Participants spent four days straddling Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hearing from Israeli and international speakers, and examining the business models of entrepreneurs in “the startup nation.”
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
(JNS) Randall Lane, editor of Forbes magazine, said it loud and clear: “Bringing the entire world together in one place is something I always wanted to do. Israel has been a global crossroads of culture, religion and commerce, so I figured it was the natural spot to make it happen.”
To that end, some 700 of the world’s most influential young entrepreneurs from 38 countries converged on Israel last week for the first-ever “Forbes Under 30 Global Summit.”
“Israel is a young country that is known as ‘the startup nation,’ so it is the perfect home,” Lane told JNS.
Participants spent four days straddling Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hearing from Israeli and international speakers. The conference opened at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, where women participants rung the bell to open the financial markets.
“Seeing the women on the podium, that was a really exciting message,” said Lane. “It showcased the people we have to and want to accelerate.”
On May 7, they heard a keynote address from Dr. Ruth Westheimer, arguably the world’s most well-known sex educator. She is also a veteran of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, having joined the Haganah as a teenager after moving to British Mandate Palestine from her native Germany. The 89-year-old shared how she helped start a country – she was trained as a scout and sniper – and then went about trying to revolutionize how people talk about sex and relationships.
Later, former NBA All-Star and serial entrepreneur Amar’e Stoudemire, together with David Fialkow, co-founder of General Catalyst, talked about the next steps for attendees who “made it” at such a young age. Their message was what career professionals do today does not define what they do tomorrow.
The group also heard from the father of Israeli high-tech Yossi Vardi and Waze founder Uri Levine, who spoke together with supermodel Bar Refaeli about how she made the pivot from fashion to fashion entrepreneur.
“Under 30s are just driven to succeed,” said Lane. “They want real change, and they know that entrepreneurship is one of the best ways to make it happen.”
A highlight was what Forbes calls the “Legendary Shuk Food and Bar Crawl,” where participants took over the Machane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, and the spice and produce stalls were turned into a dance club of sorts. The magazine arranged for Solomon Souza, Israeli muralist and U.S. artist, to paint a portrait of B.C. Forbes in the shuk. Participants painted a quote by his mural that says, “It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the spring, who reaps a harvest in the autumn.”
Lane noted that the last day of the program, however, offered participants a chance to give back to Israel.
They took part in simultaneous pitch competitions at Jerusalem Venture Partners in Jerusalem and the Palestinian tech capital, Rawabi, where local startups worked with the “Under 30s” to hone in on their messaging and solidify their “go to” market strategies. After about two hours, they presented their pitches to the team. The winner gets to present their startup at the first-ever “Under 30 Summit Europe” in Amsterdam later this year.
“Too many events come to a country, do their thing and leave,” said Lane. “We want to leave our host country better for being here.”
‘The networking is amazing’
Erel Margalit, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, spent the day with the group and offered advice about numerous topics. He told JNS that what he is looking for in a young entrepreneur is passion, new ideas and the ability to work with others. He also mentioned that today’s entrepreneur needs to be open to change.
“Every business category is changing,” said Margalit. “Insurance, retail, the hotel business, mobility, artificial intelligence, health care, food-tech – there are new industries and evolving industries. The pyramid is flipping on its head, and people need to show that they can flip with it. Those are the people who will run great companies.”
Of course, the people at this summit have already made it in some way.
“If you look around, you are going to see three future billionaires, a future prime minister of some country – these people are the future,” said Lane.
Luke Massie from the United Kingdom said meeting the people was the most exciting part.
“People are trying to find answers to the most intractable questions and challenges,” Massie told JNS. “Back home, a lot of people complain and leave it at that. Not here. These people highlight and challenge, and try to come up with a number of different answers.”
Israeli participant Orel Hershkovitz said “the networking is amazing. Each one of these people brings something good to the table, and you can learn from him, share your own experiences and share connections.”
The summit was also an opportunity to showcase the best of Israel. Massie, for example, said he was struck by Tel Aviv’s diversity. “Reading media, I would have expected a completely different experience,” he said. “This place is really cool.”
Julius Bachmann from Germany said Jerusalem surprised him in that “it is a cultural, old town, but it is really far ahead” of its time.
Even Andrew Maximo, a Jewish entrepreneur from Los Angeles who has been to Israel as a tourist many times, said the trip expanded his horizons.
“The business side of Israel is a different side,” he said. “Seeing such a vibrant, thriving ecosystem with creative ideas and companies that have not been afraid to take creative risks – it is exciting.”
Margalit said Israeli startups tend to be international from the get-go because the local marketplace is so small. As such, a summit likes this one opens young Israeli entrepreneurs to new opportunities to mesh their own culture and ideas with those of people from other countries.
When he founded Jerusalem Venture Partners 20 years ago, there were few high-tech jobs in Jerusalem, and young people were leaving the city in droves. Today, more than 20,000 people work in Jerusalem tech – and the prospects only seem to be growing.
“It is a city that has a history, but it needed a new narrative,” acknowledged Margalit. “If innovation can change a city, it can change a county, and it can be a bridge between countries in the region and, ultimately, the world.”