Innovating in Israel

The Palmachim desalination plant, an example of innovation in Israel.

Israel is a country known for innovations in technology. According to a recent Knowledge@Wharton article, it ranks second only to China as a foreign nation with the largest number of NASDAQ-listed high-tech companies.

Wharton professors Jerry Wind and David Reibstein emphasized during the recent Wharton alumni webinar “Israel Innovation for Global Social Impact” that Israel’s innovation does not begin and end with cellphones and servers. Israel has developed an extensive and growing pipeline of innovations for global social impact in the areas of food, water, energy and health care.

“Focusing on innovations that address major societal problems around the world is a smart innovation strategy and good business,” said Wind, who is the Lauder Professor and director of the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management.

To highlight this point, Reibstein, Wharton’s William Stewart Woodside Professor, noted that investors both within Israel and around the world have invested in this movement. Organizations such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Barclays and the Walt Disney Co. invested more than $1 million in 2011.

Among the innovative organizations highlighted during the webinar were: Netafim, a company that has developed a system to monitor and distribute water, fertilizer and pesticides to enhance food production; TAMA, which has developed a film to cover and preserve hay and has already distributed its product to farmers globally; Jewish Heart for Africa, an organization that brings Israeli technologies that enhance energy, water purification, health care and nutrition to African villages; and TEVA, the world’s largest generic pharmaceutical company.

Wind points to five key factors that have led to the success of these organizations and other Israeli companies. He noted that innovation was the only way Israel could grow economically and solve its internal problems. This is the top reason why the country embraces creative, problem-solving startups.

Tel Aviv at night.

Secondly, he said that Israel promotes a culture and values that challenge conventional wisdom and value improvisations, which further encourages the development of such organizations.  Third, businesses must always think globally, a perspective that enhances recognition as well as investment from outside of the country. Beyond this global perspective is that Israeli entrepreneurs continue to network and collaborate.

“Most Israeli Nobel Prize winners and scientific discoveries are made in collaboration with scholars from around the world,” Wind said.

Finally, Israel has established a culture of innovation, in which entrepreneurs are held up as role models.

“No longer do parents want their children to be doctors,” he said. “They want them to be successful entrepreneurs and innovators.”

Wharton’s next webinar, “Challenges for Retirement in the 21st Century,” will be led by Olivia Mitchell, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor and executive director of Wharton’s Pension Research Council. It will take place on Friday, Feb. 23, from noon to 1 p.m. EST.

You can access the full lineup of past and upcoming events at the Wharton Webinar Series page.

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