Book offers insights into Israel’s rise as hub of entrepreneurship

“Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Inbal Arieli, 272 pages, HarperBusiness, $29.99. Author photo: Micha Loubaton

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Among the nations of the world, the State of Israel, which turned 71 on May 14 (the fifth of Iyar), is both a relative newcomer and the successor to Jewish self-rule that goes back over 4,000 years. In 1948, when David Ben-Gurion was serving as the first prime minister of the Jewish State, the 716,700 Jews who resided there lived on a land that was parched dry and filled with outcroppings of rocks.

Ben-Gurion famously said that in Israel, to be a realist means you must believe in miracles, and indeed the fledgling Jewish State accomplished many modern miracles, including emerging victorious from its War of Independence, fighting five major wars and building world-class centers of learning, including Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science and The Technion. 

Despite its many accomplishments, Israel’s constant need for military security and the reality of being surrounded by Arab states and Palestinian terrorists that seek its destruction, it has had little time to take stock of its accomplishments.

In her new book (available Aug. 20), Israeli tech insider Inbal Arieli does a masterful job of showing how Israel has grown from a tiny enclave in the Middle East, the size of the state of New Jersey, to one of the “Asian Tigers” of economic and technological growth. Arieli has impressive credentials to discuss these issues on her book, “Chutzpah:  Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” in which she traces the origins of Israeli global significance in commerce and invention, in an easy to read compendium of examples. 

Arieli, an Israeli native, served as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite intelligence corps, the equivalent of our National Security Agency. After her IDF service, Arieli for the past 20 years has embraced leading executive roles in the vigorous israeli tech sector and has founded a series of programs for innovators.  She is currently the co-CEO of Synthesis, a  leadership assessment and development company whose products and services are developed jointly by veteran experts in the IDF and executive talent.

In the introduction, Arieli notes, “Today, Israel has the highest concentration of startups per capita worldwide, with more than one startup for every 2,000 people. Which means that Israel, with a population of just over eight million citizens, a country roughly half the size of Lake Michigan, is home to more than five thousand Israeli start-ups, alongside an additional thousand mature tech companies.” The list of innovations that have come out of Israel include everything from cherry tomatoes and drip irrigation to the USB flash drive and the Waze traffic app.

The book notes that Israel’s dramatic growth over the past decades has often been attributed to its technologically advanced military. Arieli gives more credit to the Israeli way of raising children, based on resiliency and creativity and the risk of failure that builds the ingenuity needed for entrepreneurship.

Arieli’s book is the latest in a series of such studies since the publication in 2009 of “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, who set forth a detailed and robust description of Israel’s rise from the ashes of war and conflict to become an economic powerhouse, with major accomplishments in medicine, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. More recently, Avi Jorisch published, in March, “Thou Shalt Innovate:  How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World.”

Arieli builds upon the growing body of work on Israel’s growth from a Levantine backwater at its inception to a nation bursting with innovation, and a can-do approach to risk-taking that opens up more doors to meet the needs of the future.

Arieli gives much credit to the role of Israeli methods of child-rearing, which encourages children to risk failure on their way to success, and a toughness that protects them against being easily defeated emotionally.  She writes:  “Granted, I am an Israeli mother, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think the answer to why Israel is such a laboratory of innovation and entrepreneurship begins wih the way Israelis raise their children.”  She adds that she and other moms made the same choice. “We saw our role as not just keeping our kids safe or teaching them what we knew, but also fostering in them real independence.”

“At the root of this approach is the Israeli chutzpah,” she writes, “a determined approach to life, which might seem to some as rude and opinionated behavior, or, to others, seen in a more positive light, as preferring directness to political correctness for the sake of achieving one’s goals. With the right amount of chutzpah, anything is possible.”

Chutzpah, according to Arieli, “is to make do with what you’ve got and figure things out as they come.”  Arieli believes social skills and working with a team on complex projects are as important as the technical skills required for any project, from developing better agricultural products and methods to sending rockets to the moon and beyond.

Along with earlier books that trace Israel’s economic boom, Arieli’s volume is a valuable and informative addition to the analysis of Israel’s unique qualities that have helped it grow so dramatically, and should be on the shelf of serious scholars and those who are curious as to how Israel became the powerhouse it is on the world economic scene.