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How Did Israel Become a Hub for Innovation?

As an Israeli, an entrepreneur, and the general manager of the Microsoft Ventures accelerator program, I’m constantly asked to explain the secret behind the massive success of Israeli startups. Even though there are successful entrepreneurs in almost every corner of the world, it seems that a disproportional amount of successful startups are located in Israel.

In the past year, Israeli startups enjoyed exits—meaning acquisitions and initial public offerings—worth about $15 billion, an all-time record, according to Forbes. Some of the Microsoft Ventures alumni contributed to this outrageous number: AppsFlyer raised $20 million, Webbyclip $4.2 million, Medisafe $6 million, and Appixia, KitLocate and ConferPlace were acquired.

How did Israel become this hub for innovation and entrepreneurship? Even with my 20 years of experience in the startup ecosystem, I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question. Though a unique combination of circumstances, culture, and a strong will to succeed most likely has something to do with it.

History

For centuries, the Jewish people who started this nation had to run, hide, and fight to survive. They had to stand up for themselves when no one else did. So they did the only thing that made sense and transformed challenges into assets.

The land is arid—they excel at water and agricultural technology. There are no resources—they developed alternatives for fuel. Israel is surrounded by enemies, so its military technology is superb, and it inspires further innovation. Israelis had to learn how to work well under pressure, and since they had no other alternative, they turned adversity into a source of competitive advantage.

Military service

Mandatory military service for both men and women has had a big impact on Israel’s entrepreneurial culture. At 16, hackers and math prodigies are handpicked to undergo elite training that will give them extensive knowledge and experience in the most relevant technologies. Being part of the team, and working closely to accomplish tasks, creates natural partnerships that are later translated into startups teams.

In addition, the people in charge are not always the ones that have the most experience, but rather, the ones who know how to shout louder. When you are given so much power to affect others by making life-altering decisions, it makes you feel like you can conquer the world at the age of 18.

Many of the lessons learned in the army can be applied to other fields. Engineers who developed weapons find ways to use these techniques in high-tech or startup companies. (Missiles that can “see” their targets were the inspiration for the camera pill, for example.) In a way, the army is Israel’s national incubator.

Culture and community

Diversity is also a big contributor to the Israeli startup state of mind. Israel is a country of immigrants. Almost two-thirds of the population is made up of newcomers who were willing to uproot themselves and move to a new country. These natural risk-takers are the perfect candidates to become entrepreneurs.

Israel is a tiny country, with a population of just 8 million. And yet, Tel Aviv is the second largest startup ecosystem in the world, following Silicon Valley. Every multinational tech company in the world has an R&D center in Israel, including Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple. Most of these centers were a result of making local acquisitions of Israeli startups.

Being small means Israel has no local market or even a regional one, so entrepreneurs are forced to think globally and prove to the world that size doesn’t matter. It also means Israelis had to find creative ways to get funding.

In 1993, the Israeli government initiated a plan called Yozma (Hebrew for “initiative”) offering attractive tax incentives to foreign venture-capital investments in Israel and promising to double any investment with funds from the government. As a result, Israel’s annual venture-capital outlays rose from $58 million to $3.3 billion between 1991 and 2000. The number of startups backed by Israeli venture funds rose from 100 to 800.

It’s also extremely easy to start a company in Israel. It costs a few dollars and takes about a day to have it up and running. It’s not just startups that are constantly looking to innovate. Israel spends about 4.4% of its GDP on research and developement: almost double the OECD average of 2.4%. This country is literally a startup.

Every Israeli family has at least one entrepreneur (yes, there are that many). Because it’s such a big part of the culture, communities were built around entrepreneurship. Accelerators and incubators nurture startups, and an astounding volume and velocity of meetups and events take place almost every day.

There is a strong sense of solidarity amongst Israelis. Many of the successful entrepreneurs stay in Israel (or come back to the country) and share their knowledge and resources with the community. Many of them become angel investors.

So why do Israeli startups succeed? All of the above. But above all, it’s their courage to try, and fail, and try again and again until they finally make it.

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inspiration

8 Simple Ways to Improve Your Business Writing

Writing is one of the most important ways you communicate with your clients and audience. For entrepreneurs, that means conveying your brand through your website, on email and through social media. Looking to improve your writing skills? Here are nine tools that will help you get your writing to the next level.

1. Know your target audience. Who are you writing for—customers, clients, or staff? Depending on who your audience is, you will want to tailor your language, approach, and tone. For example, if you’re writing for the public, you’ll want to go out of your way to introduce key concepts. 8 Must Read Books That Will Improve Your Business Writing Skills is a great resource for more tips.

2. Be conversational. When writing for potential customers don’t focus on selling to them outright, and avoid any technical jargon they may not understand. Aim for a more conversational tone, and let the customer know how your product benefits them.

3. Don’t rely on hyperbole. It’s tempting to gush about your product, after all, you’re the one who made it. But exaggerating isn’t going to help. Instead of saying something like “we’re the best,” use facts and statistics to convey your point. You can also use testimonials from previous customers.

4. Avoid jargon when possible. Try to avoid buzzwords and business jargon, especially when you write for those outside of your industry. “It can be alienating and can even cost you sales in the long run,” says Naomi P. Wingfield, head writer of Assignment Writing Service, a Sydney-based writing center which offers copywriting and editing services. Write My Paper, or a proofreading tool such as ProofreadBot, can help weed them out.

5. Get to the point and keep it simple. More doesn’t always mean better content. When you’re writing, get to the point quickly. When writing online, stick to around 500 words for an article. Use the active voice, write to inform and avoid flowery language. Prioritize words that best convey your point over more complicated sentence construction

6. Always proofread. No matter how well you write, the odd typo or spelling mistake can slip through. Proofread everything and always use spell check, even in your inter-office emails. If you need help, try Word Counter to highlight spelling mistakes, or Do My Assignment to help you catch grammatical errors.

7. Save templates. If you’ve sent a communication that you feel was one of your best, you can save it. It’s worth keeping a file of templates, as they can help you save time when you need to write something similar for a future client. For example, maybe you’ve written an email campaign for your customers that you felt went really well. Save the template, then you can reword it when it’s time to create the next one, saving a lot of time. You can also use outside services, such as Academized, when you need to write particularly important emails.

8. Don’t forget the call to action. Most content aims to engage the reader. One of the best ways to get a response, or start a conversation, is with a short call to action at the end of a piece of content.

 

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At Creator Awards, Women Entrepreneurs Take Home Top Prizes

Photographers had just finished snapping a few final shots when Elizabeth Lindsey’s phone rang. She quickly ducked over to one side of the room.

“I couldn’t wait to tell somebody the news,” she said to the person on the other end. “You’re not going to believe it.”

Lindsey, the executive director of Byte Back, said a few minutes later that she still couldn’t believe it herself. She had just won the top prize at the kickoff event for Creator Awards. That meant $360,000 for her innovative organization, which provides computer training and career preparation for underserved residents of the Washington, D.C. area.

“This award will help us transform the work we do,” Lindsey said, smiling broadly. “We’ll be able to expand our training so that we can reach more adults and help them move into careers where they earn a living wage.”

Lindsey was one of 25 winners at the Creator Awards, held Tuesday night at D.C.’s Mellon Auditorium. WeWork gave out the prizes, which totaled more than $1.5 million.

The top three prizes, totaling $720,000, all went to organizations run by women. More than half of all the winning companies were founded or cofounded by women.

Kellee James of Mercaris, Elizabeth Lindsey of Byte Back, and Cristi Hegranes of Global Press Institute took home the top prizes at the Creator Awards.
Kellee James of Mercaris, Elizabeth Lindsey of Byte Back, and Cristi Hegranes of Global Press Institute took home the top prizes at the Creator Awards.

Adam Neumann, cofounder of WeWork, told the hundreds of people who gathered for the event that he intended the awards to help fund the types of entrepreneurs that aren’t usually recognized.

“Chase your passion, chase your truth, and everything else will work out,” he said to the crowd.

Over the course of a year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events in cities spanning the globe. Subsequent Creator Awards events will take place in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The next one is scheduled for Detroit on May 25.

Winners from each event will come together for the global finals, which will be held in New York City on November 30.

There were three categories of Creator Awards, including the Incubate Award for great ideas or specific projects that need funding, and the Launch Award for young businesses and organizations that need a little help getting off the ground. The third, the Scale Award, is for more established operations aiming to get to the next level.

In addition to Lindsey, other Scale Award winners were Kellee James of Mercaris, which works with organic and non-GMO agriculture, and Cristi Hegranes of Global Press Institute, which trains and employs female journalists from around the world.

Hegranes said she’s proud of the dozens of women who’ve become journalists through her organization’s programs.

“I employ 100 women around the world, and that’s what keeps me going day and night,” she said.

The winners of the Launch Awards included Quaker City Coffee, Together We Bake, Global Vision 2020, and Coral Vita.

Winning the top prize in the Launch Awards was MemoryWell, which tells the life stories of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“I started off by writing the story of my father, who had Alzheimer’s,” said Jay Newton-Small, the journalist who cofounded the organization. “And when we realized that knowing his story helped his caregivers, we knew this was something that would help others as well.”

There were 17 winners in the Incubate category, including Milinda Balthrop of Filmmakers for Tomorrow Foundation, Cindy Frei of Caleb’s Cooking Company, Debra Brown of Child Care Counts, Ben Melman of Booksmart Touring, Nick Delmonico of Strados, Chibueze Ihenacho of ARMR Systems, Angelina Klouthis of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, Jes Christian of Hypsole, Charlene Brown of Reciprocare, CJ Cross of GoCraft Brewing, Ian Rinehart of Conserve With Us, Robert Fine of Cool Blue Media, Akwasi Asante of Phoenix Aid, Audrey Henson of College to Congress, Jelena S. Mishina of Shared Workshop, Karima Ladhani of Barakat Bundle, and Katie Thompson of Causeumentary.

Photos by Lauren Kallen

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personal-profiles

A Lifelong Love of Tech Inspires Saeed Jabbar to Teach Young People to Code

Growing up in Guyana, the only thing Inclusion founder Saeed Jabbar wanted as a kid was his own video game console. But that luxury was out of reach for his family, until they moved to Jamaica, Queens when he was about 10 years old.

“Every kid is interested in video games, right?” he asks. “But I wanted to do more than just play around. I wanted to build my own. But it wasn’t that easy. I mean, the internet wasn’t where it is today. You couldn’t just Google about how to build a video game.”

Soon after he moved to the U.S., he taught himself enough code to create his first game. It was the start of a lifelong love affair with technology.

“By the time I was 13, somebody told me I could make money building websites for people,” he says. “And the rest is history.”

WeWork CreatorJabbar was bullied as a teenager, so when he was 16, he transferred to a high school across the East River in Manhattan. It wasn’t far away on the map, but it seemed like a different planet.

He began to immerse himself in a world he didn’t know existed: New York’s bustling startup culture.

“I never went to class, really,” he admits. “I spent my last two years dabbling with startups and learning the ropes at tech companies.”

Jabbar realized how valuable his experience could be for all the kids back in Queens.

Saeed Jabbar Inclusion 3“The people in my community don’t even know opportunities like this exist,” he says. “I knew if they could learn how to code, it could completely transform their lives.”

That’s when he came up with the idea for Inclusion, a nonprofit that he hopes will help close “the digital divide.”

And Jabbar envisioned teaching more than just coding. His classes would include important business tools like Microsoft Office. He says when it comes to analyzing data, he always teaches Excel.

“This is something that we consider essential for our students,” Jabbar says. “There’s no better way to train for data analytics.”

Jabbar launched his company at the end of 2015. It was an immediate success. At the beginning of 2016, Inclusion partnered with the State University of New York to offer classes in coding.

“We expected it to appeal to young people,” he says, “but the students ranged in age from 20 all the way up to 66.”

And the nonprofit has already attracted the attention of prominent investors.

“We started out with zero budget, just a classroom and a few computers,” Jabbar says. “But seeing the transformation of the people we’ve taught made it worth it. We’ve proven that you can make a difference.”

Photos by Katelyn Perry

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In the Home Stretch, Creator Award Finalists Perfect Their Pitch

After leading her nonprofit for a decade, Cristi Hegranes had perfected her pitch. She knew just how to describe her organization’s work to the boards of some of the world’s most prominent foundations.

Then she was notified that Global Press Institute was a finalist for the Creator Awards, and she threw her usual pitch out the window.

“We’re trying out some new language, new description, new slides—basically everything,” says the member at WeWork Manhattan Laundry. “This is not the typical foundation types we’re used to pitching to. It’s exciting, and a little bit nerve-wracking.”

Hegranes says the Creator Awards, launched by WeWork to “recognize and reward the creators of the world,” are different because she won’t be pitching to a roomful of people in business suits.

“This will be more like talking with peers,” she says, “people who understand how difficult it is to raise the funding to take your organization to the next level.”

Shaun Masavage, co-founder of Edge Tech Labs, plans to show off his Fret Zeppelin product by "teaching one of the judges guitar in 60 seconds.”
Shaun Masavage, co-founder of Edge Tech Labs, plans to show off his Fret Zeppelin product by “teaching one of the judges guitar in 60 seconds.”

Over the course of a year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe. The first Creator Awards competition will take place Tuesday at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. D.C.

Subsequent Creator Awards events will take place in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Winners from each event will come together for the global finals, to be held in New York City on November 30.

Creator Awards finalist Shaun Masavage, co-founder of Edge Tech Labs, is also avoiding the usual type of pitch. His plan for introducing Fret Zeppelin, an eye-catching device that uses LED lights to help you learn guitar, is pretty unusual.

I think our pitch is going to be pretty good,” says the WeWork Crystal City member. “We’ll try to get one of the judges to come up on stage and teach them guitar in 60 seconds.”

And finalist Thomas Doochin, one of the founders of Daymaker, says he hasn’t even had time to think about his pitch. His company, which helps kids give to others who are less fortunate, was going to relaunch his company on Wednesday with a completely new name, website, and branding.

Arion Long of Femly says she’s excited to share her idea of sending chemical-free products designed to keep women healthier and happier straight to their door.
Arion Long of Femly says she’s excited to share her idea of sending chemical-free products designed to keep women healthier and happier straight to their door.

“First we heard that we were finalists in the Creator Awards,” says the member at WeWork Dupont Circle. “But the event was on Tuesday, the day before our relaunch. So I told the team we had to get everything ready a day early.”

They worked through this past weekend to get the new website up and running by the time Doochin steps on the stage at Mellon Auditorium.

There are three categories of Creator Awards, including the Incubate Award for great ideas or specific projects that need funding, and the Launch Award for young businesses and organizations that need a little help getting off the ground. Arion Long is competing for the Scale Award, which is for more established operations aiming to get to the next level.

Long, founder of a monthly subscription box for feminine health products called Femly Box, says she was visiting family in North Carolina when she heard about the competition. She shot her 90-second video after everyone went to bed.

“I made it at about 2 in the morning,” Long says, laughing. “I was standing in front of a curtain. I had to do several takes, because someone was coughing in the background.”

Santos Jaime Gonzalez says that when he told the staff at Manestream that they were finalists for the Creator Awards, "everyone was jumping around, going crazy.”
Santos Jaime Gonzalez says that when he told the staff at ManeStreem that they were finalists for the Creator Awards, “everyone was jumping around, going crazy.”

Long, who had a cervical tumor when she was 26, says she’s excited to share her idea of sending chemical-free products designed to keep women healthier and happier straight to their door.

Santos Jaime Gonzalez, cofounder of an on-demand beauty and makeup service called ManeStreem, says he was “humbled” when he found out that he was a finalist.

“Normally when I get exciting news I send it to the team right away,” says Gonzales, a member at Philadelphia’s WeWork 1900 Market. “I got an email at about 5 in the afternoon, but I needed some time by myself to process the news. At 6 the next morning, I finally sent it out to the team. Of course everyone was jumping around, going crazy.”

What will Gonzalez do if he wins a Creator Award? He says the money will help his company scale quickly, increasing the number of beauty consultants to about 100,000 over the next 12 months.

“We’ve disrupted the beauty industry by making it on demand,” he says. “Now the true disruption happens.”

Darius Baxter is a cofounder of the nonprofit GOOD Projects, which pairs young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods with inspirational mentors. The organization currently works with teenagers who’ve gone through the criminal justice system. He wants to help others as well.

“We don’t want to wait for kids to be locked up to provide them with services,” says Baxter. “This would go a long way in helping us achieve that goal.”

And Kevin White, executive director of Global Vision 2020, says winning would allow him to start a pilot program to provide eyeglasses to high school students in Mozambique.

“Injection molds are expensive, but winning the Creator Awards would mean that we could purchase them and immediately start producing eyeglasses,” says White. “Imagine providing glasses to all the students in an entire country. It would be amazing.”

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