Israel is one of the hottest start-up destinations on the planet. Milo Yiannopoulos reports from the ICErael entrepreneurs’ retreat in the country’s capital, Tel Aviv.
It’s a weird mix, those hideous sixties council estate blocks – most of which are actually expensive hotels – and the idyllic perfection of silky, sandy beaches and the deep aquamarine sea.
Conflict and contradiction run deep in this precious jewel, which sits, heavy-set, in a crown of thorns. Israel is confronted on all sides by oppressive, otherworldly hostility.
Yet the country, which is often described as the quintessential start-up state (there’s a book), exudes confidence and even joy. Those who would see it pushed into the sea look on as its entrepreneurs produce grand designs.
Capital flows freely here, and the country’s entrepreneurial sparkle and social landscape, illustrated by the presence of a DLD offshoot and the enthusiasm of the Government for enterprise, is invigorating.
I’ve been here for five days, exploring and networking with the ICE group of entrepreneurs, of which I am a long-standing member. The itinerary has been remarkable.
The group has enjoyed a private meeting with Shimon Peres, one of the most extraordinary men alive, and attended a cocktail party at the British Ambassador to Tel Aviv’s residence as guests of honour.
(Less said about the Ambassador himself the better.)
Then there are the social opportunities, put together by friends and local hotshots like Ayelet Noff – known locally as “Blonde 2.0″ – which help to galvanise internal connections in the group.
That sometimes means Jägermeister and fancy dress.
More often it means early morning coach rides and hikes to see the sun rise at Masada, mass floatations in the Dead Sea, and emotional sojourns through Jerusalem.
Of course, there’s a Microsoft research and development lab and the odd data centre to remind the young bucks of their purpose.
This is a remarkable country, and the group sees it in the best way possible: as part of a riotous but trusted circle of wannabe movers and shakers who work and play with equal commitment.
Friendships are forged, or solidified. Deals are floated. Coverage is secured.
Congruent with most invitation-only communities, ICE enforces fairly strict requirements on journalists fortunate enough to join the party.
But what I can tell you is that “networking group” doesn’t really cover the almost preternatural familial bonds between these entrepreneurs, investors and “ecosystem players” (a catch-all for “the rest of us”).
At the head of the family sit Microsoft BizSpark’s Bindi Karia and angel investor Alex Hoye. Beneath them, there’s a praetorian guard of the likes of Joshua March from Conversocial and Andrew J Scott.
Then there are the rest of us, who lazily but gratefully benefit from their logistical prowess, nowhere more valuable than in this sweltering paradise of silicon Semites.
Israel’s digital Renaissance will come, gilded by its deep and excellent connections with friends in the UK and America.
When it does, those entrepreneurs, investors and well-wishers who’ve been lucky enough to peek inside the box will be best placed to take advantage.
ICErael showed the right way to interface with the public sector: at arm’s length. UKTI was permitted to pick up some of the tab but not dictate the schedule.
The well-meaning but mildly hapless Ambassador showed why the private sector does this sort of networking retreat best. Frantic, furious and hungry.
Just like the entrepreneurs, who will, I think, in a few years come to see the true value of this trade mission in disguise.