Israel is a start-up nation! The statistics say it all. Israel has the highest density of startups and these startups attract an enormous amount of venture capital – more venture capital per person than anywhere else in the world. And when it comes to R&D, no other country can compete.
When I lived in Tel Aviv, often times I’d forget that I was living in a country where a good part of it was covered by desolate deserts. What I encountered daily were people who were creative, driven, and who never took “no” for an answer. These characteristics – or chutzpah as some people may call it – have no doubt contributed to Israel’s spectacular economic success. One day over a coffee break, a co-worker at Medtronic and I discussed the economic downturn that the United States was facing and how it has affected people’s lives and the way people do business. We inevitably compared it with Israel’s economic situation At the end of the conversation, the co-worker simply said, “Israel faces many challenges. It is small and lacks resources. However, that forced us to become more resourceful at solving our problems.”
What my co-worker said was consistent with what I observed. While I was in Israel, I rented a car so I could travel to other cities for sightseeing. Gas was very expensive, at least more expensive than what I was used to in the States – nearly $8 per gallon. What stood out from all the many gas stations on the sides of the road were stations called Better Place. They are battery-swapping stations for electric cars. Instead of waiting hours for an electric car to be charged, it only takes five minutes to change a battery. Just as electric cars were born out of the desperate need to wean away from oil, Better Place was founded on the idea that easy and simple battery replacement would convince more people to drive electric cars. In Israel, whenever there is a need, there are entrepreneurs working on solutions.
Another Israeli technology that I found very useful was the iPhone app Waze (www.waze.com) – a community-based GPS traffic and navigation app. Before I headed out in my car, I would turn to Waze to get driving directions in English and, more importantly, to find out which streets were congested. I would rely on Waze to find the best route based on traffic patterns, to warn about road hazards (including speed cameras), and even to find the cheapest gas stations – all based on user-generated content. The idea for Waze originated when its founder was dissatisfied with traditional GPS devices that did not have the ability to characterize real time conditions. So a software engineer became an entrepreneur when he took actions to overcome the problem with a better invention.
A lot people have asked me about how I liked my trip in Israel. I have told many that I’d love to go visit again. This summer, I completed a course in Technology Commercialization at the Technion, had an amazing internship with Medtronic, and tasted some of the best food in Israel. Above all, it was an eye opening experience.
Allen Lu received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. He completed his academic research training at the National Institutes of Health and Harvard Medical School and worked as an assay development scientist with Meso Scale Diagnostics. At Smith, Allen is completing his MBA with a focus in Finance and Business Development. He was recently in Israel as a Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Technion and a business development intern at Medtronic WTC.