The key to Israel’s success as a startup nation — “a lack of fear of failure” — was on vivid display as 14 Israeli high-tech firms presented their products and wisdom to hundreds of students at San Jose State University.
“This is my second company started. The first one failed miserably,” said Zohar Alon, the CEO of Dome9 Security, a cloud firewall management service, and one of four panelists featured at the Startup Nation Technology Fair on March 14.
About 500 students, many hoping to land internships or jobs, attended the event, which was co-sponsored by Hillel of Silicon Valley. For Sarita Bronstein, executive director of the Hillel chapter, the first such Israeli tech fair at San Jose State was the culmination of a long-term effort.
“It’s been my dream to showcase Israel, for people to understand Israel beyond the conflict,” she said. “It’s a way to change the perception.”
Though all the companies at the fair grew out of technology developed in Israel, the audience was largely of Asian heritage. Asked by a panelist how many actually knew an Israeli, just a few raised their hands.
Attendees filled every seat in a large conference hall, and there were several rows of students standing. A majority were engineering students, though many from San Jose State’s business school also attended.
Israeli companies represented at the fair ranged from CropX, which develops software and wireless sensors that can help farmers boost crop yields and save water and energy, to LeO, a personal assistant for insurance needs.
Mark Cohen, president and founder of Philadelphia-based Israel Ideas, which organized the event, said Israel has the most startups per capita of any country. He credited that to everything from the country’s universities to its availability of venture capital.
“But there’s one thing more than anything else that defines this success — a lack of fear of failure,” Cohen said. “Israelis are serial entrepreneurs. It’s this culture of innovation.”
Panelist Moshik Raccah, CEO of Silo, a mobile application that provides advice and introductions to job seekers, said he was already on his third startup.
“My first startup was an amazing success and the second was an abysmal failure,” he said. “You can succeed, you can fail, but the key is to just try again.”
Alon said Israeli tech firms have to be designed for international success, adding, “Our local market is smaller than the South Bay. We have to think globally from the get-go. As an Israeli company, we have that international flavor baked into us.”
Doron Reuveni, CEO of Applause, which uses crowdsourcing to do digital testing for mobile applications, said Israel’s compulsory military service gave him the essential skills needed to create a startup.
“I was in the army for five years,” he said. “That is where I learned a lot about taking risks.”
Raccah, whose current company has five employees, compared working at a small startup to being on a roller coaster — but said it’s the place to be if employees want to make an impact. And he said part of the secret to Israeli success at startups is the national mentality.
“Israelis are very poor at following instructions,” he said. “We don’t like being told what to do. Question everything — that’s the Israeli way. Adopt that and you’ll be great at startups.”