Tel Aviv and Miami aren’t all that different. They’re known worldwide for their clubs, their parties, their beaches, and the skimpy bikinis worn on those beaches.
But while Tel Aviv is perhaps the most successful startup ecosystem after Silicon Valley — earning the nickname Startup Nation from a wildly popular book — Miami is still trying to figure that path out.
So tomorrow about 20 Israeli tech companies will converge at Miami-Dade College’s Idea Center for the first Startup Nation conference, sponsored by the Knight Foundation. The goal is to build connections between Israeli entrepreneurs and their Miami peers and help our entrepreneurship capacity grow.
Oren Simanian, the Israeli organizer of the conference, is also the founder of the Tel Aviv University Entrepreneurship Center and director of TALVentures, the university’s innovation authority. We spoke with him about the keys to Israel’s success and what he sees in Miami’s future.
This article has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What are the keys to Tel Aviv’s success?
Tel Aviv has a very diverse tech scene. You can find almost every spoken language in Tel Aviv, French, Ethiopian, Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, English with a US accent, English with a British accent, English with a Scottish accent. You can find everything in Tel Aviv. My mother is from Iran, my father is from Libya, my wife is from Poland. Imagine what my son looks like.
When you have a disruptive mix, you have disruptive thinking.
[There’s also the army experience – Israel has a mandatory draft for both genders]. The army experience brings two things. The first thing is leadership and then there are special tech units.You gain the ability to learn new skills and take them to civilian life.
Why does diversity matter in the tech scene?
When the culture is the same, they think the same. You need someone to move the box. If you all think the same way, no one is going to be disruptive.
When you have a diverse community each person brings his own unique barriers. It allows people to challenge people. If you all do the same, think the same, you’re not going to get to a better place.
What qualities are present in Miami that you saw in Tel Aviv?
First of all when talking about successful ecosystem, you have to be able to work hard, play hard. You have to be able to work hard, develop, meet, talk, sit in front of the computer… and when you’re getting kind of exhausted, at the end of the day, you have to charge your batteries.
In Miami, like in Tel Aviv, you can charge your batteries, you can sit on the beach, you can party… you can actually get a taste of life here, like in Tel Aviv.
And Miami is so diverse. Every other Uber, taxi I get here, I have the casual taxi driver conversation, you know, “where are you from?” [The answer is always] “I’m from India,” “I’m from Cuba,” always it’s “I’m from some other place.”
That’s a common question in Israel. You always find people with new stories, with new backgrounds.
Do you see potential in Miami?
If I have to choose a metaphor, Miami is like an 18-year-old guy that has youth, has power, looks good, and he wants to be a serial entrepreneur and he needs to find his way. He’s got good parents to invest in him, good education, a good attitude, but now he has to choose his way. Is he going to hang at the beach, is he going to get a career, or is he going to be an entrepreneur?
He’s willing to take the risk and pay the social price. It’s not that easy, but he’s willing to give up the good to try and be excellent, to fail and to fail again and then be excellent.
So has Miami decided yet which of those paths it will take?
I think it is still debating, but it’s willing to take the risk. The outcome depends on his parents, the institutions, the government, the private sector, the academic institutions — if they give the support he will grow.
You can’t expect these 18-year-old guys to make all the right decisions. We have to be tolerant of failure, you have to be patient to support it.
Will Miami ultimately succeed?
I’m optimistic. It’s not New York, it’s not Boston, it’s not San Francisco, Silicon Valley, but we don’t need to be the first and most advanced in everything, there is always the room to choose what we’re good at.
You have to choose the unique selling proposition of the market, analyze it, and adopt it. Miami has a lot of things that are special to Miami: tourism, health, cybersecurity, and that’s enough. Focus on one of them and you’re booming. We are actually talking to a startup cybersecurity firm here in Miami. People are asking more and more how to invest and how to get involved. We’re looking for the right partners here in Miami, trying to find the right initiatives and setups to support on the field of cybersecurity.