By Contributing Author
In the 21st century, the words “startup nation” are becoming increasingly associated with Israel. Senor and Singer have even gone to the trouble of writing a book about it. But why? Why should Israel rival Silicon Valley for producing startup companies and not Dominica or Switzerland?
According to Senior and Singer’s book, Israel has the highest density of technical startup companies in the world. What some people find amazing is that companies such as Waze have achieved stardom straight out of Israel, while others have had to open offices in Boston, New York or California before they could claim a place in the roster of successful young companies.
The myth that a successful company must first establish itself in these particular markets is debunked with the following five stories: each exemplify how an Israeli entrepreneur was able to found homegrown businesses and still make contributions of historic and global magnitude.
Once famously quoted as saying “there’s only so many times you can fake an orgasm, ” Joseph “Yossi” Vardi is easily the start-up king of the Israeli tech scene. His list of epaulettes include being named one of Wall Street Journal Europe’s Tech’s Top 25 in 2011 and winning TechCrunch Europe “Best Investor Personality Award” in 2009.
Vardi was also a founding investor of Mirabilis, creator of the world’s first internet messaging app (remember ICQ?) that AOL bought out in 1998. Many of the 80+ new companies he helped launch, such as FoxyTunes, have also been sold to global giants like Yahoo. And yet, in a 2011 interview with TechCrunch, he described his list of failures as being “too long to count.”
Former soccer player, scientist and spy, Arnon Milchan’s first coup was turning his family’s fertilizer business in Israel into a $125 million empire.
Milchan also happens to be the second-wealthiest film producer in Hollywood; only George Lucas earns more. In 2016, Michan brought home four Oscars: three for The Revenant (Best Actor, Best Director and Best Cinematography), and one for The Short. Among his other successes are Fight Club, 12 Years a Slave and Pretty Woman. As chairman of New Regency Productions, Milchan has been involved in the production of over 120 iconic films and worked with such cinematic geniuses as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese.
This savvy billionaire knows what he wants. In 2015, he turned down a $1.08 billion offer from British betting giant William Hill for the family business, 888, only to re-approach the former FTSE 100 firm in July 2016 with a three-way merger plan between William Hill, 888 and British casino chain Rank. The reason for the initial rejection? Shaked was looking for purchase closer to $1.3 billion, and with a new merger on the horizon, he may just get his asking cost.
At the time Avi and his brother, Aaron, got the idea to start an online casino, neither one of them knew anything about cards. Undeterred, the pair spent time in casinos to learn the rules of poker, blackjack and other games before approaching friends of theirs about joining them in an investment; 888Holdings was the fruit of their research and had an estimated initial worth of $590 million.
Samuel Hershkovitz was born in 1922 in Romania; his family emigrated to Israel two years later, settling in Haifa. Fascinated with ships from early childhood, Sammy enlisted in the British Navy during World War II, after which he joined the family’s chandlery business. The family changed its name to Ofer in the 1960s.
The late international shipping magnate, who made the Forbes 2012 billionaires list, once donated $25 million to turn an underground parking lot into a chemical warfare-proof hospital. Located in the southern outskirts of Haifa, Sammy Offer Stadium was also built using funds donated by the philanthropic billionaire. Seating 30, 000, it is the only completely roofed stadium in Israel. Built between 2009 and 2014, the stadium finished in 8th place in the competition for Stadium of the Year 2014.
Founder of Iscar Metalworking, Wertheimer sold 80% of the company to Warren Buffet for $3 billion in profit. He got his start in the industry at the age of 14 making industrial tools in his kitchen and peddling them around town to sell.
A former member of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, Stef decided he could make a bigger contribution to humanity through entrepreneurship than he could by governing, so he launched Tefen, an industrial park in Tel Aviv. Former Israeli Economic Minister to North America David Rubin declared that Tefen and Iscar were probably the largest private contribution to Israeli entrepreneurship in recent history.
What do these seemingly randomly selected individuals have in common? Each has proven to be an influential and highly successful entrepreneur who has made at least one contribution of historic magnitude. Based on their success stories, it is easy to understand why Israel has earned its reputation as a land of startups: with a population of just 8.1 million, Israel has more NASDAQ-listed companies than any other country outside of the U.S. and China. Business analysts are scratching their heads trying to identify the unifying factors that are fueling this trend, but one thing as illustrated by these 5 entrepreneurs is clear: whatever your passion, be it movies, money or motorcycles, there is no limit to what you can achieve with resourcefulness, perseverance, and ambition.