Accelerator teaches Israelis ‘good Guanxi’ for Asian success

Accelerator teaches Israelis ‘good Guanxi’ for Asian success

Start-Up East builds bridges that let Israelis and Asians learn about each other’s business and culture

Mariana Aituganov (left), Start-Up East Community Manager, with Noa Muzzafi, Israel Start-Up East COO
Mariana Aituganov (left), Start-Up East Community Manager, with Noa Muzzafi, Israel Start-Up East COO

In recent years, Israel and Asia have “discovered” each other. Israeli start-ups are starting to look east for investments and development partners, while Asian investors and corporations have descended on Israel in droves, snapping up companies, technologies and even entrepreneurs, who open up facilities or relocate their companies to incubators in China, Japan or South Korea.

Those three countries have been the most active in their Israel activities – with China leading the pack in seeking out Israeli tech. But, a fourth country, Singapore, has also sent out feelers.

Israeli accelerator Start-up East, according to Chief Operating Officer Noa Muzzafi, is working to build a tech bridge between the two countries, bringing Israeli entrepreneurs to Singapore to develop their ideas, and bringing Singaporean interns to work in Israeli start-ups. The exchange, said Muzzafi, “is good for both sides, because they can learn about each other, and that grows the chances of success.”

Start-up East seeks to build on a growing relationship between Israel and Singapore. In November, Temasek, an investment company owned by the Singaporean government worth nearly $200 billion, made a $5 million investment in a fund operated by Tel Aviv University’s Ramot technology transfer company. And in 2013, Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) established a start-up program with Amdocs, enabling Israeli companies to get a foothold in the largest and fastest-growing markets in the world.

Like anywhere else in Asia, understanding the culture is a key to succeeding in Singapore, said Muzzafi.

“One of the things we teach entrepreneurs is to have a good Guanxi, an Asian concept that describes a good interpersonal relationship, where business people feel they can trust and rely on each other. That kind of relationship is developed over time, not just in business meetings, but in social gatherings as well,” she said.

“For often impatient Israelis, investing that kind of time and effort in developing a relationship is sometimes hard, but the payoff is worthwhile,” she added.

Start-up East runs internship programs in Israel and Singapore, as well as other locations in Asia, for entrepreneurs who want to learn those skills. The group also runs networking events in Israel and Asia, and for entrepreneurs from Asia, the “Start-Up Adventure” program provides a two- to four-week tour of Israeli start-ups, as well as meetings with industry leaders and mentors, investors and VCs, cultural excursions, and lessons on what makes the Israeli tech scene “tick.”

Among those things is the Israeli entrepreneurs’ willingness to fail, said Muzzafi, a concept many Asians have a hard time handling.

Singaporeans themselves realize it, said Adry Lee, who in a recent interview described himself as a serial entrepreneur. “The Asians just don’t have the start-up spirit. It’s very hard for Singaporeans to think out of the box and come up with non-traditional ideas as Israelis do. The government has been spending a lot of money setting up incubators and accelerators for entrepreneurs, but the program has been less successful than they hoped it would be.”

What government’s can’t do, private groups can – and must, said Muzzafi.

“Israelis and Asians, and especially Singaporeans, really have a lot in common, and we can learn from each other,” she said. “From them, we can learn how to succeed in different cultures, and from us they can learn entrepreneurial skills. It’s a good shidduch.”

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