EdTech in Israel: Experts Share the Transformation of Israel into “Startup Nation”

Today, we’re looking back at the second annual Israel EdTech Summit in Tel Aviv. Co-hosted by EdTech Israel and East Wind Advisors in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, this event is designed to pull innovators and educators from around the world, to the capital of what many are calling “the startup nation.”

Dr. Yaki Dayan is founder and CEO of EdTech Israel, a national business hub that connects the Israeli edtech community with international entrepreneurs, investors, and business partners. He says part of the goal of this summit is to expand an ecosystem for startups and edtech companies to flourish. Of course, this includes an increase in edtech investment. In 2016, for example, Israeli businesses saw a record 16 billion dollars worth of investment just from China, a nearly tenfold increase.

“For us, the success would also be a double bottom line,” says Dayan. “On the financial aspect, we want to go from the 70 million it is today to a quarter of a billion dollars by 2025. That’s our vision.”

But the focus of EdTech Israel and of the summit is not just about investment.

“On the impact side, we know that if we’re going to achieve this goal of having so many startups and edtech companies that are flourishing and are successful, it will have a visible and immediate impact on Israeli society and the education system, and the way we bring our kids into the 21st century. So that’s the double bottom line of our activity.”

Udi Miron, founder and CEO of Ananey Communications, says Israel is a unique location for such a summit.

“I think that Israel is a society that consists of early adopters,” says Miron. “As such, it is very easy to apply in our society new technologies, because the likelihood of adopting it are much higher here.”

“In a way, you know, we are the startup nation.”

Roni Zahavi, CEO of CyberSpark, agrees.

“The Israeli culture is very much based on innovation, on the fact that failure is allowed. Not only is it allowed, but it is encouraged sometimes from the young age, because it enables you to get adapted to the reality and it’s a good thing to be resilient to failure.”

The human capital in Israel also makes it a desirable place to launch a startup. Rami Shaked—the former head of the Israeli Defense Forces’ IT and Cyber Defense Academy—says a reason for this, is the training given to new IDF recruits—which nearly all Israeli citizens are called to serve.

“One of the major ideas is that we don’t actually recruit people that have previous knowledge of cyber, or previous knowledge of IT. We take people who have the ability to be the best cyber soldier in the future, or the best computer science engineer,” says Shaked.

But this summit was not just about showcasing the best of Israeli EdTech—the summit was also about pulling together the best minds to tackle existing challenges. Saul Singer, author of Start-Up Nation, says different education models from other countries can be inspirational.

“I think there’s a lot of interesting models in other countries,” says Singer.

“I think one of the very important things about this conference is that you have people from many different countries. I travel around the world and see a lot of different models. So I think there is a lot to bring to Israel, and a lot that Israel can bring to other countries as well.”

One point of interest for many startups at the summit: Capital. And investors are a key part of the guest list. Joshua Schwartz is the founder of East Wind Advisors — one of the sponsors of the summit. He says his investment firm has been putting money towards educational business opportunities for the last 15 years.

“It’s a large market to begin with,” says Schwartz. “What’s really growing is the for-profit part of that industry, which represents the kind of clients that we could serve. So there’s a great business opportunity.”

Yet although investment banking is typically associated with a focus on returns and gains, Schwartz finds the edtech space more philanthropically focused.

“Most of the companies that we work with are engaged in trying to impact things like literacy, proficiency, and numeracy, and closing the skills gap, and producing enjoyment for elder citizens. So we and a lot of people use this term [for-profit], but we have an opportunity to do well and do good at the same time.”

Lewis Bernstein has worked for Sesame Workshop for decades in a number of roles—most notably as Vice President of Global Productions. In this role, he led the development of international productions of Sesame Street—including the Israeli and Palestinian renditions of the show, Shalom Sesame and Sha’ra Simsim.

Bernstein says even with the latest technology and sufficient funding, it’s important to have a vision.

“The challenge is to say ‘What do I really want to deliver?’ Do I want to deliver something in terms of Israeli and Palestinians learning about each other?'” says Bernstein.

“We can use virtual technology to cross boundaries. We can find ways for people to mentor each other, meet each other. It’s a question of imagination. And you know you need to think about the reach, even if your grasp isn’t that great.”

Bernstein focuses on the vision as being the most important part of innovation. He says that once an entrepreneur or organization has the vision, everything else can fall into place with the help of technological tools.

“Think about the possibilities of how far you can reach. And once people do that, technology can be a tool to serve that vision. And that’s the challenge. Have the vision.”

While there may be many different visions for Israeli edtech entrepreneurs, the annual Israel EdTech Summit brought them all together. This year saw 730 attendees from 15 different countries.

Read more about EdTech in Israel:

A Unique Training Path for Startups in Israel: Interview with Former IDF Cyber Defense Trainer Rami Shaked

If We Build It, Will They Come? Sesame Street’s Lewis Bernstein Talks EdTech Startups, Audience Development

Investing in Israel: Interview with East Wind Advisors Founder Joshua Schwartz

What to Expect at the Israel EdTech Summit: The Global Hub’s Featured Panels and Speakers

Kassandra Sundt

Kassandra Sundt

An Army Brat born in Canada, Kassandra got her start reporting and producing at Emerson College's WERS 88.9 FM, and later at WBUR 90.9, both in local Newscast and Radio Boston. When she's not writing about education, she's covering local Boston news and sports. Often, she can be found playing roller derby or knitting.