Financially, founding a start-up may be a smart move for a young Israeli these days; after all, Israel is the Start-Up Nation, and the world is beating a path to the doorsteps of the myriad Israeli companies building a better everything.
But, psychologically, going out on your own is a big move. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, whether in the palace or the CEO’s office: The start-up entrepreneur is responsible for everything that goes on in the business, from the technology to the marketing to the funding — and probably has a spouse and some little kids at home to support. And of course, this being Israel, there are the usual security concerns, the obligation to do army reserve duty, and the taxes. A lesser person could crack under the pressure.
It’s the kind of situation that cries out for a support group. And fortunately for Israeli entrepreneurs working in the Tel Aviv tech community, the city has their back, organizing events specifically aimed at helping entrepreneurs to succeed. And in one of those recent events, called Open Start-Up, entrepreneurs new to the start-up world had the opportunity to quiz their peers who had already “made it” — or were, hopefully, on their way. Hundreds of participants meandered through the streets of Central Tel Aviv, visiting companies large and small to hear first-hand what it was like to get started, how they convinced angels or venture capitalists to give them money, how they came up with their ideas, and how they expected to beat the competition.
And there are plenty of mentors out there from whom new entrepreneurs can learn. According to the Tel Aviv Municipality, there are currently over 1,200 high-tech companies in the city — from foreign multinationals to start-ups in their initial stages. The city was recently included among the top three finalists in the Wall Street Journal’s “Most Innovative City” competition. To boot, just last week, Tel Aviv was named as having the second-best start-up ecosystem in the world, bested only by the original start-up mecca: Silicon Valley.
Despite all that, according to a Municipality spokesperson, “It seems that many of the city’s citizens are unaware of the city’s importance in the global innovation scene.” In order to make sure that residents and visitors understand just how innovative the city is, the Tel Aviv Municipality organized Open Start-Up, “which aims to expose the general public to the city’s unique strengths by inviting them to visit dozens of start-ups throughout the city and meet the people, hear the ideas and see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of this great industry.”
And residents and visitors responded in droves, with dozens visiting companies large and small to hear the “tips of the trade,” and attending lectures and discussions by experts in marketing, technology, and legal issues. The highest-profile company on the list was the eBay Israel Social Center, where the international auction/sales site develops applications and technologies to encourage “social commerce,” such as innovative software for online gift registries and the like. The Center actually started out as an Israeli start-up called The Gifts Project, and was actually rather successful even before eBay snapped it up. Another well-known start-up, Wix, allows users to automatically build sophisticated websites without requiring any programming or HTML knowledge. And the Genome Compiler, which created a software program to allow geneticists and biologists to “mix and match” DNA — creating designs for live organisms, which are then mixed up in a lab — has made headlines around the world.
Visitors were able to query executives in these (and many smaller) companies about how they got started and where they expect to go — support-group style, in small groups, with plenty of question-and-answer exchanges, and lots of encouragement by entrepreneurs to their new students. As one entrepreneur explained, when asked about why he was being so generous with information he had worked hard to attain: “I got help myself from people in the business when I got started. We’re a community here.” Seen from Tel Aviv, the world is a big place — and there’s plenty of room at the top.