One doesn’t normally think of Israel as a place that’s in search of problems.  In fact, Israeli entrepreneurs, known globally for their cutting edge technologies, are on a relentless search for challenges and pain points of others in order to come up with innovative solutions. One Israeli entrepreneur was asked recently why so many of her colleagues are addressing problems in emerging market countries — to which she responded, “We are a tiny country, pretty isolated in the region.  We have this incurable itch to solve problems beyond our borders.”

 

Perhaps this explains why government leaders from across the globe come to Israel to look at innovation.  There are the usual stats one hears about the highly innovative culture and the largest density of start-ups anywhere in the world.  Beyond the numbers though, start-ups here have proven their muster time and time again in producing on-target answers for specific pain points that companies and countries bring them.

 

Since we opened our doors three years ago, we have hosted many government leaders from numerous countries.  The Canadian foreign minister, the Italian defense minister, the Dutch minister of economy, and scores of US Senators and Congressmen, all came to peek under the hood of Israeli innovation.  One can add to this list, the top economic advisor to President Obama, the head of digital health in the US Department of Health (HHS), CEOs of the two largest public hospitals in Kenya, the Director of the Singapore Monetary Authority; and the head of the US Small Business Administration. The team at Start-Up Nation Central created highly customized programs for them, whereby these government leaders met the very people creating the products and technologies that address sticky issues these leaders face back home — ranging from drought to cyber security threats, to early cancer detection.

 

In each such visit, the government leaders are plugged right into the sector that most interests them.  When we hosted the US Secretary of Transportation, we engaged him directly with five leading entrepreneurs, who created game changing technologies in the smart mobility and alternative fuels space.  These discussions played directly into sectors that he was busy advancing at the DoT.  When the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee came to Jerusalem, we invited three start-ups to share their agro-tech innovations, upon which two of them were invited to meet with the Agriculture Commissioner in the State of Kansas.  For the Ag Committee chairman, the world is his oyster — any CEO of any company around the world would like his audience.  That he chose to sit with these entrepreneurs in Israel, tells much of this story.

 

An additional angle of course is the model that the Israeli ecosystem offers each of these foreign governments, and how that plays into Israel’s bilateral relationship.  It seems as if every country today wants to become the next “Start-Up Nation.” By sharing Israel’s innovation story in all its facets — companies, culture, history — we give these leaders a hands-on experience that can be informative for their countries. The diplomatic channel between Israel and such a foreign government is therefore diversified:  rather than focusing solely on strategic and security issues (and sometime contentious trade matters), the dialogue is enriched by opportunities to learn from the Israeli innovation model. One case in point was a recent request from a highly regarded Polish think tank to learn from Israel’s cyber security sector in order to protect Poland’s critical infrastructure.   And this is not necessarily a one-way, “we’ll-show-you-how-this-is-done” conversation.  Potential models for innovating together with Israel can be explored through such visits.

 

If you’re interested in exploring Israeli innovation, check out the Start-Up Nation Finder Platform.

We live in a world that is both more complicated and changing faster. Start-Up Nation Central can serve as a connector and facilitator of knowledge sharing around potential solutions.  The richness and diversity this brings to Israeli diplomacy is only beginning to be discovered.

Wendy Singer is Start-Up Nation Central's Executive Director, following a 23-year career at AIPAC. During the last 16 years, Ms. Singer served as Director of AIPAC’s Israel Office, and was previously a registered lobbyist for AIPAC on Capitol Hill. Singer also worked for five years as a legislative aide in the House and the Senate. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband Saul and their three daughters.

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