Technology Development Is Heating Up Again

Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point tells the story of how messages travel in networks. His is the modern day observation of the power in people networks. His observation is more on how social messages affect our way of making decisions in life.

Business in Israel is both isolated and connected with the outside world. It is isolated because there is no real connection with any of the border states. Arab states are different culturally and the political divide continues to make any business relationship difficult. On the connected side, Israel has strong ties with European, American, African and Asian counties. Culturally, Israel is most similar to European countries. So are business practices. Business wise, Israel is closest to the US. This is especially true in the technology sector. There is more synergy between Israeli technology companies and Americans than any other area here.

But Israel has a very different technology landscape than anywhere else. The differences start with the small size of the Israeli technology sector to the concentration in a small number of sub-specialties. The difference between Israel’s and other countries technology sector causes different economic cycles. Until earlier this year, the technology sector was in big trouble. Engineers of all kind were looking for work like crazy. The ever buzzing venture capital firms with their start-up investments were on life support. Investment in new technology start-ups is one of the strong economic engine here. For a while it was taken over by government investment agencies. In the last three years, the government has tried to do it’s part but overall failed. There a no start-ups in operation today which can attribute their success to government investment.

Something happened here between February and April. The technology sector woke up and suddenly things look good. Start-ups which managed to hold on from 2007 to 2009 are starting to show life. Small and medium companies have renewed life and are hiring. The venture capital investment is not back to peak levels but the money is starting to flow again. Most of all, Israelis are feeling that the bottom was in the past. This psychological factor: optimism, is an important element here. We are all holding our breath to see how this trend continues. After all, this is the land of start-up and high-tech, what are we going to do without it, go back to oranges and farming? I don’t think so 🙂

Retirement in Tel Aviv: A Revolutionary Idea? or Just Common Sense?

An 80th birthday celebration with Israeli retirees and others from around the globe. Israel is a great place to be if you are coming from Argentina, Italy and even New York / © 2010

An Israeli, and American and a Cuban are sitting at an Azrieli coffee shop talking about retirement. They talk about grandchildren, social security payments and health services. The Israeli feels at home, he looks at the Cuban and thinks:

“what a sad man, what is he going to do with his retirement? how is he going to learn and see the world? It must feel terrible to come to Israel and see how the people advance economically every few years, while at Cuba the “revolutionaries” are stuck in an economic and political tar pit.”

Then the Israeli turns to the American and asks:

How it is going with the health care reform? We hear all kind of horrible stories on Fox news. Half of America is cheering Obama and his reforms. Half are calling him a communist and want him out of office. This sounds like a terrible situation. What are you going to do when healthcare for the middle class becomes expensive and hard to pay for?

They all sit around trying to understand each other. Foreigners are always surprised about how healthcare works in Israel. Here is a country that is still not exactly on European economic levels. The population is small. A large percentage of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and support staff is trained outside of the country (Israel simply does not have enough medical and nursing schools and no pharmaceutical school.) The country has been in war, sometimes active, for all of it’s existence (62 years.) How is it that healthcare is nationalized, on a high level, there are private “upgrade” alternatives. Israelis can also buy supplemental health insurance for better dental care, less contribution on expensive drugs and anything else such as cosmetic surgery. If you are looking for a “magic bullet” there isn’t one. Israel as a state gives high level basic health services to everyone. Retirees from other countries can join the healthcare system by “paying in”. This is just one reason why some people come to retire here.

When we retire we all have hopes and dreams. Even if our lives did not turn out how we imagined, we still have a few good years to enjoy life. Here is where Israel surprises most people coming to visit. For the average American or European retirees, cost of living and overall lifestyle if much better then their native cities. This is specially true for civil servants and corporate blue collar workers. I am surprised to see retired American auto workers on hikes here. A couple who spent teaching in New York City school system is just down the hall in a mid-level retirement community from a family friend. They say that all their friends use to think they are crazy, one by one on their visits, they became fans and now even are a bit jealous. An accountant who worked at Enron makes his home in Tel Aviv, still taking a few freelance assignments. His wife teaches English to high school students. Their life is better than anything they had in Ohio more then a decade ago. Besides many English speaking Israelis, the cultural mix in Israel makes for an easy time for more foreigners. In the bigger cities, there are neighborhoods with foreigners which makes it even easier. The strong economy and good infrastructure is important to most people, here you do not have to slog through bad roads and patchy electric or phone service like most less developed countries. Finally there is the vitality of Israel. This is something most people have a hard time with. How do you tell your children in New York that you are busy all the time, that there are American movies downtown a short bus ride away? How do you tell them about that Michigan trained teeth implant specialist that calls you after an operation and makes sure you are OK? Well, you can’t. This is Israel’s big secret, which is hard to quantify, harder to tell, and even harder to make people believe.

Biking Around the Dead Sea & LOT spa hotel

Eyal Skuza on a bike ride in the desert (courtesy of Menachem Zibziner Blog.) The spring is a great time to go out to the desert, perfect biking weather awaits the ones who like wide open spaces / © 2010

Spring is here and the weather in Israel is cool. In the desert and dead sea area the weather now is optimal for biking. All around the dead sea and the Masada area, there are paved and dirt roads for biking. The terrain is both smooth and rough, depending on where you bike. If you like open spaces, there are many areas where you can have the land to yourself. If you want to see more of the dead sea, stick to the paths around the resorts. The dead sea area, with it’s lunar like landscape, is one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. On clear days, you can see for miles. To the east of the main road (route 90) from the Dead Sea hotels areas towards Eilat, is the Jordanian mountain range. The view is typical of the Arabian deserts. To the west of the main road is the Israeli desert. On this side are hundreds of dry river beds carved from winter flash floods. Further west are craters and messas, Masada, the famous Israelite rebel fort from the Roman rebellion is a few miles away. If you are a history buff, biking around Masada is a cool experience.

Biking in the desert is easy if you are prepared and equipped well. Even in the spring the sun can be bright and humidity low. Always carry more water or mineral drinks than you need. If your skin is sensitive, apply sun block a few times during the day. Make sure you have spare tubes or tire repair kits, even if you planed on a support person to come for you, it may take time. Make sure someone knows where you are going, even leave your information with your hotel or tour operator. The Dead Sea area is one of Israel’s bigger resort destination, there are buses and cars on the main roads. This makes the area well suited for day rides. Finally, most of all: E N J O Y !

A great hotel to say in while at the dead sea is the LOT spa hotel. From the hotel you can bike on local roads or drive a short distance to hundreds of trails in the areas. Stay and extra day and enjoy the scenery and amazing salt water in the dead sea.

picture from Menachem Zibziner Blog [Hebrew] from his blog

Israel’s Future: Trust and Doubt Among Israelis

Israelis act as if they are here forever, but sometimes speak as if just temporary visitors. Israeli survey point marker at the end of Tel Aviv’s marina pier / © 2010

I don’t understand how Israelis think about the future. It’s not because I don’t understand the words or ideas, it’s just that there are so many different views, most conflicting. Some Israelis really believe that the state is not going to survive. If saddam hussein with chemical rockets from Iraq, the Palestinian suicide attack or Ahmadinejad’s nuclear bombs don’t succeed, eventually someone is going to bring down the state. These views are based on personal fears and media reports. On the hopeful side, Israelis simply point out where Israel is today and how people struggled for a long time to keep us safe. Attacks on Jews (essentially pre-Israel) started before the state was declared, wars with bigger armies and more determined leaders did not bring down the state, why would someone succeed now? Then there are the middle thinkers, Israelis who think that a really strong force came at us, an Iranian nuclear bomb for example, the Israeli army would retaliate. Something would remain after the smoked cleared. To outsiders this all seems grim, but what else can we do with daily news reports of someone making a speech to squash us?

Trust or doubt about the future of Israel as a state, swings to extremes when we are under attack or when we are at peace. Sometimes I am really surprised by people’s comments. People who seem comfortable and successful here tell me that they have doubt about the future of Israel. Fears of attacks from countries like Iran or even Iraq, or breakup of support from Turkey, or even drop of support from Egypt make them paranoid. Most of these fears are temporary. Now everyone is fearful of US president Barak Obama’s support of the Palestinian Authority in negotiating for a Palestinian state. Just a year ago southern Israel was being shelled by Hamas from the Gaza strip. Then people started speaking of Israel clearing out the area around the Gaza strip. As soon as the shelling stopped, people suddenly changed their mind, now Israel is safe again.

But Israelis fearful from one big attack are not basing their fears on facts. They have a deep seated fear of the unknown. What if a rough group of Iranian generals decide to attack Israel? Saddam Hussein did just that but did not have chemical or biological weapons suspected. What if the Palestinian’s suddenly decided that “la dolce vita” was better than a state declaration? Both Israelis and Palestinians were happy when Israel signed a peace agreement with Fatah (Yasser Arafat‘s organization) and when peace was signed with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat. Both Israelis and Palestinian economies flourished and terrorism was at it’s lowest point in history. Eventually both Arab leaders died and relations soured and so did fears of renewed war. International relations and media also stir emotions and get people to sway back and forth. Some Israelis actually make plans, shipping money to Swiss banks and buying property in the Philippines. Some send their kids to study in Europe or the US with the hope they will stay there. Some actually look for a job with a foreign company, this way if something happens they can make a quick escape. During times of war there is a big wave of “long term vacation travelers” out of the country until things settle down. During the last Lebanon war this phenomena was clearly visible but not during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza. Finally, there are the ones who ignore news reports and try not to side with anyone. This happens in other countries, most Americans ignore economic calamities, so what if someone on wall street brought down the Real Estate sector? They also ignore terrorists attacks just like we do here. Europeans seem to be even more detached, most totally ignoring the Muslim minorities increased size and political changes. Sometimes I think that they are the wiser ones, twisting and turning at every turn of a CNN or Al Jazeera news report makes for a tiresome life… but what if this is the “real one”? but what if it’s NOT? OK we get the point…