Innovation Blog

Secrets of the REAL Start-Up Nation: Inside Israeli Innovativeness 

by Shlomo Maital







   Start-up Nation is  a best-selling book about Israeli innovativeness by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.[1]   This  book has aroused enormous interest in the source of Israel’s boundless creativity, mainly in the U.S. but in other countries as well.  Thousands are reading the book to learn how Israel invented the cell phone, Copaxone, Azilect, a kind of heart pump, drip irrigation, the Given Imaging pill that ‘broadcasts’ your intestines’ condition,  the Pentium and Centrino chips,  drip irrigation, cherry tomatoes, and a thousand other life-changing inventions,  while fending off enemies and squabbling endlessly with one another.  Former NBC TV anchor Tom Brokaw wrote,  “There is a great deal for America to learn from the very impressive Israeli entrepreneurial model… START-UP NATION is a playbook for every CEO who wants to develop the next generation of corporate leaders.”

     “What is driving (Israeli inventiveness),” Senor recently told the cable network CNBC, “is a national ethos, resilience, the fight for survival.”   The book itself stresses two qualities embedded in Israeli culture:  Hutzpah (brash impudence, willingness to challenge anything) and leadership experience gained in the Israeli Army.

       Start-Up Nation’s stories about Israeli entrepreneurs are truly wonderful.  But can we dig deeper beneath these stories and find empirical research that illuminates this phenomenon?

   With the aid of Shlomo Gradman, founder of the Israeli Semiconductor Club, we asked those who registered for the club’s inaugural event to answer a brief questionnaire: “”Invest” 100 shekels in  some 13 innovation factors (personal, cultural, contextual) according to their relative importance”.   We received nearly 50 responses, out of 200 registered participants.  They came from a slice of Israeli high-tech industry engaged in innovative chip design.   A summary of the responses is shown above in the diagram and below in the Table.

Table 1.   13 Innovation Factors, by Rank and Mean Score.

             RANK FACTOR     MEAN
1 Resilience   13.75
2 Stubborn Persistence   10.75
3 Role models   9.93
4 Desire to change the world 9.25
5 Lack of fear of risk   8.59
6 Desire for wealth   8.14
7 Willingness to break rules  6.7
8 Desire for independence 6.23
9 Willingness to challenge authority 5.45
10 Hutzpah     5.16
11 Army technology experience 4.93
12 Army leadership experience 4.32
13 Desire for fame   2.48

 Three of the top five innovativeness factors are “cultural” in nature, deriving from Israeli culture:  Resilience, stubborn persistence and lack of fear of risk.  One is contextual (role models – other Israeli entrepreneurs who have done great things), and one is ‘personal’ but with a strong cultural element (desire to change the world).  It is interesting that army experience in both technology and leadership, cited as strong factors by Start-Up Nation, ranked 11th and 12th out of 13. This may in part reflect that respondents are chip designers, a technology not central to IDF R&D efforts.   

[1] Dan Senor, Saul Singer, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle: Published by Twelve (Reed Elsevier), 2009.