When attending the OurCrowd Global Summit this week one thing became perfectly clear: Jerusalem is a go to city for investors from around the world. And why not? It is, after all, the capital of Startup Nation. There were Chinese, Macedonians, Romanians and people from many other nations in attendance and no they were not Jews.
OurCrowd is a crowdfunded investment firm which specializes in Israeli high tech startups. One thing that the international guests at the conference all had in common was that none held a negative view of Israel. Nor were any of them concerned with the recent wave of terrorist attacks in the country.
The international nature of the Summit characterized a recent trend in how the world of business views Israel: Startup Nation is the place to go if you want to learn how to innovate and how to take on the world financially. It is a positive spin on the age old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory behind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Instead of Jews secretly controlling the world’s banking systems they are now – specifically in the Jewish State – to be emulated for how they are changing the world for the better.
The book about Israel which has become sort of a Bible to people around the world who wish to learn the country’s secrets of how to innovate is ”Startup Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Published in 2009, it explains how it came to be that such a small country like Israel has become, per capita at least, the world’s biggest success in innovation and the founding of new companies in the high tech sector. Israel has now had countless successful exits with numerous firms listed on the NASDAQ.
One of the international visitors was Donald Tang, from Shanghai China. He is the managing partner at Shanghai Creation Investment, a 6 year old fund with more than $40 million in investments. It has already invested more than $6 million in Israel.
Economic and cultural ties have boomed between Israel and China in recent years. There seems to be a constant flow of Chinese business and political leaders coming on visits to the Jewish State and there are a variety of joint education programs offered in partnership by Israel and Chinese universities.
Mr. Tang was on his third visit to Israel and said that he brought ten investors from other firms with him to the conference so that they could also learn from Israelis.
About OurCrowd he said, “They have a large network. They are very active and selective with their portfolio companies. My purpose is just to be able to learn from it.”
Mr. Tang was also very positive about Israel and Israelis in general.
“We like them. We like Israel, we hear a lot about the innovations here,” he declared. And he explained that more than 5 million copies of the Chinese translation of Startup Nation have been sold. “I personally bought thousands of copies for my friends,” added Tang, who has an M.A. in finance from Columbia University in New York.
Mr. Tang maintains that Israel is quite popular in China and not just among the business community. He believes that most of the average Chinese have a positive view of the country and are not swayed by the negative international news coverage of Israel.
Donald feels that China needs to learn how to innovate from the Israelis. Its failure to invest in the development of new technologies and to encourage high tech hot houses and industrial parks as Israel has done for more than 20 years now is a main cause of its current financial malaise, he believes.
“Wrong economic policies have blocked innovations because of so much government investment in traditional industries and it failed to acknowledge the digital revolution.” As for China’s failure to develop new industries Mr. Tang said that, “[Chinese] state owned companies ate up all of the [financial] resources.”
I half-jokingly asked if he was sure that I could quote him on all of this as it may get him in trouble back home. But Donald was very forth coming and a real pleasure to speak with. I doubt that a Russian businessman would be so open about criticizing his country these days.
Also Donald is not his real first name. All of the Chines people at the event seemed to have English names and so I asked if they change them to make it easier to interact with Westerners. Donald confirmed this and told me his real name which I could not pronounce and do not remember so I guess they have the right idea here.
Mr. Tang also explained that part of the incentive for Chinese firms like his to invest in Israeli startups is that while working closely with a new and growing firm they can learn how Israelis innovate and apply that knowledge back home. So for them their investments in Israel are not just about making money, but also a way to improve new business development in China.
Then there were the Europeans. There were several delegations from smaller European nations which were represented at the Summit. However, these groups, which included Romanians and Macedonians, had come to Israel as part of a general business tour and not specifically for the OurCrowd event.
I had a very interesting conversation with one Macedonian man named Samir. This was more about Judaism in general and not Startup Nation.
Samir found it hard to believe that Jews do not believe that Jesus was in any way a “special” man. I had to explain to him that to us he was neither a prophet nor the Messiah. He was just one man among many during the Roman occupation of Israel who led a small group of people and who spoke out against the establishment of his day.
Samir, an avowed atheist, also did not know that Jews do not consider the New Testament to be part of the Bible. But most interestingly, he did not think that Judaism allowed for conversion at all and that one could only be a Jew if he had a Jewish mother.
I’m not sure if I succeeded in convincing Samir of the facts, but this was beside the point. The conversation was in and of itself an exciting one, something which you get to do frequently with foreign tourists in Jerusalem.
One thing that all of the non-Jewish international visitors had in common was a lack of any concern about being in Israel in light of the recent wave of stabbing g attacks. Some sad that it was safer than Paris. As for the politics of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict and the growing calls to boycott Israel, one American man based in China pointed to all of the international businesses which have no problem engaging with Iran or which refused to Sanction Russia for its recent aggression in Ukraine. “If not them, why Israel,” he basically said.
Donald Tang probably put it best when he said on this matter, “Well if China can do so much business with Taiwan then why wouldn’t we do business with Israel.”