Entrepeneurial lessons for job-hunters
Episode 73 - What we can learn and do now to prevent a future global crisis - featuring Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem builder Amir Eldad
Israel is the leading country in rolling out the covid-19 vaccine to its people. The rest of the world, especially policymakers and strategists, are watching closely, hoping to learn from Israel's success and mistakes.
Will our careers and professional opportunities be back to normal once we all get vaccinated? I invited my friend Amir Eldad for a chat to provide us with an insight into what is happening in Israel.
Amir is based in Israel and has lived in Europe and the US. He's a consultant and an expert in entrepreneurialism, more specifically in designing and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems. So, of course, I took the opportunity to discuss with him how an entrepreneurial culture and mindset can help solve future crises and create a more sustainable future. Can corporate professionals become more innovative and agile?
Israel and the Covid-19 vaccine rollover
Israel's vaccine rollout is the fastest globally and is close to completion, with the highest vaccination rate per capita. I asked Amir what made Israel's vaccine rollout so successful and quick, and he broke it down into three main reasons:
Israel made it a top priority: Israel's prime minister did a great job ensuring Israel has that vaccine. They had an attitude of doing whatever you have to do to make sure they have the vaccine.
The country has a history and culture to set itself in a survival mode quickly: Due to Israel's history, survival mode is deeply embedded in its culture. And a sense of survival implies that you do what you have to do to survive. So, when the pandemic hit, the country as a whole treated it as a threat.
They had in place a strong healthcare foundation. - Israel has a solid public health structure. Unlike countries like the US, where you have to be employed to get health insurance, in Israel, everyone is insured, and it's progressive according to your salary. So if you are unemployed, you pay practically nominal fees to get health insurance. Israel is also relatively centralized in terms of medical records. Once the vaccines were available, this strong healthcare structure was mobilized quickly, with efficient logistics and the capability to roll out initial and ongoing vaccination campaigns.
Israel: The Startup Country
The country has invested heavily in supporting startups, and innovation since establishing the Yozma program was in the 1980s. This venture capital fund boosted early-stage, high-potential and high-risk startups. According to Amir, there are over six thousand startups in Israel at any given time. This, in turn, attracts multinational corporations to establish themselves in the country and pursue R&D in Israel.
The establishment of multinationals in Israel has also been the outcome of Israelis' global mobility. They studied and worked overseas and opened subsidiaries of their employers in Israel when they wanted to return home. This can activate and enable connections: the one degree of separation that makes connections between inventors, mentors, investors, and partners a much easier pursuit.
The outcome is then a heavily concentrated precinct where many inventions, innovations, and research activity happening that the system "feeds itself." And that's when you know it is an innovation ecosystem.
What we can learn more from entrepreneurs
I first met Amir Eldad in 2017. I was the second hire of the then-brand-new Enterprise Portfolio, created by Monash University to enhance and develop new and existing industry partnerships across the University. Amir was already a consultant working with some of the University's departments and institutes. His expertise lies in supporting corporations, governments, and universities in developing "internationally connected entrepreneurial ecosystems." This grouping of words may be new to you, but it makes sense: if you reread it, it is certainly more precise than saying he is an "innovation" consultant. The "Innovation" word gets thrown around so much that we are forever chasing it without a clear strategy. Well, let me tell you: Amir has a strategy, and people should listen.
"You build a coalition that includes large corporations, startups, investors, universities, and the right government interventions, and you have your entrepreneurial ecosystem." According to Amir, by adopting this stakeholder model to support innovation, you are very likely to achieve economic growth, create high-value products and services that would, in Australia's case, decrease our over-reliance in the mining and resources sector.
Amir and I bonded over our passion for entrepreneurialism and our intellectual interest in innovation. We believe in cultural interventions. Over many years we have seen and experienced how strategic plans without a high degree of care and cultivation of the right culture can hinder strategies developed by leaders with good intentions.
Sometimes a narrow focus on technology innovation that does not consider the ecosystem that sustains it can even make the expensive strategy move the organization backward. It's a disaster when an ecosystem approach is not taken seriously.
5 Pillars of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem:
Every activity that you do and every program that you create has to include the following five elements:
The entrepreneurs: startups and the supporting accelerator/incubators
Risk capital and investors
Universities and research institutions
The government, and
2 Types of Impact of an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Program:
Regular impact: a maintenance activity, supporting entrepreneurs, providing funding and training.
Hight impact: when the program changes the zero-sum game and can put the ecosystem to the next higher level without dropping down when the program or intervention stops.
What is a Corporate Entrepreneurial Ecosystem?
Amir has taken this model and implemented thriving innovation ecosystems for clients like large multinational corporations, universities, and governments. This helps them link their entrepreneurial spread worldwide. It also helps develop the organization's culture and supportive environment: "it's like implementing a startup mentality in-house," he says. The necessary ingredients are critical mass, momentum, and focus on achieving economic development, not innovation for innovation's sake. And most importantly for Australia, it is essential to seek international connectivity, and being part of the global conversation about your area of R&D is crucial."
The two types of people an organization should have to enable a thriving entrepreneurial culture
From Amir's experience, innovation and culture go hand in hand: "Everyone talks about innovation and entrepreneurship and things being done in large organizations, but a large organization is a big ship. You need a lot of power to change direction. It has a lot to do with organizational culture, and it's a real effort trying to change them, but you have to start somewhere." And to do so, you need to make sure that there are two right people in the organization.
The Leader: He or she needs to have a proper vision and recognize the need to change the direction towards innovation. They might not know how to do it, the appropriate practice, or the correct KPI and quantitative measures, but innovation has to be deep in their heart and soul for the change to work. The willingness to take a bottom-up approach and empowerment teams has to come from the top.
The Champion: the Champion should be a senior executive, but not the top person. The best champions are at the senior executive level, helping drive and influence decision-making, and highly passionate. Unlike the Leader, they are experts and know what they're talking about. They know what it takes to drive innovation in their organization. They can differentiate between good programs and destructive programs. They are the ones that take a risk within the organization to drive innovation and entrepreneurship. They also do all they can and more to lead that change, with the Leader's outstanding support.
About our guest, Amir Eldad
Amir is a globally recognized Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builder. Throughout the first part of his career, Amir led Global Go-to-Market for Israeli startups that aspired for global leadership while bridging the multinational cultural gap. His extensive experience led to his role as Director of Global Partnerships of MassChallenge, co-founding MassChallenge Israel, pivotal in establishing the new MassChallenge Switzerland hub, and leading a high-impact partnership between partnerships the City of Boston, MassChallenge Boston, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lyon, France.
Co-located in Israel and Boston, MA, Amir, leverages his strengths in the entrepreneurial communities in Israel, Boston, France, Switzerland, Melbourne (Australia), and other locations to help his clients achieve their growth objectives through internationally-connected entrepreneurial ecosystems. Amir is a regular speaker in global conferences such as the annual Global Technology Leadership Dialogue (Melbourne, Aug-2019) and the annual EBN European Innovation Hubs conference (Rome, Oct-2019). Connect with Amir: Amir's LinkedIn
Amir and I concluded our conversation by merging the pandemic and innovation conversations, identifying ways to better manage future global crises by activating an entrepreneurial mentality and ecosystem to tackle future international challenges.
There's much we can learn from entrepreneurs. Professionals with an entrepreneurial mindset may have a career advantage in the corporate sector and bring some of the learnings to enable agile operations and flexible working and building companies.
I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation and that it inspires your career.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Timestamps to guide your listening
08.40 - Difference between startup and scale-up?
11.50 - Amir explains how Israel is vaccinating the entire country, and he shares his experience living there and experiencing the vaccine rollout on the ground.
20.15 - What's different now that such a large proportion of the country has been vaccinated?
22.56 - Israel is a country of startups and a breeding incubator for many innovations. How has it been operating under this pandemic environment?
26.52 - Welfare system in Israel.
29.50 - Amir's expertise, what does it means to be an expert in entrepreneurial ecosystems?
39.39 - What would be the first step for an organization and the decision-maker to start working in that way?
45.02 - How can we develop better future responses using skills you have learned in terms of global connectivity, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and these pillars that are the foundation of that?
55.12 - Amir is confronted with the opposite reaction where companies or governments feel like they're always in competition and are reluctant to take up an alliance.
57.29 - Renata's out-of-the-box analogy.
Transcript of this episode
Renata: My guest for this episode is Amir Eldad, a globally recognized entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. Throughout the first part of his career, Amir worked in a range of digital electronics manufacturers in Europe and then in the US. And his work is aligned with the growth of digital electronics, computer network products, and network management solutions worldwide. Some of the startups that Amir has worked for had grown exponentially and were acquired for bigger and larger organizations throughout the decades, since the ’80s, up until the 2000’s when he was working already in Boston.
Renata: And that's what led Amir to have a very interesting role at MassChallenge. He was a director of global partnerships and MassChallenge for those of you who are not familiar is a global zero equity startup accelerator founded in Boston but now has other touchpoints around the world. And just to give you an idea of the size of this accelerator, as of 2019, it had accelerated more than 1900 startups and raised more than 4.3 billion US dollars in funding, which then generated $2.5 billion in revenue. So it's a very well-known accelerator, and he had a very interesting role, right from the beginning, the foundation of MassChallenge back in 2009, when it was founded. When I met Amir before COVID, he was definitely, in a jet-setting lifestyle and traveling the world, visiting his clients. And that's how we met when he was down here in Melbourne, having conversations with the state government or, my former employer, Monash University, for example. But now, because of COVID, he has bunkered down in his home country of Israel. And that's when I decided to give him a call, as I was really curious to know if he could give us an insight on what it looks like to have most of your country's population already vaccinated against COVID 19. Israel has really outperformed other countries and rolled out the Pfizer vaccine in a very fast and efficient fashion.
Renata: At the beginning of our conversation, he describes how Israel's history and culture have contributed to this efficiency in the rollout of the vaccine and made it such a great priority. And also how the foundations in the country, especially the healthcare structure, have really supported the efficient rollout and the logistical rollout of the vaccination. However, my chat with Amir left me still questioning what the vaccination will actually do to the world and what the world will look like after we have most of our population vaccinated against COVID 19. It seems like there could be more that we could do and more that Israel could do. And it hasn't really yet hit the ground, in Israel, the policies and the forward-thinking and strategies that I thought I would hear from Amir, but that's not to say it's not being developed as we speak, because as we know in this sort of crisis, things are changing every single day if not every minute.
Renata: It would also be a wasted opportunity if I didn't take the opportunity of having this chat with Amir to discuss the concept of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is Amir's expertise, and how potentially adopting an entrepreneurial ecosystem or an entrepreneurial mindset could be a great strategy that can help communities work towards the reconstruction of economies and businesses following the pandemic and work more efficiently to get ourselves out of future crisis when we encountered those. So I hope you enjoy our conversation, and I will touch base with you towards the end as well.
Renata: It has to be the fancy microphone, not the dodgy one.
Amir: Yeah. And how, how is my voice quality, okay?
Renata: Your voice quality is great, and you have this very awesome Australian ear. What are they called ear pods? No, they're not called.
Amir: No, it's actually a two wireless headset or headphones or whatever it is. It's, it's like air pods, but it has the capability of augmented hearing. So it's, let's say it's, air pods on steroids with augmented hearing capabilities.
Renata: My husband, unfortunately, well, I actually quite liked this. He gave me these Jabra ones, but they are not like yours. I wanted yours. I should have asked him for this specific brand. And I, I, when you emailed me to say, I'm going to use mine, and you mentioned something about it not being a startup, it was a scale-up. Yeah. What's the difference between a start-up and a scale-up? Explain to me.
Amir: It's probably coming from the meta stage. So a startup, as I think Steve Blank says, is an organization in a continuous search for a repeatable and sustainable business model. That's one of, I think, great definitions of a startup, and this is typically an early stage, like if I measure it in financing grounds or kind of seed-stage, round day, and so forth. Now, New Hera, I don't know their numbers because they are a private company, but they are selling in Australia in the US, and other countries. They have multiple versions of the product. It's a combination of a hardware product and application, and everything was working fine, actually. Great. So this came up, which means that now their job is not to find a repeatable business model, but how to grow and how to manage the right business model, how to find the right profitability, distribution and sales channels, everything that's connected and related to scaling.
Renata: Yes. I'm going to add a link to the episode show notes in case anybody is interested. Anybody listening is interested in this very nice headset that you have because it's quite good it has very good sound, microphone. And if it amplifies the hearing as you get older, that's what you want. I definitely need it. How have you been?
Amir: Okay. I think it's a difficult, difficult and interesting situation. So at the micro-level, myself, my family, everything is great. But, I think it's probably, for forever since I remember myself, I am more concerned about the macro issues than the micro issues. And the reason is, I tend to think that I have control over the micro issues. And typically, things that I don't have control of are macro issues. So, why get worried because you cannot influence it too much, but now it's so devastating. Not, not actually, not so much even the pandemic, but the pandemic and the way it's being managed, in many countries, including Israel. and they connected with the issues of, to some extent, the fade of democracy, as we know it, this is a little bit worrisome but other than that, I keep smiling and doing very well. Family, friends are fine. Work is great. And, yeah, everything is great.
Renata: So let's create two different tables here, on what's working in Israel and what's not working in Israel in terms of managing the pandemic. So people looking from outside in and seeing how the rollover of the vaccines in Israel is going gangbusters really is making a lot of people very jealous. So, we look at Israel, and the reason why I wanted to speak to you today is because I wanted to see how the very quick and speedy rollover of the vaccines can boost confidence in the market, boost a sense of normality, or coming back to normal in the market so that when it starts rolling out in other countries like Australia, we may look at Israel now and say, ‘Oh, okay, we should expect to see this because that's what we see in Israel.’ But you're also saying some of it is not so rosy. So I want you to tell me the pros and cons of what's going on.
Amir: Okay. I'm not sure about the pros and cons, but definitely, I can provide good insight, but it's an opinionated insight. So take it with a grain of salt. So yes, from a quantitative perspective, Israel is definitely number one in the world in the percentage of the population, which is getting vaccinated. So Israel is, I think, about 9 million people. And, I just checked this morning. Probably about 5 million people are already vaccinated. I mean, the first charts about, maybe three and a half to 4 million, the second charts, but it just a matter of time. So ultimately, people who are vaccinated are 5 million people out of a population of 9 million, but this inclination includes a lot of children under the age of 16, which at this stage are not targeted for vaccination. So, the eligible, or I would say population over the age of 16, the percentage of being vaccinated, I estimate it, they are not exact numbers, but it's probably about 80 to 85% of the population, which is great any way you look at it.
Amir: Now, why is this happening? And here comes my opinionated perspective, but I think it's not actually quite objective. First one is that the government prime minister did a great job of just making sure that Israel has that vaccine. And, I'm not saying they stole, I mean, they had a great agreement, but the attitude is beg steal, borrow, whatever, do whatever you have to do, in order to make sure you have the vaccine. So they put it as a first priority. I'm not hinting at all that. Something was illegal, but the attitudes of just making sure it's happening, and they signed the right agreement with Pfizer and Moderna and all the others, was trying to make an in-house vaccine in Israel, which probably would not take place. So again, it was the number one priority. And that's, I think, the first reason why Israel is leading.
Amir: The second thing which actually supported the first reason is the survival mode of Israel, and that's deep in the culture. So, Israel is, has been all the time an isolated country, with all the borders are just with enemies. There was no single border with friends. I mean, that has changed over time with the peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan. But still, there were a lot of hostile entities around the border. So in the culture, it's a sense of survival. And a sense of survival implies that you do what you have to do in order to survive. So now, of course, when the pandemic hit, it's easy to say that this is an issue of survival. And, so I think this is the second reason which contributed to our government putting it in the first priority.
Amir: The third reason is even though politicians tend to take credit for everything they can, this is actually not related to the existing government, and this relates to the national health law, which was created in Israel, I think about probably 20 years ago. And Israel has an outstanding public health structure. There are a few in the US language I would probably call them HMO. So, and there are probably four or five HMOs, that cover 98% of the population in Israel. And, unlike the US, where you have to be employed in order to get health insurance, otherwise, you have to pay a few thousand per month per family, in Israel, everyone is insured, and it's progressive according to your salary. So if you are unemployed, you pay practically nominal fees to get health insurance.
Amir: In addition to that, Israel is quite centralized in terms of medical records. It’s very easy today with all the HMO websites or very good mobile applications, just to get access to everything. And, it's a bit kind of, on account of privacy, but not to a great extent, but the medical record is available, and everything is existing over there. Now for the moment, it was, I mean, the government and everyone was aware that we have, we're going to have a supply of vaccines, then those HMO's got organized in an extremely quick timeframe and made sure that they had the logistic and the structure and the capability to roll up initial vaccine operations. And this has been going extremely well. Not related to government activity, just related to the fact that this structure exists.
Amir: So I think the combination of those three reasons created the effect that Israel is a leading country in the world in terms of people getting vaccinated. Well, that's the first part of the equation. Now, the second part is what the hell do you do with it? And that's where, of course, I'm from an Israeli region, and I love my country and so forth, but Israel has done probably every possible mistake in managing the situation and taking real advantage of the fact that a high percentage of the population is being vaccinated.
Renata: Yes. Okay. And, now you have been vaccinated?
Amir: Yes. It's been like probably a month or month and a half that I’m vaccinated.
Renata: And that was the Pfizer vaccine?
Amir: That was the Pfizer. Two jabs of the Pfizer vaccine.
Renata: And you felt well? Are you feeling fine now? No problems, no reactions?
Amir: I didn't have any side effects, but that's only one center. My wife, just a little small irritation for two days, but nothing more than that. And as far as I could hear, for people around us and reading the papers and so forth, no real side effect has been reported.
Renata: Okay. And since then, now that so many people and a high percentage of the population in Israel have been vaccinated, have you felt a difference in how people are going about their working lives, their plans? What has changed since then?
Amir: I think it's too early to call, but I think from an individual perspective, there is a little bit more of a relaxed feeling. If before that, you have to, to wear masks like all of the time. But then we're talking about Israelis, which are not all the time following the rules, and that is the general population. There are a few sectors which are defining the rules, bit tight, but anyway, let's talk about the general population, who more or less kind of put the mask and behave as expected. Now it’s a little bit more relaxed. And, so I think that's from an individual perspective and from the organizational perspective. In Israel, the problem is that there is no professional task force that is managing the situation. It’s practically managed by the government.
Amir: And there is the Corona cabinet, headed by the prime minister and the few ministers. And, it is bad as it sounds because it's a political organization, it's not a professional task force, and they sit for hours, and they shout at each other and, pressure here and pressure there, and, specific sectors who are represented by some politicians are pushing this direction then to the other directions and decisions are taken overnight without any preparation. There's no structured plan, so it's very difficult for individuals to get organized. I mean, okay, so are they opening the school? Nobody knows. They're supposed to open on Sunday, but then it's only Saturday night. We'll know if this is indeed the formal decision that was taken, but this has been a fun anecdote. So it's really poorly managed. I'm sorry to say so, but it's really very poorly managed.
Renata: Israel is a country of startups and a breeding incubator for many innovations that are either born and bred in Israel. Or you have organizations from around the world that have subsidiaries in Israel to benefit from this innovation hub that exists there. How has it been operating under this pandemic environment? Has that, hub, suffered because in a way it has already operated long-distance even before the pandemic, but, I'm assuming maybe business plans have changed, different priorities, have come about due to the pandemic. Has it been helpful for innovators in Israel, or has it hindered some of that innovation?
Amir: It's a tough question, but I think in general, as you said, Israel being an isolated location and being an innovation hub for many years, the most Israeli startups or this kind of a series of startups, and there are quite a few of them. They think about them as a global from the very first day. They don't think let's, build our business in the Israeli market. And then, we prove it's successful. Then we'll go to the US or to Europe or Asia or whatever because, in many situations, the market in Israel does not exist. I'll take as an example the automotive market in Israel. There’s never been any automotive market, neither a significant car manufacturer nor even a tier-one or those that supply parts to go to the car manufacturer is a leading tier two Israel has, did not have any infrastructure at all.
Amir: Now, in the past, let's say seven years with the growth of autonomous driving and others. Israel has become a kind of a strong kingdom of startups in the automotive area. There is a very strong global community called eco-motion that attracts practically everyone in the automotive industry around the globe. And over the years, quite a few automotive leaders, such as general motors and Ford and BMW and Volkswagen, Volvo, and Hyundai and others that I don't remember right now. They all have a significant R and D or innovation activity in Israel. So, going back to your question, Israeli startups are used to work remotely. They also used to fly back and forth between Israel and all the other parts of the world, which has been significantly infected, but now everybody's in the same situation. So people from Boston cannot really go to Santa Clara or other locations. So, it's the same situation and Israelis, for the reasons that they are used to think about themselves as global. It used to work as global. Also, the sense of survival also already mentioned, and the ability to quickly adapt to changes, all those, I think, put Israeli startups in a better position than other places in the world, or many other places in the world in how to handle the pandemic situation.
Renata: Yeah. Have a lot of people lost their jobs in Israel during the pandemic? And is there a welfare system to support them?
Amir: So, let's separate the answer between, let's say, for example, the high-tech and innovation sector and the regular economy. So in the high-tech sector, I don't think there was a significant impact. Actually, if you take a look from, risk funding perspective, it's as strong as it used to be and maybe even more. And startups with the right business model continue to work and continue to hire. Of course, people are affected here and there and some startup, their business model is not viable anymore, but in general, there's also a lot of new opportunities because of the pandemic. It's a big problem, the big problem that needs a solution so, it definitely created a lot of opportunities. As far as the regular economy, yes, it’s definitely highly impacted. A lot of people lost their job, not all, but many of the small businesses are out of business.
Amir: Of course, the whole leisure economy, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks are out of work. School is on and off. So this impacts a lot of working parents, which are, of course, the majority, a lot of very significant impact. Now there is a strong welfare system in Israel. If you are out of work, you can get unemployment benefits for some time, then in the pandemic, the period of time for unemployment support has been extended. There are some grants here and there. And there's a lot of community help, trying to help, affect the businesses like, small shops that, for example, grocery supplies and so forth. But for example, I live in a small village, so I live in a semi-rural environment, and this is probably the time to mention that I was born and still live in Kfar Monash, which is the internal [inaudible] of John Monash. But so in this rural environment, you go and buy directly from the farmer. Even if you don't have to, or even if it's a little bit more expensive, there's a lot of community health, trying to support small businesses and affected people and families.
Renata: Amir, let's talk about your expertise now. I mean, explain to the listeners of this podcast what are innovation precincts and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Let's talk about how you landed in this space. And then we can go back to talk about the pandemic in a sort of line with that. I want to ask a few questions, but I want to first explain to the listeners what it means to be an expert in entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Amir: Okay. So, in order to do that, maybe let me spend a few minutes on my personal career track. And, so, as I mentioned, I was an Israeli originally, and I grew up in Israel, typical career route of going to high school, finishing high school, going to the army. I have the luck - well, I don’t know if it's luck - but, in a way, in the mandatory service going through one major war and then after this go to school. And so I studied computer science at the Technion and the beginning of my career as a software engineer but then moved over to the other side of sales, marketing, product management, and general management. Now all of my careers have been global. So I've been with maybe five or six generations of startup companies, all of them Israelis, all of them aspire to be the global leader from the very first day.
Amir: Some of them extremely successful. Some of them, as we say, mildly, slightly less successful. And then again, in this activity, everything that I did was global in that context. I lived and worked a few years in Paris. And then until recently, almost 20 years in the Boston area, always with the foot still in my country for region Israel and, basically working, across smart ecosystem around the world. In the second part of my career, I moved more to the macro level, to the ecosystem primarily while being in Boston later globally. So I was a member of the team of the organization called MassChallenge, which is headquartered in Boston. It's probably the largest startup accelerator in the world. And in that context, I was the director of global partnerships for MassChallenge. And I'm a co-founder of MassChallenge, Israel, as a nature of the private-public partnership between government, corporations, and others.
Amir: I'm also the co-founder of MassChallenge in Switzerland, in Lausanne, and some other activities and partnerships with France, primarily in the Lyon area in France. And then I left MassChallenge in 2016, and looking back, I said, ‘okay, so what is my profession?’ And, I concluded very, very quickly that I am an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. I always worked in entrepreneurship and innovation environment, but, basically, at least from my vantage point, entrepreneurial innovation is not the objective; the objective, especially for government universities and large corporations, is how to leverage innovation and entrepreneurship for business growth and economical. So that's what I do. I consult those entities, large corporations, governments, and universities, how to leverage entrepreneurship and innovation for the sake of economic and business school. Among my clients, I can count, for example, Monash University in Australia, I mean, past and current clients.
Amir: So I advise Monash University in Australia, Melbourne, a company called Analog Devices, which is major sensors and IoT corporation headquarters in Boston. Johnson Matthey, a chemical corporation, a global corporation headquartered in the UK. another company is Ansell, which is actually a public Australian company, but relatively little activity in Australia and global activity in the area of PPE or personal protective equipment for the world. So, that's what I do. And I always take the ecosystem approach. Now ecosystem is a highly abused word. so, what I mean, not only me but the people who are also entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, we talk about the entrepreneurial ecosystem is something which is defined in a large metropolitan area. Think Melbourne, for example, or the greater Melbourne area and large mini, let's say, the population of three to 10 million people. And it could also be a small country like Singapore, or Israel, or Hong Kong.
Amir: Well, I hope I'm not stepping on too politically because we call this part of China, or so let’s leave it aside, I think. So again, it's a large metropolitan area, and it has five typical pillars. Number one is the entrepreneurs, startups, and the supporting accelerator incubators. The second one is risk capital and investors. Third is universities and research institutions. The fourth one is government, and the fifth one is large corporations. So, the ecosystem theory, which has been developed in quite a few schools, while in Boston, I was exposed mostly to, what was developed by thought leaders from MIT Sloan business school, and others, but it's basically called practice in other universities as well. And, the theory I'm just trying to make a very simple statement is that every activity that you do and every program that you create has to include all those five elements.
Amir: And when I say to include it, doesn't think that they need to be present in every program, but when you dissolve the program, when you analyze the program, you have to relate to those elements. It's okay to say one of those elements is not relevant, but it has to be a planned rather than an afterthought or neglection because if it has relevance and is not being taken into account, then it becomes the weakest link and kind of drags the whole program down. And so that's basically kind of the ecosystem approach. And I think another way to look at ecosystem activity, you can categorize it in different ways. So one way I like to categorize it is between, let's say, regular impacts program and high impact program. If let's say you're a government and you think about the ecosystem is trying, you're trying to take the ecosystem up a notch or up to the next level and strengthen the ecosystem and so forth.
Amir: So there are ecosystem programs that are, let's say, regular impact. What they do is basically a maintenance activity. So, they support entrepreneurs, provide funding here and there, some training, some courses, and everything is good. I’m not against it, but they are a maintenance program. What my profession and what I'm trying to do, not all the time successful, but at least that's what I'm trying is to design a high-impact program. What is a high-impact program? It's something that changes the zero-sum game and has the potential to put the ecosystem at the next level, take it to the next higher level without dropping down if the program stops. So, that's basically a high input program, and that's very, very challenging. Take a look at all countries in the world that would like foreign investment into the country. So there is an entity called to invest in country X - invest in Israel, invest in Victoria, invest in Switzerland.
Amir: The names might be a little bit different, but the purpose is pretty much, very much the same - how to attract foreign capital and foreign corporations to be present in your whole country. But if every country has exactly the same agency and everyone wants exactly the same, it's a zero-sum game. So how do you change it? So, if you design a high-impact program with the right elements of sector focus, critical mass, global connectivity, and so forth, then you have a chance to create a high-impact program that can take the ecosystem to the next level.
Renata: This is fascinating, and I think that the listeners will see how much sense this makes, but they will also see how little of this we see in the corporate sector or any sector really, in Australia and overseas because the ecosystem requires a mentality and the coordination that takes you above and beyond the organization that you are employed by. And you as a consultant as well, when you come in, and you support either a government, client or a corporate client or higher education client, that also requires that mentality to be developed in that those bridges and links to be developed. What would you advise a listener who is interested in starting to work in that way to do next? What would be the first step for an organization and the decision-maker in an organization to start working in that way?
Amir: Yeah, of course, they can just call me, but I think from my experience, yes, it has a lot to do with culture. Everyone talks about innovation and entrepreneurship, and things are being done in a large organization, but a large organization is a big ship. You need a lot of power to change direction. And it has a lot to do with organizational culture and a real effort trying to change them, but you have to start somewhere. So, if you are in a large organization, whether it's a government entity or a large corporation and so forth, I would say you need to start with two things, or actually, it actually starts with people, because, by the end of the day, it's all about people. If you want to change something and design a high-impact program for your organization, but also for others in the ecosystem, you need to make sure that there are two people, two right people in the organization.
Amir: The first one is the top manager of the organization, whether it's the CEO or the president or the chairman, or [inaudible] of the universities, but really number one in the organization, really leads the organization. He or she needs to have a true vision and recognize the need to change the direction in the world of innovation. They might not know how to do it, or what is the right practice or, what is the right quantitative measures of KPI to do, but it should be deep in their heart and soul that the vision has to include, innovation and, the willingness to look outside the willingness to, take a bottom-up approach in, to empowerment, to a top-down approach, the ability of the external ecosystem to change the culture of the organization and their completion that innovation and entrepreneurship and other elements are as important to have the right products, the right markets and so forth.
Amir: So again, person number one, the top leader of the organization that must have the right vision and the right passion. Number two is the champion. Now the champion probably should be or could be a middle-level manager or, probably not middle level but senior executive. Not the top person, but the senior executive that knows how to drive the organization. And again, he or she is extremely passionate. Now they know what they're talking about. They know what it takes to drive innovation in their organization. They can differentiate between good programs and bad programs. They know how to mix it with their organization, take a different approach. They know how to do it. Of course, they are using external help, they read the right articles, and so forth, but they are the champions. They are the ones that take a risk within the organization to drive innovation, to drive entrepreneurship, they put quantitative measures, and they do all they can do and more than that in order to lead that change with outstanding support, from the top person from person number one. So again, two people start with that, the top person in the organization and the champion.
Renata: Now, Amir, with all of that expertise and looking and observing what has happened for the past 12 months, in how countries have managed the pandemic, I'm assuming you're watching, and you're thinking about how your expertise and the things you know could have, improved some of the responses. How can we develop better responses in the future using the sort of skills that you have learned in terms of global connectivity, these entrepreneurial ecosystems, and these pillars that are the foundation of that? How can it be done better in the future?
Amir: This is the $63M questions. I wish I had a good answer, but I can sort of develop the conversation around that. But first of all, in order to develop a good plan, you need to have good supporting data, for example. And to me personally, actually the whole pandemic, I've been working with a lot of startups, and probably 60 or 70% of them have some elements of big data and artificial intelligence and machine learning in the program. And, we've lived so far where we still, we do it in the world that you don't need to program anymore. Just the data is the program. And, just use the right algorithms and put artificial intelligence, and everything will be great. Now observing about the past year or so of the pandemic evolution, if there is one thing that there is no lack of its big data. You can have all the data in the world, anywhere from every direction and so forth. By the way, going back to the beginning of the conversation, Kupat Holim, which is the largest HMO in Israel, Kupat Holim, that's the Hebrew name.
Amir: They just released an article in the New England journal of medicine. They’ve done the research, of 1.2 million people in Israel, half of them vaccinated, and half of them were not vaccinated. And, this was breakthrough research. Definitely, the first one that has shown the efficacy big time of the Pfizer vaccination.
Renata: I'm going to put the link to that in the bio so that people can read it if they want to.
Amir: Yeah. Great. Now, going back to the big data, you could assume that with all the developments and all the capabilities and skills of big startups, they could derive until this point from the big data very strong and non-debatable practices of how to deal with the pandemic—just based on the big data and the right algorithms. I haven't seen anything so far. I've seen a lot of suggestions, but they cover the whole scope and, like dozens of solutions and directions, but nothing that stood out of the big data. So that's the number one observation. I am really personally disappointed by how big data and machine learning could not help us so far. Leaving that aside, maybe we can learn from some government actions and some specific countries how things should be done. I don't think we're in this situation. You can get bits and pieces.
Amir: Yes. Israel has been great in getting a large part of the nation vaccinated, but they just blew it. They're not taking advantage of it. For example, Israel has closed its border. And right now, the entry into Israel, even if Israeli citizens are blocked, and you have to apply for a political committee that will allow you if they wish to come back into Israel, even if she lives in Israel, which is kind of a draconian measure that should not be taken because to the best of my knowledge, most, if not all countries, are allowing their citizens to come back. Yes. I mean, there's a limited number of flights and quarantine and everything else, but no one is blocking the entry. Also, if you want to go out of Israel, so foreign citizens are, they're not allowed into Israel, but they aren’t allowed to go out because the government doesn’t want to, but Israeli citizens that want to go out the gate will ask for permission from that same political committee and have to explain why they want, I think this is a dictatorial move in Israel, which is by all means very strong democracy.
Amir: So, again, Israel is strong in vaccination, in managing the situation in general. Australia, New Zealand, for example, is extremely good. As far as I can judge remotely in containing the pandemic and having a very low number of, death and otherwise, but, just I have read in the news recently, there was one case in Oakland, in New Zealand. And then, there was a complete quarantine for a week. Are those the right rules? I don't know. So people all across the world are trying to find the right balance between containing the pandemic from an epidemiologic perspective and continuing life as it is. Now, there are, of course, no mutation here and mutation there and, but mutations are going to be with us forever. So I think this is a real test of good government, how to really manage the situation.
Amir: And here I go back to my experience; if I leave the pandemic outside and I go to what I described before, how do you create a high-impact program? How do you change the zero-sum game? So, for example, let's say, the state of Victoria, want to be, the, leader, in, let's say, some part of biotech where Melbourne is, [inaudible] in school. So, let's say brain research; Victoria wants to be the leader in brains. So it cannot go outside to the world and say, ‘okay, I'm the leader in brain research.’ I had strong universities, which is true, but at least the world, closer to the US, closer to Europe, that is very strong in biotech as well. So I expect global connectivity. You have to take it from a competitive perspective.
Amir: How do you, so instead of thinking about how to put Victoria in the global leadership, try to think about a small global network of just for an example, Victoria, Israel, Boston, Switzerland. I'm not sure if those are the right lenders, but let's create a small global network with leadership in brain research. By the way, there are some efforts which are taking place in regenerative medicine which are actually, Monash University and other research organizations in Australia are participating, but I think maybe it's not reached yet the level which was supposed to be, it could take some time. But again, the concept, which I am preaching, nothing that the daily situation, but general ecosystem building is creating a small global network that can differentiate itself from all the others. So I think, trying to draw an analogy for the pandemic containment situation and how to find the right balance between the epidemiologic perspective and continuation of life perspective, how to manage the situation in your professional nonpolitical manner, how to take advantage of the vaccines which are taking place.
Amir: Let's create a network of the few countries that each one of them has some leadership and some perspective, and can complement each other. And if you create this and you could create in a relatively short time frame, a gold standard of how to manage the situation, how to take all the consideration, how to take all the elements into consideration and come up with a strong position that will be the lights for all the other countries to follow. Just exactly as there was a coordinated effort in developing the vaccine at a pace that is an order of magnitude, larger than everything we knew so far. It actually presents a huge opportunity for containing the flu for containing other illnesses and so forth. Again, I'm not an expert.
Renata: Amir, are you often confronted with an opposite reaction to that where companies or governments feel like they're always in competition with each other and they are reluctant in taking up an Alliance like you're proposing? I feel like it's almost instinctive at times that people or organizations will not take up on that because they have this competitive nature in them instead of a collaborative nature in them. Am I right? Or am I just reading into it too much?
Amir: Yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right because, okay. governments are led by politicians, right? Elected politicians. And it's very easy if you create kind of a global network. So part of the Victorian taxpayer is going to Switzerland. Of course, it's also in the opposite direction, but that's something which is very, very difficult to explain, to the press, to the taxpayers, and so forth. It's not a popular act for politicians, and it's counter intuitive. So going back to the same thing that I mentioned before, you need a strong visionary at the top, like the prime minister, and you need a champion that could come from any one of those pillars. It could be from a leading university. It could be from a leading corporation. Could it be maybe from others, you need a champion, but it can be done. I believe, of course, it's my strong opinion. I am highly opinionated. That's what I think. And I'm sure there are other opinions. I am preaching this perspective, create a small global network that, with a few locations, could complement each other. And in a very short time, create a gold standard that others could follow.
Renata: This is a completely, out of the box analogy, but I hope you can relate to what I'm going to say, and then we can end this, catch up now, on this sort of interesting note. Yesterday, I was doing my group coaching program with some of my clients. And I explained to them that I was watching a documentary about Steven Spielberg and in this documentary, which I'll link in the show notes as well. It showed all of his friends, all of his director friends, and they were all extremely, extremely successful, just like him. And I don't think it's a coincidence that they were all successful, you see. I think it's because of that Alliance that they all helped each other to the top. Instead of competing against each other for assignments and productions, they were always helping each other out and making sure that even if Steven Spielberg was going through a rough patch, George Lucas would come to the rescue and support one of his production and vice versa.
Renata: They were always helping each other. I don't remember all of the names. I'm not a movie expert, but they were about six or seven of them. And they were all very helpful to each other's careers. And it just goes to show how important an Alliance is, be it an alumni, a group of people, friends, a group of organizations, or an entrepreneurial ecosystem, like the one that you're proposing. I think that that goes to show that it can actually be much more fruitful, in the long term, than you trying to always be in competition with others.
Amir: Yeah. I would definitely agree with what you say about the strengths and the importance of the network. And, if you're in the business world, there is a word which is often used, and it's called competition. And, if you're a specific market and, you have, your business entity and you're competing with others. You want the customer will buy your products, not the other ones’ products. But even whether it's large corporations, small corporations, even you're competing, you're competing, let's say 80% of your product line, but you find opportunities that are best for you to join forces. So the word competition is quite typical. Of course, people are very competitive in nature, and there's a very sense of competition, but you need to find a way how to partner and, you need to recognize that this is mutually beneficial.
Renata: Oh, well, you know what, my friend, I think Israel needs to open its borders soon because what the pandemic has done with people is that it reinforced the need to have a bucket list. And it's definitely on my bucket list to come and visit Israel one day. So I hope that the very speedy vaccination changes the way that they operate in Australia because our borders are closed as well. Just so you know, and that I get to see you, in the near future or you come to Australia back again.
Amir: Definitely. I already miss Melbourne and the people there bigtime.
Renata: Great. So I hope to see you soon, I'll keep an eye on the borders, and as soon as they open, I'll let you know but they're closed, let me tell you. Things here are still very, very strict.
Amir: Okay. Yeah.
Renata: Thank you so much.
Amir: Thank you, Renata.
Renata: Thank you for your insight. And we are all here in Australia, very curious about what's happening in Israel. So I can't wait to release the podcast in a few days and let everybody know about your thoughts and ideas. I'm sure lots of people will appreciate your very opinionated opinions.
Amir: Great Renata. Well, again, as always, great talking to you, but thanks for the opportunity. All the best to you and to everyone listening.
Renata: Thank you.
Renata: I hope you enjoyed this interesting insight into what most of us in Australia in the US and around the world can learn, expect, and maybe potentially do better as we roll out our COVID vaccination and plans in the near future. I hope you also learned something new from Amir's expertise in entrepreneurialism that can most definitely be applied in any sector. If you enjoyed this episode, please give it a thumbs up wherever you have found us. Remember to subscribe to the podcast. And, you can also subscribe to my newsletter. Just go to the episode, show notes, and I'll have a link there for you to subscribe. And I will send you a newsletter every week with a new episode of the Job Hunting Podcast, plus some extra information to help your career and professional development. Or you can find us and subscribe on my website. It's https://www.renatabernarde.com . See you next time.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
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