Start-up Nation

Today I went to a start up event at the Tel Aviv University, in order to check out the scene that this famous book talks about.

I can’t say that I was too impressed about the quality of the start-ups I encountered (more social networks, more content sharing, more data mining) aside from the biotech ones (those I just don’t have any brain capacity to process).

Start-ups & Politics
The interesting part of the event for me was the lecture of Erel Margalit, who is a new member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He is “a high-tech and social entrepreneur turned politician who founded one of Israel’s leading venture capital funds, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP).”

He had a refreshing view-point about incorporating the arab and ultra-orthodox sector into the labor market, giving some interesting examples of the type of low-tech insourcing that is happening with these guys. I really appreciated the inclusive attitude and his ideas about how to think about politics from a view point targeting opportunities instead of setting one part of the population against another, which is the most common (and useless) approach around here. I am very interested to see what can venture capitalist manage to do in politics. I shall remain optimistic.

Israeli start-ups abroad
The next panel on global innovation, highlighted the following points about israeli start-ups:
1. They are very good with disruptive technologies
2. They are good with exporting companies but not so good at becoming global companies
3. Key difficulties: being able to structure themselves to scale up and have good processes, also learn from others rather than try to reinvent the wheel every time
4. Key needs: professional management and marketing skills. hmmmmmmmmm…. (!!!! who can tell an opportunity here?!)

The Chilean Invasion
I was impressed to encounter the over-motivated Chilean delegation, exploring Israel’s innovative vibe and looking to bring the lessons back to their country. This is something the Brazilians definitely need to learn from.

A personal care discovery
After taking a nap during a very boring lecture about biotech clinical trials, I suddenly woke up when I heard “cosmetics” (a very useful feminine trigger). The nice gentleman from MIT suddenly started talking about something useful: a new shampoo they developed, called Frizz, that substitutes silicon based solutions for frizzy hair. Now, I have to try this!! Anyone coming down from America to help the poor victims of Rio de Janeiro’s humidity???

I guess this day was quite the productive one indeed. More to come..

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Apples from the Desert

Living the high-paced stressful modern day capitalism, we often forget those “small” things in life that are the actual source of happiness and stability – old friendships, human kindness, family ties.
This is one of the reasons why I like going back to my country, where real people with real problems and real loves remind me who I really am, where I come from, and what really matters.

After 5 years of promises, I decided to make the two hour trip (long distance in Israel terms) to visit my longtime (12+ years) school friend, Blondy, in the desert city, Be’er Sheva. My previous encounters with Be’er Sheva were limited to 30 minutes stops on the way to Eilat, Israel’s most southern point and main tourist destination. I was therefore curious to get to know the place better and see how my friends’ life looks like.

start point
On the way
My destination: Be’er Sheva

Blondy and hubby made me feel at home, and we caught up on life and work. Blondy and hubby are a typical Israeli young couple. Recent college graduates. She works as an administrative manager at a nursing home and he is a management trainee at one of the main national banks. Both are doing great. It was interesting to discuss Israeli working culture and see how work problems and management of people are still universal. However, the best thing by far about The Blondies was their cat, Khatulish, a modern cat, who follows all the global trends. He even plays games through his personal pet app on the tablet. I believe that Khatulish is more technologically advanced than me in that. Blondy was commenting about the difficulty that some of her older colleagues are having in learning how to use the PC. I think she should consider using Khatulish as a technical trainer.

Khatulish analysis the situation
Khatulish charges in…
Oh no.. the fish are not real. Must try again!

Given that most people think the entire country is one big desert, one most clarify that the main difference between Be’er Sheva and any other middle class city in Israel is that it has some bedwin presence and if you drive a few kilometers away, you pass all the apartment buildings and shopping malls, and arrived to vast unused sandy plains, dotted with trees and some military bases.

Beer Sheva is also a university town, housing the Ben Gurion University. It is named after Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion who was a big patriot with crazy white hair and a believer in bringing bloom to the wilderness and to his death lived in a cabin in the Negev desert (currently a museum at Kibuttz Sde Boker). As a university town, BS has a vibrance and friendliness about it. There are many bars and restaurants with cool atmosphere, good prices and friendly service. I went to of those bars, called HaSifriya ( The Library), where the waiters all wore nerdy glasses and suspenders and looked liked New York hipsters from Williamsburg. We ate burgers (Blondy and hubby), and typical israeli food (me) to the sounds of Lady Gaga concert playing on the plasma TV, while chatting with our friendly hipster bartender. Yet another example of global trends with local flavor. I like seeing so many of those around the world.

Hipster Bartender
Hummus, Falafel and Kava. What else does one need in life?

The coolest thing I discovered about Beer Sheva was that it used to be a Turkish stop point during the Ottoman rule. Someone got the right mind just a few years ago and they are now restoring the old town, and creating an interesting leisure area of galleries, cafes and nice restaurants, all done in the beautiful ancient style full of arcs and internal courtyards with quaint gardens. I can’t believe someone has not thought about this earlier but also cannot wait to see the area in a few years. In the meantime, the houses already restored look gorgeous. Wish I had money to invest… I love seeing growth opportunities that also bring beauty to this world.

Cool commercial for instant coffee. It says: “He doesn’t have a pretentious foreign name. He is simply delicious”

On my back on the train, aside from the normal update of local politics, I got an interesting advice on real estate from a phone conversation I overheard.

“Trust me, Tel Aviv is the best place for real estate investment. You buy a 1 bedroom apartment for 1.1 million shekels (~$300k) and can rent it out for 5k shekels a month. You will make money every month. Israel is the only place where people still care about buying housing. The rest of the world simply rents. Worst case, you can live there afterwards as it will be in great location”‘.

Sounds like the guy spent too much time in Manhattan, or Rio, or Moscow, or London, etc.,…

Grobetrotting once again – destination: Vienna

After many promises to my Italian friend who relocated to Vienna a couple of years ago, I finally booked my flight to go visit him there for a few days. So Vienna shall be visited the upcoming weekend. It’s interesting, I have a really good group of friends from my banking days analyst program. They all moved around – the Spainiards to Germany, the Italian to Austria, the Argentine to Spain and then Germany, the German to Singapore and the Turkish girl back from London to Turkey. I wonder though at what point do we stop moving and settle down? For me, I think that this point won’t be anytime soon so it feels good to not be alone in this situation.

I spent the last 24 hours in Tel Aviv. It definitely felt much closer to civilization than other parts of Israel I am used to. International crowd, many coffee shops, bars, restaurants, designer stores, etc. But still to me it feel artificial, like I’m trying to create Manhattan in my mind, but it’s really not quite it. I suppose I could live there, but it would be so strange to do be in this bubble at such a close proximity to the place where I grew up, which stands at such strong contrast to this bubble. At least in NYC, I can pretend that the other parts don’t exist, because I do not belong to those parts and they hold nothing of my childhood.

The best part of this visit was that I got to spend time with some wonderful old friends, have many intelligent conversations and attend the last meeting with the Israeli MBA crowd from my graduating year. It was also surprising to see the abundance of non-kosher restaurants, selling seafood and pork all over the place. There were times when this was unthinkable off in Israel and those times were not THAT long ago. Secularization is making very strong heads.

Update on my move to Brazil: There is no update but I managed to listen to 18 podcasts already. So far, learned that grammar is very similar to Spanish which helps a lot, that both grandma and grandpa are “Avo” which are pronounced differently in a way that I cannot comprehend and finally I learned that my memory really sucks and nothing really stays..

Portuguese sentence of the day: “Qual é o sua telphone?”