As I pack my bags readying to leave after three amazing years living in Israel, I’m reflecting on all the insights, lessons and inspiration I’ll take with me. Nothing has been more profound than this. Israel is not only the modern Start-Up Nation, but it is equally the ancient Entrepreneur Nation, creating and nurturing entrepreneurs for 4,000 years and counting. Thanks to this entrepreneurial spirit I am a better person and this world is truly a better place.
How in the Heck Do You Spell Entrepreneur?
Entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurism.
Do you know how many times I have written these words only for auto-correct to highlight my spelling mistake? Even saying the dreaded “E word” can be rough going.
Forget spelling it. After three years of living in Israel, involved in multiple entrepreneurial ventures, I can barely even define it. I’m clearly not alone. I’ve asked numerous people, many of whom are entrepreneurs, to try. All I received were sentence fragments, descriptions of what they do and a lot of incoherent jargon. Two entrepreneurs; three opinions (although you’ll always walk away with a lot of mostly great ideas for start-ups!).
The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter how you define entrepreneurism. It’s a lot like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”
When it comes to entrepreneurism, you definitely know it when you see it, and for the past three years, man, have I seen it!
So here’s what I’ve seen living in Israel.
What Entrepreneurs Are Not
Israel misbranded itself as the “Start-Up Nation” when actually it should have been the “Entrepreneur Nation” (though it’ll never stick because the Israelis might be able to spell it, but they definitely can’t say it).
Entrepreneurs and start-ups are not one and the same. All start-ups are built by entrepreneurs. Not all entrepreneurs build start-ups. And although start-ups have put the Start-Up Nation on the map, far more interesting and important to Israel’s rebirth and rise in technological, innovative and economic power are the entrepreneurs responsible for this transformation.
Here’s something else: There’s no such thing as an entrepreneur, only entrepreneurs (plural). Whereas most start-ups are founded by men (we have to change that), entrepreneurs are evenly split. Whereas start-ups tend toward high-tech, many entrepreneurs are in low-tech or no-tech or outright un-tech. Whereas start-ups in Israel tend to be located in the bigger cities, entrepreneurs are as likely found in Bedouin villages or ultra-Orthodox enclaves. The start-up ecosystem thrives in clusters. Entrepreneurs can thrive anywhere. It’s not dependent on a time or place. It’s a world view, an attitude, a way of looking at life.
Here’s what else I’ve learned: Every entrepreneur has the “Three Entrepreneurial S’s:” they see, they seek and they seize.
Let me explain.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit: See. Seek. Seize.
Entrepreneurs see the world differently than the rest. They are like one of the original entrepreneurs from the Torah, Moses. Moses’s unique ability was his capacity to see:
So Moses said, “Let me turn now and see this great spectacle. Why does the thorn bush not burn up?”
The rabbis ask the question, “Just how many other would-be-Moses walked right on past that bush because all they saw was the ordinary?”
Moses was Moses because he saw the extra-ordinary. He saw possibility where others only saw servitude. He saw opportunity where others only saw the way it was, the way it would be, not the way it could be.
Thousands of years later and Israel is a homeland of Moses. This is a people that sees. From the Torah to today, from the vision of Theodore Herzl to the fish farmers in the Negev Desert, to the inventors of drip irrigation, missile defense shields and really freaking great hummus, this is a place that breeds seeing.
Next comes “seeking.” It is not enough for an entrepreneur to see an opportunity. She is an entrepreneur because she also acts upon it. Israelis not only see the world differently, but they are a practical people—“tachlis” as we say—who take action. Much like the original co-founders, Abraham and Sara, and their successful social enterprise start-up, Judaism, Israelis, past and present, make things happen.
God called to Abram [Abraham], “Go forth…to the land I will show you.” And they went…
Lots of people have good ideas. Few, however, act upon them. Abraham and Sara do what entrepreneurs do—they see, they pack their bags and they get going.
Entrepreneurs don’t have answers—they have chutzpah. They don’t have a road map—they have faith. They don’t always know the direction, but they always get going, advancing in the direction of their dreams.
Israel has been breeding seekers for 4,000 years, a quality that is alive and well today. From seeking answers in space or science, to seeking solutions in autonomous driving vehicles, from cyber solutions to new sources of water, food and sustenance—“yalla kadima,” is this people’s mantra. “Let’s get going,” always forward, always into the unknown.
Lastly, all Israeli entrepreneurs embody a quality of their biblical namesake, the most entrepreneurial of all the original entrepreneurs, Jacob.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till the break of dawn. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Because of this, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel—one who wrestles with God and prevails.
Jacob saw possibilities. Jacob sought solutions. And Jacob seized the situation, no matter how struggle filled, never letting go.
Israelis have many worthy qualities, but none more important than this—they are relentless (which is really awesome unless you are shopping at the market on a Friday, in which case this quality is a real pain in the tuchus).
Israelis today are wrestling with challenges, problems and atrocities of every kind. They are seeking solutions and are relentless in their efforts—ridding the world of disease, terror, food shortages and contaminated water, to name but a few. No matter how seemingly impossible, the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit does not back down to the Goliath problems humanity faces. No matter the odds, they see, seek and seize solutions. Rest assured, they will not let go until the break of dawn.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
After three years of living in Israel, as I ready for my return to the States, I am grateful for so many things this miraculous country has afforded me and my family. None, however, has been more poignant or powerful than my entrepreneurial education. Although I still can’t spell this damn word, nor can I really define it, it doesn’t matter.
Entrepreneurism may be hard to define, but you know it when you see it—and I have seen it.
Entrepreneurs abound in the Entrepreneur Nation—seeing the possibilities to solve today’s biggest obstacles, challenges and problems.
Entrepreneurism is thriving here in the Entrepreneur Nation—seeking solutions, alleviating suffering and saving lives.
And the entrepreneurial spirit, the divine spark that has animated this people since the time of the Torah, is shining brightly not only within Israel, but out into the world. Entrepreneurial Israelis are fulfilling the Jewish nation’s mandate—to be a light unto nations, helping anyone and everyone to see.
Regardless of what you call it, no matter how you define it, irrespective of what label you place upon it, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurism and the entrepreneurial spirit are alive and well in Israel.
Thank you to all of the Israeli entrepreneurs for making my life more meaningful and this world a better place.
Off to my next entrepreneurial effort—to share the spirit of the Entrepreneur Nation with the world.
See you soon in Denver!
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