Since the mid 1990s, everyone spontaneously refers to the Silicon Valley as the Eden place for digital entrepreneurs: it represents the perfect match between venture capitalists (sellers of finance) and dot-com startups (buyers of finance) “clustered” in a limited geographical area.
In the late 1990s emerged other clusters like the Digital Media City (DMC) of Seoul, a tremendous cluster of multi-media, IT, and entertainment industries, leveraging on similar pattern, assembling in a network effect start-ups, investments, technically skilled people, universities, infrastructure, and tax incentives.
Since 2000, there is another place which shows a remarkable innovation spirit: it’s called Israel.
Though investments weight (there are 30 times more venture investment in Israel per inhabitant as compared to France) and university excellency are common assets for cluster areas, Israel shows some strong peculiarities, the first one being its home market: while the US are a huge addressable home market, Israel only counts 8 millions inhabitants. You have to go international from the outset if you want to survive.
When Israelis analyze the reasons for their entrepreneurship, they mention such words as ‘fighting spirit’, ‘hunger for life’, ‘team building’, ‘field operations, skills they often link to the 3 years experience they spend in the army, and to the fact that the country has limited natural resources: it had to conquer ‘self-reliance’, to go against the odds, and pull out life from the desert.
‘Crossfertilisation between immigrants and homegrown, ‘overpassing multicultural lowdowns’, ‘immigration perceived as a right and an enrichment, not as a burden’, ‘fresh start’ belong to the country culture.
Moreover Israel presents start-uper as citizen models. ‘If you have an idea, you do not go for scientific research, you create a start-up’. Therefore Israel is called ‘the start-up nation’ in a book published in 2011. State aids and tax cuts participate to this dynamic made of autonomy and emulation.
In 2 days at Tel Aviv, I visited a true start-up hub with an awesome fellow group of HEC Business School. Combining institutes for innovation, tech companies like Google, and start-ups, it reflects a proactive, resolute and full of hope state of mind:
- Gvahim is a non-profit organization assisting highly-skilled returning citizens to fulfill their professional aspirations and launch a new business in Israel, connecting them to Israel’s economy, society & culture, and proposing a Start up Accelerator Program called The Hive: The Hive typically mixes the common set-up of an original project with significant mentoring. It’s quite new, but 50% of entrepreneurs got funded at the end of the first session;
- Rounds is a start-up created in 2008 with a focus on fun video chat with friends and family: you can hang out, video chat, play games, take freaky snapshots, and watch videos with friends; Rounds is a team of 21 people: it has built a service seducing 8 millions users, mostly teen-agers, and has raised $m 5. About the start-up movement, their CTO confided: ‘We benefit from a trusted environement, more open; we get the rightly skilled people, they know how to work in group’;
- Google Campus, powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, is a hub for entrepreneurs and developers; it is open to everyone who wants to run an event about tech and start-up: it accomodates from 5 up to 170 people, and 2 to 3 meetings any given day. It’s a place for testing as well, with an extensive device library. One key event is the Launch Pad, kind of bootcamp for start-ups, where best presenters come to give you tips. It’s not an incubator or accelerator, Google doesn’t get any equity;
- 8200 EISP is an accelerator program, harnessing the vast network of 8200 alumni to support entrepreneurs and new ventures. 8200 is a very unique IDF Intelligence unit, which until a few years ago was top secret: it is considered one of the leading sources for Israeli innovation, a foundation for a vivid community of technology, entrepreneurship and venture financing. ‘Stage 1’ is a 5 months workshop, alumni are presenting perspectives, how they do things, not mentoring. It ends with a Demo day with 250 attendees. ‘Stage 2’ is a post workshop support, ‘1 on 1’ year long mentoring from seniors. Commitment is massive: 41 alumni, all start up founders, 22 funded start ups, 26 product launches, 170 people involved;
- Zikk is an early-stage start-up which is part of the 8200 program: its service is about setting the parameters of your friends and family phones from anywhere. Who has never been asked for help by his closes with their cellphones? With Zikk you can fix it from remote, and monitore such things as: download apps, wifi settings, add an email account, set an image, set a song as a ringtone, display settings set a time, alarm clock;
- Navin follows the 8200 program: it presents a self deploying navigation solution where GPS is not available (indoor), relying on the wisdonm of the crowd, device sensor + wifi/cell networks to provide exact position in real time;
- Wibbitz is a platfom turning text content in video: it extract text, summarizes it, matches it with images, and turns it in video in less than 15 seconds! A vocal text comments on the video. Wibbitz targets content owners, publishers to generate large scale video with its self service tool. It’s a team of 14 people. The upshot is that it serves 50 000 web sites, 17 millions views, and it has raised m$ 3. Stay tuned: Wibbitz is launching soon its own consumer facing app;
- Vodio is a pleasurable video app, extracting videos from multiple sources on the Web, and presenting them in well ranked channels; it curates videos based on criteria like genre, most shared videos, recently posted videos, identity of the publisher, and personalizes the display based on what you have liked / disliked, and shared on your social feed. It’s a team of 4 people which has build an app downloaded 500 000 times on the App store in one year, and who’s launching soon its Android version.
Let me recap this dizzying atmosphere: self starter, no fear to fail, confidence, fulfillement, are you getting it? Let’s learn to dare!
Innovation is not the negation of the past, it’s not about imitation but ownership: France has its own identity, that it can enhance, integrating external experiences. We can be proud of being a unified country for over a millenium, to be part of a newly appeased European construction, to train excellent engineers, performant businessmen, and great artists. We have proved our ability to Resistance and Renaissance, and the Declaration of our belief in humanistic Rights is still resonating. ‘We’ve come too far to give up who we are’ sings nicely French band Daft Punk in another context!
That’s not crummy track, nor depressing: it’s a glimmer in our back which enlightens the horizon of our future. Let’s reconnect with a sense of wonder, joyful engagement, and emulation.
Albeit, I wove we try to do things slightly differently:
- Shouldn’t we start from the situation potential, assessing with humility where we can bring creative value, starting with small bets, and step by step, approaching ‘radical incrementalism‘?
- What if, we could put on hold for a moment ‘The French Greatness’, the ‘All-or-nothing’ personality’, and develop ‘An agile and modern French Touch’? Failing fast, learning from it, and bouncing higher, developing a risk-taking culture, leaving apart existing benefits and petty squabble, playing collectively in a Smart world?
‘Creative economy thrives on ethos of imagination, exploration, experiment, discovery & collaboration’ claims Steve Denning.
Current crisis is a call to reinvent ourselves based on our DNA, and shake up our brand. What do people have in mind when thinking of France? I hope it’s made of creativity, elegance, romantic charm, cool and collected manner, frankness, solidarity, life sweetness: lets’ pick up some (non exclusive) attributes, and bring them one step further with innovation.