Israel 2.0: Land of Milk, Honey and VC-Backed Start-Ups (EXCERPT)

images“If there is one story that has been largely missed despite the extensive media coverage of Israel, it is that key economic metrics demonstrate that Israel represents the greatest concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship in the world today.” That is the central thesis of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, out this week. It’s one I saw again and again in my fortnight in the Holy Land, where my pilgrimages included not only trips to the Western Wall and the Dead Sea but to forward-thinking VC firms, boundary-pushing media/tech startups and industry gatherings of Silicon Valley-type geeks, except they code from right to left.

Senor and Singer point out that, despite Israel’s modest population of 7.1 million on an embattled slice of land in the Middle East, they’ve got more start-ups than far larger, more stable countries like Canada, Japan, India, Korea and the U.K. The authors calculate that as 3,850 Israeli start-ups at the time of the book’s close for publication — one for every 1,844 Israelis; they also note that there are six more Israeli companies on the NASDAQ than from all of Europe combined.

Something about coming from an embattled sliver of a country—home to just one one-thousandth of the world’s population—makes Israelis skeptical of conventional explanations about what is possible.

Senor and Singer use VC money — the mother’s milk of start-ups — as another metric for their assessment:

In 2008, per capita venture capital investments in Israel were 2.5 times greater than in the United States, more than 30 times greater than in Europe, 80 times greater than in China, and 350 times greater than in India. Comparing absolute numbers, Israel—a country of just 7.1 million people—attracted close to $2 billion in venture capital, as much as flowed to the United Kingdom’s 61 million citizens or to the 145 million people living in Germany and France combined.

They also point out that the Israeli economy keeps on growing, despite the ongoing conflict and frequent violence in the region. They write:

During the six years following 2000, Israel was hit not just by the bursting of the global tech bubble but by the most intense period of terrorist attacks in its history and by the second Lebanon war. Yet Israel’s share of the global venture capital market did not drop—it doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent. And the Tel Aviv stock exchange was higher on the last day of the Lebanon war than on the first, as it was after the three-week military -operation in the Gaza Strip in 2009.

So what gives? A young entrepreneur, now on his second or third successful company, put it this way the other day in Tel Aviv: “The best thing Israel can export is our minds — we don’t have natural resources to export, so we invest in education and innovation. This is the best natural resource we have in Israel.” (By the way, this guy sold his first company when he was 16.) It’s not just founders, either — Israel is chock-a-block full of the IT technicians and engineers and experts that keep a company on the cutting edge. An eBay exec tells the author: ““Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, eBay . . . the list goes on. The best-kept secret is that we all live and die by the work of our Israeli teams.” For companies planted firmly in Silicon Valley soil, those faraway roots in the desert are even more amazing.

Does this mean you have to learn how to dodge Katyusha rockets and subsist on falafel to launch a successful start-up? Of course not, though falafel is delicious. Senor and Singer trace the stories of several Israeli companies, entrepreneurs and decision-makers, and come up with a few takeaways that can apply across the board (hint: a little chutzpah helps). On the next few pages, Mediaite has an exclusive excerpt from Start-Up Nation which shows a little of the Israeli start-up mentality in action.

>>>EXCERPT: Start-Up Nation (or, how to raise $200 million, and why hybird cars are like mermaids)


NYT’s Frank Rich Finds Compassion for Balloon Boy Dad, Blames Economy and Media

heeneNow that the the jig is up for Richard Heene and his puffed-up scheme to get famous with his balloon hoax, the Colorado man has been left looking rather desperate and crazy. For most, his stunt to gain attention (and possibly a TV contract), which put his entire family through a great deal of stress, was abominable and exploitative.

But this morning in the New York Times, columnist Frank Rich finds compassion for Heene, painting him in a landscape of deflated economic opportunity where the most dependable job opportunity is the round-the-clock media circus and all the real hoaxers go unpunished. Ultimately, Rich looks back to the Great Depression:

Heene is a direct descendant of those Americans of the Great Depression who fantasized, usually in vain, that they might find financial salvation if only they could grab a spotlight in show business. Some aspired to the “American Idol” of the day — “Major Bowes Amateur Hour,” a hugely popular weekly talent contest on network radio. Others traveled the seedy dance marathon circuit, entering 24/7 endurance contests that promised food and prize money in exchange for freak-show degradation and physical punishment. Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel memorializing this Depression milieu was aptly titled “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

Read Frank Rich’s “In Defense of ‘Balloon Boy’ Dad.”


Master of Allusion: Glenn Beck Invokes NYT Media Critic David Carr

Picture 25We’ve written before about Glenn Beck ’s gift for impressions and his love for quoting the greats. Not even Shakespeare is safe from his rodeo clown-esque caricatures!

On Friday evening, Beck was having fun with some mobster movie clips, playing reel of Robert Deniro in the ’80s mafia film The Untouchables, and slapping around a baseball bat while speaking in his Mobsta’ voice. But when he was finished playing Deniro, he invoked the New York Times media critic David Carr.

Beck adopted an image from Carr’s column last weekend about Fox News and the White House, comparing the Obama administration’s recent criticism of the cable network to ‘bringing a knife to a gun fight.’ From David Carr’s “The Battle Between the White House and Fox News“:

The one weapon all administrations can wield is access, and the White House, making it clear that it will use that leverage going forward, informed Fox News not to expect to bump knees with the president until 2010. But Fox News, as many have pointed out, is not in the access business. They are in the agitation business. And the administration, by deploying official resources against a troublesome media organization, seems to have brought a knife to a gunfight.

Beck takes the image and flips it: In his view the White House is holding the gun and Fox News and all their allies across the country are holding the knives:

The lesson from that movie is you gotta take a stand even though you know that in the end you pull out a knife and they pull out a gun. The question we ask ourselves: what is it we truly believe in? who are we? … Are we the guy who sits around the table in fear? He’s one guy, there’s more of us than there is of him. [5:00 ff]

And with that reminder — that the people’s knives are mightier than any tyrant — we’re back to Shakespeare.

Glenn Beck on Friday:


What do Fox News and Erectile Dysfunction Have in Common?

From <em>The New Yorker</em>

From The New Yorker

The lead-off spot in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section usually goes to the most serious political item (last week, Afghanistan was first on deck). This week, however, the first entry plunges into a discussion of Obama and the White House’s recent exchanges with Fox News with this gentle comparison of FNC’s core viewership to users of erectile dysfunction medication:

In 2008, half the people who watched the Fox News Channel were over sixty-three, which is the oldest demographic in the cable-news business, and, according to a poll, the majority of the ones who watched the most strident programs, such as Sean Hannity’s and Bill O’Reilly’s shows, were men. All that chesty fulminating apparently functions as political Cialis. Fox News shows should probably carry a warning: Contact your doctor if you have rage lasting more than four hours.”

Even though it characterizes FNC viewers in this way, the piece doesn’t get into the business of whether or not Fox News should be classified as a news network. In fact the piece — which is titled “Chin Music” in reference to remarks made by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs two weeks ago that the WH was effectively throwing an inside fastball at Fox — ends with a reminder that in baseball throwing at the batter is grounds for ejection.

Read Louis Menand’s “Chin Music,” on newsstands and online tomorrow.

Illustration courtesy of The New Yorker.


White House Releases First Official Obama Family Portrait

4035513827_8f85699646_bLast night, the official White House Flickr feed released the official portrait of the First Family as photographed by the illustrious Annie Leibovitz. President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and even their two daughters Sasha and Malia are ubiquitous faces in worldwide media, but this shot marks the first time they have been photographed officially all together. The shoot took place September 1st in the Green Room of the White House.

Vanity Fair has more on Leibovitz, the magazine’s most notable and consistent photographer, and her past work with the Obamas:

Overnight, the White House Flickr feed posted the first official portrait of the First Family. It was taken by none other than Annie Leibovitz, whose professional relationship with the Obamas goes back to 2004, when Barack was running for the U.S. Senate. Leibovitz’s photograph of the whole family at the “Obama for Illinois” campaign headquarters in Chicago was accompanied by a caption that began, “Is this the face of a future president?” At the time, it would have been unthinkable to suggest he might become the next president.

Clearly, an awful lot has changed since then, but the bond between president and photographer has only grown. Click through for a look back at some of Leibovitz’s portraits of President Obama and his family.

See more of Leibovitz’s work with Obama here.


Soundbite: Barack Nixon Who?

Picture 12“But ignorance is epidemic on Capitol Hill and in the capital’s newsrooms, so let’s say this very simply: Nothing that Obama or any of his aides has done or said remotely resembles the war on the press waged by the Nixon White House until Watergate ended that administration’s assaults on the Constitution. Nobody has sent Joe Biden out to question the patriotism of reporters and columnists who criticize the president, as Agnew did repeatedly. And nobody has tried to intimidate the media with obscene threats and tax audits, in the Mafia style of Nixon’s aides.”

Salon’s Joe Conason on the “cosmic jest” of comparing the White House’s recent ‘war’ on Fox News to that of President Nixon’s policies against the press during his presidency.

Basically Conason thinks the only Nixonian handbook at play right now is that of Roger Ailes, and that some overzealous pundits should perhaps pick up a history book, or two (this one comes highly recommended).


Who Is Dede Scozzafava, And Why Does The Conservative Web Hate Her?

scozzafava

It isn’t often that a politician of Sarah Palin’s national clout weighs in heavily on an obscure House race, much less does so against her own party’s candidate. When Palin endorsed Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman over GOP moderate Dede Scozzafava, it was a fair question to ask: “why?” Mainstream media accounts that only touch on Scozzafava’s political beliefs are just telling part of the story.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CBS News all frame the issue in fairly broad terms. From the Times’ Caucus blog:

Mrs. Palin backed Doug Hoffman, the Conservative party nominee, in the traditionally Republican 23d district. The Republican nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, is a moderate who has broken with the G.O.P. by supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights…

…While Mrs. Palin’s endorsement could anger some New York State Republicans, it could also help the former Alaska Governor in appealing to her conservative base as she considers a presidential run in 2012.

Obviously, this is a big part of the story — but why zero in on this moderate in particular? Indeed, according to Google Trends, Scozzafava’s name has only taken off as a search term over the course of the past week:

Screen shot 2009-10-23 at 9.53.35 AM

Movement conservatives never loved Scozzafava, but until recently she was the favorite to win the race, according to CBS. Then, on October 16th, a poll showed her trailing Owens, thanks to an unexpectedly strong showing by Hoffman. Here’s the play-by-play from there:

The full-throated Scozzafava backlash began in earnest, counterintuitively enough, when Newt Gingrich endorsed her in response: that’s the “B” on the Google Trends chart. The conservative web almost immediately snapped back, with Michelle Malkin, who had repeatedly gone after Scozzafava before, leading the charge: “the NRCC is using conservatives’ money to back a radical leftist and attack a bona fide, viable conservative candidate for Congress in a safe Republican district. Gingrich has endorsed the radical leftist.”

The real kicker, though, came when a blogger for The Weekly Standard, John McCormack, persistently questioned  Scozzafava’s conservative credentials. On October 19th, Scozzafava’s campaign called the police on McCormack for hounding the candidate, allegedly shouting and making her uncomfortable after a GOP dinner. On October 20th, her campaign leaked an email exchange of theirs to TPM (which even Kos questioned, saying the emails looked reasonable).

This video has blown up across the conservative blogosphere:


On the 21st, when McCormack produced a tape recording of their exchange, the AP concluded he didn’t shout or threaten the candidate, and the political burial of Scozzafava commenced at an astonishing pace. At noon yesterday, the National Review called for her withdrawal from the race; later in the afternoon, they cited six other sites that had done the same thing, including RedState, the Washington Times, and Big Government. At 5:28, a perfect time tow work one’s way into the next day’s news cycle, Sarah Palin posted a Facebook note titled “Support Doug Hoffman,” and the rest is history.

A likely result of this hoopla, ironically, is that a Democrat may wind up taking office in what had been a solidly Republican district. To Scozzafava’s enemies, who are more ideologues than political operatives, that may not even matter at this point. The success of their concerted effort to take her down — in which, as is increasingly the case, the web played a pivotal role — would be prize enough.