Many of you have probably heard this: Israel is the second centre of technology development in the world after the Silicon Valley. Today, it joins this group as the third Chinese Shenzhen as a centre of hardware development. However, the two main centres of new and breakthrough software technologies are still Silicon Valley and Israel - only the Silicon Valley outperforms Israel in terms of software start-ups and the amount of funds invested in them.
Until 40 years ago, Israel was one of the few agricultural Mediterranean countries with the level of wealth of today's Spain, Portugal or the poorer regions of Italy. The country was associated with innovation only as far as agricultural technologies such as desert irrigation or desalination of sea water are concerned. At the time of the beginnings of personal computers, that is to say at the end of the 1970s and their rapid development in the 1980s, the country was certainly not associated with information technology.
Having been a liberal democracy with a capitalist economic system since its creation in 1948, Israel, like the Scandinavian countries, has moved towards a strongly etatist economy. A large part of agriculture was based on common farms - ‚kibbutzim’ (a socialist cooperative, which cultivates the land together and pays the salaries of its members) or less socialist ‚moshavas’ (a classic cooperative, where the members manage their land together, sell and share the profits).
Unlike Scandinavia, Israel did not do very well on a socialist basis - the economy was digested by high inflation and the country went through a major banking crisis in the 1980s.
Today, after 30/40 years, Israel is the world's second technological centre and is widely known as the 'Start-Up Nation'. The glass skyscrapers in Tel Aviv, erected by developers mainly for IT companies, take over the role of a symbol of the city from the historical district of modernist tenement houses from the 1930s ("white city"). The symbol of progress in the Negev desert is no longer the kibbutzim created on irrigated areas, torn out desert - the regional capital Ber Sheva is trying to become the second hub of offices of technology companies after Tel Aviv. Glass office buildings have grown in the desert.
Since the second half of the 1980s, both sides of the political scene in Israel have carried out a series of reforms to liberalise the economy and reduce debt. After the socialist ethos, there is little left in the economic sphere (though in the social sphere more, as follows).
Israel's path from an agricultural country to a technological powerhouse has become an object of keen interest for governments and entrepreneurs worldwide over the last 10 years. Can Israel's success be repeated? What are the factors behind this success? These questions are answered by the book "Startup Nation" written by two authors - Dan Senor and Saul Singer.
Saul Singer is a well-known American-Israeli journalist, publishing in the Wall Street Journal and Jerusalem Post. Dan Senor is an American political adviser. The book is more than 10 years old (2009), but its theses are as relevant today as they are at the time of publication, and we are talking here about a unique mix of factors:
Israel is a country of immigrants and pioneer settlers. It is not the only one. But the only one that emerged from nothing in the 20th century, after the industrial revolution and before the digital revolution. Israel was created in a very unfavourable place both in terms of natural (desert) and political conditions (surrounded by enemies from all sides). The people who often survived the Holocaust had to do everything to a) not let the enemies 'push themselves into the sea' b) survive in spite of the condemnation to cultivate the desert. Hence the irrigation of the desert, which previously seemed impossible and, as the Israelis themselves say, "a passion for solving the impossible".
As the legendary Israeli investor Yossi Vardi, one of the first mentors of Google developers, says: "The biggest success of the Israeli start-up is the State of Israel itself - a cold-blooded analysis did not have any chance of survival or economic sense". And it is over 70 years old.
The work on building the country and the subsequent semi-socialist kibbutz-based economy forced Israelis to learn teamwork.
In order to survive, people had to develop a strong social habit of cooperation among themselves. In addition, the difficult relations with neighbours have forced Israel to introduce compulsory universal military service for both men and women.
Compulsory military service in conditions of permanent war makes every young man - girl or boy - have to make difficult decisions (literally: to shoot or not to shoot ?) at a very young age - and to do so on their own, there is no phone call for a girl, a mother or a friend on battlefield wranges. None of the Western countries has such a turbo-maturity program. The army also places great emphasis on the cultural life of the soldiers and integration - concerts, joint events etc.
The young software engineers who have passed the army in front of the university are immediately prepared by the army to work as a team and are not afraid of being independent.
Israel today is also a liberal country with a liberal worldview, with communities of Orthodox Jews and hipster communities living together. LGBT, etc. An open society strengthens an innovative economy.
It is jokingly said that Jews have always discussed God. The Judaistic religious tradition is based on the discussion of holy books (above all the Talmud) and the constant contestation of revealed truths. Let us add to this that modern Israel is an immigrant society - immigrant societies discuss by nature. Many people, from many different backgrounds, look from many different points of view. Contemporary Israeli culture is also based on a culture of permanent discourse.
The Israeli army (IDF-Israeli Defence Force) is not a typical army. It is probably the most egalitarian army in the world. Private men eat at the same table with generals. Most importantly, however, a private soldier can report quickly and easily to an officer - including high commanders. "Start up nation" gives an example when, in one of the Israeli wars, a private soldier (but an engineering student) became aware of the new type of anti-tank weapons held by the Egyptians. Within 48, he passed on his observations to the General Staff. Such situations saved the country from disaster.
DRAWING ON KNOWLEDGE IN OTHER AREAS
The State of Israel has always placed great emphasis on cooperation between academia and the technology industry. However, the educational trend promoting borrowing from other fields of science and promoting interdisciplinary solutions (the so-called 'mashup economy') has proved even more important. Israel is therefore at the forefront of medical informatics, IT solutions supporting biotechnology and cyber security (cooperation between the academy and the army).
A SMALL MARKET-GLOBAL LOOK
The entrepreneurs from small countries have to operate on the global market immediately, because their home market is too small. Israeli entrepreneurs had to act globally right away in order to gain the scale of their business. Today, most of them are no longer focusing on the American market, but on the Chinese market... For this is now the market of the future.
What can we learn from 'Start Up Nation'? Can Poland achieve similar success in building the IT ecosystem?
It certainly has a chance to do so - globally, it has one of the largest and most experienced populations of programmers. This is probably due to the long tradition of teaching science - Polish successes in mathematics and logic in the 1920s, which is not always loud enough. We can therefore assume that we have a strong academy that can work with business.
So what is missing?
The problem is certainly the size of the market - our companies prefer to be first and foremost contractors, or to create clones of global solutions. However, what is missing most is probably the attitude, determination and self-confidence. This does not mean, however, that it is impossible to make up for it. The Israelis like to say about themselves that they are always extremely determined, that they are 'mission oriented'.
It is therefore worth reading 'Start up Nation' and drawing your conclusions.