I signed off last week while lamenting an emblem of suffering and shame for us as an oil-producing country. I rounded off noting that we are an oil producing country but because we serve the God of Small Things, we curiously import refined products for domestic consumption because all our four refineries have for years been unserviceable.
The consequences of official corruption that triggered the suffering and shame are not on a hill far away. They are biting us here at the moment. Not even strange updates on certificate scandals, curious technicalities in electoral judicial system confirming even dubious mandates and sickly governor directing from another state capital impeachment strategy of his hale-and-hearty deputy can cause distractions from the devastating consequences of poor economic choices our governments have made and are still making.
That Onyeka Nwenu’s classic documentary on “squandering of the riches” can be instructive today as we celebrate Nigeria’s 63rd independence anniversary. It is clear that we seem to have lost our sanity to the combined effects of debt burden and fuel subsidy conundrum. Which means we have been serving the God of Small Things.
But, certainly all of us cannot relocate to the West because of the economic challenges of the moment. We will be around to fight until something happens! And so we will continue to suggest to our leaders to study to show themselves approved on how to serve the God of Big Things for the public good of the most populous country in Africa.
And so I pray to the God of all possibilities that the eyes of the heart of our leaders may be enlightened, so that they will see what has been happening in the Middle East, our neighbours where leaders seem to have deepened their understanding about how to serve the God of Big Things. The Middle Easterners including the small but powerful Israel have dazzled the world while we are busy at all times serving the God of Small Things: the world continues to wonder why we, who are supposed to be the light of even the black people of the world are drifting from darkness to darkness.
Let’s see what a small nation, Israel an OECD member with a population of fewer than 10 million people are doing to glorify the God of Big Things. The nation, Israel, however includes those who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return: the global total rises to 15.3 million people of which more than nine million are in Israel while the rest are outside Israel.
They serve the God of Big Things, not through Christianity even as they are the source of Christianity. This discussion point isn’t about religion. It is about enhancement of humanity though knowledge, which now covers the earth as water covers the sea as it is written. We are also referring to the God of Knowledge here.
Let’s look at the power of Startup, small but mighty Israel uses as a weapon to dazzle the world. Let’s deepen our understanding of what is going on there even as our state actors here bastardise the knowledge industry.
The Tel Aviv startup ecosystem has long been a favoured destination for international venture capital, and is a proven track record of producing top entrepreneurial talent.
From nothing to ‘Nonstop City’
Tel Aviv’s reputation is all the more impressive given the city on the outskirts of the ancient Arab port city of Jaffa was only founded in 1909 by immigrants from Europe.
From the outset, the new city had to stand out from its neighbour and think outside the box to prosper in an area with few natural resources.
Even after Tel Aviv officially separated from Jaffa in 1934, its inhabitants struggled to compete with the more established settlement – a challenge that encouraged Tel Avivians to adopt an innovative mindset. If you serve the God of Big Things, you will have an innovative mindset.
It’s said that Israel’s compulsory military service further fuelled an enterprise ecosystem due to its use of problem solving and networking strategies – vital skills in business building. There’s a historical component to Tel Aviv’s unique personality too. Given the country’s geographic centrality between Europe and Asia, entrepreneurs in the region have a strong background in developing products for export.
All the ingredients were there. But just how did a city that started out selling oranges become one of Startup Genome’s top-10 ranking global hubs for startup funding and talent?
Defined by Chutzpah
‘Chutzpah’ is derived from an old Hebrew word that means – roughly – ‘audacity’. It certainly takes audacity to look to the smallest businesses in society for the biggest ideas, and to model a city on a bustling startup ecosystem. But, as the 20th century progressed, that’s what Tel Aviv did, pouring money into supporting the startups developing tech and fostering innovation in Israel and further afield.
A bedrock of this mindset is the national backing for research and development projects. Stock in R&D is high, and Tel Aviv’s Municipality Press Office claims that 90 percent of the world’s largest tech companies have R&D centres in the city’s greater metro area.
A staggering feat, especially when you consider the country’s relatively small population and land mass. This natural willingness to look to the future for new ideas has fed into Israel becoming a true tech hub, able to ride the highs and lows of global economic growth and crisis. Aharon Aharon, former CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, said that, “it is well understood … the high-tech industry in Israel holds the key to pulling us out of … crisis.”
What defines Tel Aviv’s tech startup scene is writ large in the city’s data: Israel ranks third in the world by number of AI and machine learning startups. The global average for early-stage startup funding is US$431 million. In Tel Aviv, the average is US$3 billion. Israel exports US$6.5 billion in cybersecurity products and services every year.
Meanwhile, Deloitte’s research into Tel Aviv’s startup ecosystem shows that the Israeli government started tech incubator programmes as early as the 1990s, demonstrating a consistent push for greater openness and accessibility of opportunity that has existed from the top-down for many years.
This commitment to startups led to an increase in the flow of experienced entrepreneurs and Venture Capital firms into Tel Aviv, which in turn prompted further government investment – and so on in a steady cycle of progress. This has prompted calls of encouragement from the city’s startup founders, including Uri Levine, entrepreneur and co-founder of Waze, who said; “The ecosystem has matured a lot over the past decade, with more experienced angel investors, higher aspirations, and an ecosystem that embraces change.”
Tel Aviv finds itself in the position it’s in today thanks to this desire to embrace new ideas and keep the city’s business scene open to all solutions – local and overseas.
Telling the tale of Tel Aviv tech
From a small settlement on a far-flung shore of the Mediterranean to a so-called ‘Startup Nation’ leading the rest of the world in generating new business ideas…There is a generation of Israeli entrepreneurs who have spent time inside of multinational corporations; Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other big names. This has contributed significantly to the maturity of the ecosystem and to the development of a new generation of management.
When will the generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs who have spent time inside of multinational corporations, Amazon, Google, etc return home to replicate what is happening in UAE’s Dubai and Tel Aviv?
The value of the city’s whole startup ecosystem is US$47 billion. Big money, but even more impressive when you consider that the global average is US$10.5 billion. Tel Aviv is as close as you get to startup paradise. Tel Aviv startup ecosystem ranks 2nd in Europe, Mideast and Africa, behind London.
According to the Times of Israel, Tel Aviv is home to the fifth-highest number of unicorns worldwide; placed third in the world for cybersecurity investments, with startups raising $1.7b in 2022.
Tel Aviv nabbed second place as a tech hub for startups with the highest enterprise value behind London and ahead of Paris, turning the city into one of the fastest-growing ecosystems in the world, a new report compiled by Dealroom showed the other day.
Tel Aviv tech startups boasted a combined enterprise value of $393 billion in 2022, second only to London among Europe, Middle East and African cities, fifth in Asia and Oceania, and seventh in the Americas. Since 2018, Tel Aviv’s startup ecosystem has grown 3.5 times in value, faster than the Bay Area, New York, Beijing, London, and Paris during the same period of time.
The report includes 2022 data from both startups founded in the greater Tel Aviv area that maintained their main centre of business (HQ) there and those that relocated their HQ outside of Tel Aviv. As such, its findings predate the widespread social upheaval over the government’s recent judicial overhaul prompting a number of Israeli startups and tech firms to transfer their funds and investments abroad amid fears of economic and political fallout.
Tel Aviv-headquartered startups raised $6.9 billion in venture capital investment in 2022, falling short of the $8.8 billion attracted in 2021, but almost double the amount raised in 2020. The city ranks third in terms of total VC investment in the EMEA region in 2022, after London and Paris and ahead of Berlin, the report showed.
Tel Aviv unicorns: Tel Aviv is also home to the fifth-highest number of unicorns worldwide, boasting 95 unicorns as of 2022 of which 75 became unicorns since 2018, according to the report. Unicorns are startups that reached a $1 billion valuation. Findings of the report showed that many Tel Aviv-headquartered and -founded unicorns, such as Iron Source and Gett, have been breeding new entrepreneurial talent, as staff alumni leave to found more startups in Tel Aviv and abroad. When are we creating an ecosystem that will bring back our talents from abroad?
Next week, we will move to deconstruct the vision of a remarkable Middle East leader, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who has tackled challenges in the race for excellence that built UAE/Dubai. He appears to have also served the God of Big Things. One wonders why our compatriots in northern Nigeria haven’t studied the vision of such a remarkable leader.