Israel Mission: Day 1 recap

After 3 flights, and 32 hours in transit door to door, I finally arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel early Sunday morning as part of a trade mission in partnership between Startup Catalyst, Austrade, and Advance Queensland. Joining me on the trip are 11 founders of Queensland-based agtech companies, and one representative from the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. On the ground, the mission schedule is being led by Omri Wislizki, the manager of the Australian Landing Pad in Tel Aviv.

Why Israel?

Israel has a population of 8.5 million and yet has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country outside the U.S.A, except China. A book released a couple of years ago called Startup Nation, has raised awareness to Israel being a hotbed for high-growth companies, and a lot has been written about it.

“If you threw a stone in Tel Aviv it would probably hit a high-tech entrepreneur” – Mike Butcher, TechCrunch

Why agtech?

Both Israel and Queensland have a strong agtech vertical, and the opportunity is to leverage connections, programs and funding across the two locations to develop more commercial pathways for Queensland’s agtech companies.

My first impressions of Israel

On the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, my first impressions of Tel Aviv were: dirty (as in actual dust), historic, and under development. As we got closer to the centre of the city, large glass high-rises appeared. Side-by-side were contrasting spots of new developments and flashy retail outlets, next door to crumbling buildings and construction sites.  I then understood that this city is in a period of rapid change and growth. The architecture here is amazing – with contrasting new and old exteriors and interiors, and even new buildings built on top of restored original dwellings. The night life is vibrant, and there is a young, hipster culture here in the centre of the startup scene.

What we did day 1

After checking in to the hotel for a quick shower to reset, Omri gave us a quick orientation briefing from the hotel business lounge, which has incredible views across the city. Interestingly the building our hotel is in also houses Facebook (6 floors), Autodesk (4 floors), and a number of VC firms (including Magma Venture Partners and Verizon Ventures).

Then we left for our first official scheduled event – a visit to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange building. Here we met with the Taglit Innovation Centre and received an introduction to the Israel innovation scene. We learnt about specific Israel startups across the local standout verticals of security, science, health, agriculture, and transport/mobility.

This was followed by a briefing from Omri on the Landing Pads Program, and more broadly on the Israel startup and scaleup ecosystem.

Then we enjoyed some local lunch, before splitting up into small groups to go and explore the city. My group went for a walk to the beach, and we enjoyed a swim in The Mediterranean, with a balmy 27C sea temperature.

From there we walked up and through Old Jaffa.

Then we headed back to the hotel, where some of us squeezed in a quick gym session and shower before resetting for our group drinks and dinner.

What we’ve learnt about Israel so far

  • Israel is a country of just 8.5 million people, in an area of 22,072 km².
  • Tel Aviv is a city of about 500,000 people, in an area of 52km² (for comparison, Brisbane has about 2.5M people in an area of 15,826 km²).
  • Israel is home to 6000 high-tech companies (4000 of which are startups), 90 VC funds, 200 angels and micro-funds, 25 incubators, 70 accelerators, 16 tech transfer offices, and 9 public universities.
  • There are over 350 multinational corporations based in Israel, but they are not here to sell (there is no market here). The only reason these corporate multinationals are here is for R&D.
  • 27% of Israel startup founders are multiple-time entrepreneurs (i.e. they exit and return to launch a new startup).
  • Because of the small population size, local entrepreneurs do not even look at the local market when launching. Instead, they go global day one.
  • Israeli culture is (in their words): “loud, direct, in your face, tell you how it is, fast paced, and fond of debate.” We were warned to expect to be cut off regularly, and that we would need to get to our point within the first 7 seconds of any conversation or risk losing their attention and interest.
  • Their work week runs from Sunday to Thursday, and their weekend is Friday to Saturday.

Our favourite quote of the day:

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