Five years ago, Saul Singer and Dan Senor wrote a book whose title would come to define Israel — “Start-up Nation”.
Looking back to 2009, the global economy was in turmoil and suffering the worst depression since the 1930s. But Israel, with a plucky 7.5 million citizens, was one of the few countries to register positive GDP growth and proudly boasted an unemployment rate lower than most OECD countries.
Israel has been known as a hotbed of innovation for some time but, until recently, much of the technology has been at an enterprise and semi-conductor level, well hidden from consumer view. But now there is a movement towards developing globally-orientated consumer technologies.
An increasing number of overseas investors are investing in Israel, taking advantage of opportunities in technology, life sciences, medical devices, real estate, design, security and agro-tech.
For example, the recipient of the 2013 British Israeli Business Award UK Company of the Year, Grovepoint Capital, invested in an algae technology business based in Kibbutz Ketura.
The case for investing in Israel has received widespread media attention, particularly following Google’s acquisition of Waze for over $1 billion and Samsung’s purchase of Boxee.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the British government has recognised the benefits in sharing in Israel’s tech success through the establishment of the TechHub at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. The TechHub promotes Israeli tech businesses to British companies in order to benefit both nations.
In May, I joined a retail technology delegation led by Rohan Silva, the then technology adviser to David Cameron, together with a number of well-known British retailers, brands and investors. For many participants, it was their first visit to Israel and gave them an opportunity to meet with around 45 technology companies, from start-ups to more mature businesses. The Israeli companies were able to explain the Israeli working mentality, as well as highlight some of the cultural differences and how to apply them to the global business environment.
Israel’s deep technology expertise coupled with Britain’s global trade connections and world-class marketing, advertising and creative industries provide a natural synergy. By strengthening the ties between the UK and Israel, leveraging off the status of the UK and London as a global business hub, both economies can benefit by trading globally.
Having just taken over as chief executive of UK Israel Business, I have a duty to ensure that our organisation retains its status as the first port of call for Israeli and UK companies seeking to do business in each other’s countries, whilst recognising that we need to expand the level of bilateral trade — which currently stands at £3.75 billion per year.
UK Israel Business will continue to bring together leading business people by arranging a number of industry-focused events, from healthcare to finance, retail and technology. Our events will not be solely centred in London, as we plan to host events, expand our membership and present business opportunities in cities across the UK.
These events reflect the interest in bilateral trade opportunities, from exports and imports, joint ventures and mergers & acquisitions, providing a forum for cross-fertilisation of ideas and the creation of opportunities.
And there is much more that we can do. As the global economy begins to recover, we will play our part in ensuring that business between the UK and Israel continues to flourish.