on 55 million years of cancer resistance in elephants.

Indeed, Utah has its own “innovation nation” occurring. To keep it going we need to continue to invest in research and development, value higher learning and support entrepreneurship and innovation.

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