by Jon Adessky*
The nearly 40°c weather is an immediate reminder that you are in the desert – the Israeli Negev, to be specific. To the foreign mind, a desert tends to be thought of as a dry, hot and lifeless region. A desert, in my mind, was a dangerous place to be and one to avoid. As I sit here reflecting upon my reaction to Beersheba’s Gav-Yam Advanced Technologies Park, Dennis Mitzner’s words resonate in my ears. He describes Beersheba as “morphing into a tech oasis”. Quite literally, I observe yet another building going up in the already booming tech park – a true desert gem. The preconception that once may have shaped my characterization of Beersheba, or of any desert town for that matter, made the experience that much more intriguing: not only does the innovative brilliance in these parts measure up to that of a powerhouse, metropolitan ecosystem, but it does so in an improbable desert environment! My present goal is to walk you through my first forty-eight hours in Gav-Yam with a focus on its unique culture – to relive the beginning of an eye-opening journey, together.
Day 1 – getting to know Yotam and the Tech7 team
I had sent a WhatsApp message to Yotam, my boss (who chooses not to label himself as such but rather, as a mentor), asking what constitutes appropriate office attire and at what time I was expected to show up. I have studied divergence in business culture as part of my undergraduate minor in international business and was therefore expecting a different workplace vibe compared to my experiences in my hometown of Montreal. However, it wasn’t until he replied saying that there was no dress code and that I could show up at any time did it crystallize that I was about to immerse myself into a very different office environment. I was up for the journey and said to myself: “sababa” (Israeli slang for yeah, cool).
When I first showed up, I arrived quite early relative to my soon-to-be colleagues (and eventual good friends). I insisted that I’d be given a target time of arrival despite Yotam’s aforementioned response – it is just not in my DNA to risk coming across as unpunctual. Interestingly, as I waited for the team to arrive, I reviewed a portion of my notes on Israeli business culture. I wanted to preemptively move past potential culture clash to culture synergy – what one might refer to as cultural learning. In so doing, I turned to Hofstede’s dimensions to identify where divergence would seemingly occur. The comparison between Israeli and Canadian national culture revealed two points especially worthy of analysis: power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Essentially, the former indicates that Israelis adhere to a less formal organizational structure and the latter, that Israelis are more expressive – they dislike uncertainty in social interactions. Taken together, these two dimensions suggest that interactions are more direct and are less limited to formal hierarchy.
Within my first hours in the park, I quickly confirmed that the cultural vibe not only matched my dimensional analysis, but seemed to push the Hofstede values to an even higher level. I had yet to see such a free and open office environment – one where both senior and junior enjoy open dialogue. Even the office design was aligned with the vibrant vibe of the people: from couches and televisions, to in-office hammocks, it took a few hours to ground myself in the fact that I was at actually at work.
While this sort of cultural composition may have its drawbacks in this context or in others, a strong positive became clear: this sort of culture is one that is conducive to innovative idea generation – a fertile cultural zone for the best startups of tomorrow. Naturally, the Beersheba ecosystem has its own characteristic elements, cultural and otherwise and it is those elements that truly captivated me.
Day 2 – SilicoNegev
Timing certainly played an interesting role in shaping my path of discovery. It was my second day and there I was, preparing for Tehc7’s final SilicoNegev event. SilicoNegev is a tech competition in which the winning team receives a five-hundred-thousand NIS investment from private players. While I did not partake in its planning (and there sure was a lot of that), I was very much a part of the grand finale, from setting up chairs to mingling with an impressive group of participants.
One would expect there to be a certain degree of distance between competing startups among themselves as well as inhibition between them and the investment community. To the Canadian passerby, it would seem as if a group of friends had gathered to celebrate some good news or special occasion. I was blown away by how much respect and support each individual seemed to have for every other individual at the event. My observations and interactions indicated that each ecosystem player, from junior developer to VC partner, believed in collaborative success. In other words, every moving part in the system acknowledged the importance of every other one in ensuring that the system operates at an optimal level of innovative productivity. If I had to sum up the overall feeling that emanated from the event in a single word, my choice would be: cohesion. Thanks to Tech7, I was able to truly characterize the Beersheba cultural vibe (or at least in the hi-tech world).
Implications of the unique culture
Being the knowledge-hungry person that I am, I decided to canvas the web to uncover the potential implications that such a unique ecosystem culture could have on its innovative productivity. I turn to a recent and fascinating report from Accenture to shed some light. First, it was found that 76% of surveyed executives believed that there exists a strong pressure to innovate. We live in an age where there is tremendous growth in areas such as IoT and other tech fields coupled with the fact that capital is more accessible than ever before. This leads to at least one conclusion: it is a very cool time to be in tech but competition is on the rise. This, in turn, leads to another conclusion: in order to optimize one’s position vis-à-vis competition, one must situate oneself in a supportive ecosystem. To this effect, Accenture found that 75% of surveyed executives acknowledged that success is driven by more each organization’s forté, but by ecosystem synergies and partner strength.
In my first 48 hours of exploring Gav-Yam’s work reality, it became clear that while the ecosystem is still young, it is certainly one that will produce brilliant innovations. If the two aforementioned stats are at least somewhat telling (which is likely the case, given its reputable source), ecosystems like the one in Beersheba, those characterized by togetherness, are the ones that will disrupt and make for a better tomorrow. In this short piece, my focus was on the park’s vibrant culture. The reason being that it immediate caught my attention. However, over the weeks to come, I plan to uncover other secret ingredients to this park’s magic – a true oasis of innovation.
* Jon Adessky Jon Adessky is a student at McGill University, Montreal. He spent 2 months in Israel in the spring of 2017 through Onward Israel and worked with Tech7 and CDI Negev. This is his 1st in a series posts giving his insight into hi-tech scene in Beer-Sheva.