What’s China Strategy for Start-Up Nation?

The Israeli high-tech entrepreneurial eco-system, known these days as “start-up nation,” is over 25 years old, and I have been an active participant for 20 years, as entrepreneur, investor, mentor, board member, and commentator.

Since I have an American passport (in addition to my Israeli one) I have long been seen as someone who could help bridge between Israel and the U.S. As an industry we in general have been USA focused — both because of the longstanding ties between the U.S. and Israel, and because for the past 30 years America, and in particular Silicon Valley, have dominated tech innovation, especially anything to do with the Internet. 20 years ago if you were fluent in English you were pushed into marketing and sales roles. Often you were the only person in the company with passable English skills. These days all active participants in the ecosystem in Israel are fluent in English, and many accelerator programs are run primarily in English.

These days, however, I would be better served by a Chinese passport and fluency in Chinese.

Every week there at least 2–3 formal delegations of Chinese business people in Israel. Informally much more. Over the past 18 months there have been large conferences in China and Israel devoted to Israel/China cooperation on all levels of technology development.

Yet to most Israeli entrepreneurs, China remains at best a vague concept.

My first time in Beijing was last January, and I was blown away by the place. Not at all what I expected. From my hotel room saw top brands such as Tiffany, Christian Dior, Hugo Boss, with large flagship store. In the mall below my hotel many many more (and an indoor ice skating rink!). I was prepared to see that in Dubai, but not in Beijing.

The language and culture gaps are very real. In 2016 we need to get our game on and take China seriously — which means getting to a level of familairity approaching that of US. And we (including me) are far from that.

I don’t have any answer or plan, but I know that we need one.

The days of focusing only on Silicon Valley or the US market are coming to and end. We have talked globilization for many years but for most high-tech start-ups in Israel that really meant the US. Both in terms of a market, source for financing, and exit opportunities.

In 2016 I opened my eyes to China, in 2017 I hope to actually engage.

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Jacob Ner-David

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