CJP’s Israel Advocacy is spending the week in Israel, visiting some of the success stories that make up the Start-Up Nation with academics from Harvard Business School. Nancy Katz, director of CJP’s Israel Advocacy and herself an alum of Harvard and a former professor at Harvard Kennedy School, will be blogging about the group’s experiences and impressions.
A full day of visits to Israeli start-ups and established companies was highlighted by a trip to Google’s Israel headquarters in Tel Aviv. If Google powers the internet, that’s in no small part because Israeli innovation helps power Google.
Today we met with Meir Brand, head of Google Israel, South Africa, and Greece. Brand’s excitement was infectious, as was his passion for his country (he spoke about Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit at last year’s AIPAC conference). I was surprised to learn he has no technical background; he studied economics at Tel Aviv University and business at Harvard Business School.
Since it opened in 2005, Google Israel has pumped out new features and innovations that define the experience using the browser, search engine and other products. The Israel-based R&D center was the first the company opened outside of the United States.
“A lot of what you do on Google was designed here, even core things such as fundamental search features,” Brand said. For example, string expansion, the algorithm whereby when you start to type in a search term, Google presents a bunch of relevant options. “Google Insights,” which provides data on how keyword search patterns change over time and across geographic regions. Information from Google Insights has been used to predict unemployment rates before conventional measures are available or to see which candidate is more likely to win an election based on searches for his or her name.
Google Israel tries to nurture “Start-Up Nation” entrepreneurial values by encouraging workers to spend 20 percent of their time at the office “devoted to something they’re passionate about” outside of their primary duties.
That policy has led Google engineers to form a nonprofit that encourages teenage girls to study science, to digitize the Dead Sea Schools so that more scholars can study the fragile relics, and to develop websites devoted to sharing Holocaust testimony translated into Persian and Arabic.