Ecosystems drive Israel’s success

Despite having few natural resources and suffering from chronic political instability, Israel is a massively successful economy and a true startup nation. Where does the success come from? Ecosystems.

I had the opportunity to participate in the ESCL, which is a training programme aimed at the leaders of European innovation ecosystems. During the one-week programme, I met people who have participated in building Israeli ecosystems. When I listened to them, they all shared the same passion: to do things together as a community.

Israel’s population is similar to Finland’s. People are very connected so it’s easy to find the right person to help you get forward. We share the same strength, at least in the food industry. What we are missing, at least in part, are the skills to genuinely work together.

Military and entrepreneurship facilitate ecosystems

I asked, what has made the Israelis work so well as a team? Usually the answer was the military. All Israelis, man or woman, serve in the military for a minimum of three years, which gives everyone extensive training in teamwork and leadership.

The average age of university freshmen is considerably higher than in Europe. This, however, isn’t a stumbling block for economic growth or the education of skilled workers.

The people I met were very entrepreneurial. No one hid their skills or achievements and they all had their own success stories and elevator pitches.

The biggest startup exit in Israel, Mobileye, was a common topic. It’s worth remembering that the lifecycle of startups in Israel is just as unstable than anywhere else. Maybe it’s just more acceptable to fail. After all, the most important thing is to pick yourself up and start again.

New methods needed

How did the ecosystems in Israel come about then? The process involves a lot of active work as well as both private and public funding. However, an important example has been set by a single industry (the military and cyber security industry), which has formed ecosystems around its own value chain. The value of the ecosystems has set an example for other industries to follow.

The ecosystems also revolve around the startup scene. Global enterprises get to cherry-pick the most promising ideas by acquiring the companies with the most potential.

After substantial growth, Israel’s ecosystems are now facing the moment when they have to analyse their operating models to remain active and useful. The traditional way has been to link the right startups with the right corporations. Examples of questions asked today include: how should the ecosystem structure change so that startups themselves could grow in size? How do the ecosystems serve national mid-size companies?

In the ESCL programme we got to create tools for our own and Israeli ecosystems. Together we created a toolbox with 80 super tools for ecosystem growth, activation and community building. I’m eagerly anticipating using these tools when building the future of the Food & Beyond collective.