by Katy Diamond, Marketing Associate at Tech It Forward, in collaboration with Jennifer Elias, co-founder of Tech It Forward.
So it’s your first time traveling to Israel on business. Firstly…welcome! We can’t wait for you to join the thousands of investors, corporates, universities and curious professionals experiencing firsthand the bustling technological hub that is the Startup Nation. Israel’s dynamic and fascinating tech ecosystem has captured the attention of business leaders from all over the world, and so it’s no wonder that 350 multinational companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, L’Oreal and Roche have opened R&D centers in the heart of the Startup Nation.
Whilst Israel’s business practices may seem similar to those of Western countries from a distance, Israel possesses a distinct business culture that the unattuned first time visitor may find somewhat surprising. Knowing what to expect and how to navigate Israeli business etiquette will give you and your interests a major advantage when meeting and building relations with key players in the tech ecosystem.
Whether you are looking to learn about Israeli innovation, acquire technologies to bring back home, or even invest in top startups, we have collated our top tips to ensure that you can maximize every business opportunity that comes your way.
Startups are located in a number of cities across Israel and traveling to them will increase your chances of securing a strong business deal
It’s likely that you will stay in Tel Aviv for most, if not all, of the duration of your business trip. Tel Aviv is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit and is the home of thousands of startup ventures, making it an extraordinary place to start networking and discovering new & innovative technologies.
Whilst Tel Aviv is undoubtedly a major hotspot for the tech scene, we would recommend extending your sights to the likes of Jerusalem, Haifa or Beer Sheva. Jerusalem, for example, contains almost 250 start ups in the fields of software & data, transportation and social & leisure. For this reason, it is really worthwhile to venture slightly further afield to experience the full range of enterprises and technologies that Israel has to offer.
Israelis are willing to incorporate promising business prospects into their agendas - make sure yours is front and center
Given the political, geographic and historical landscape of the region, Israelis know that things can change at the last minute and so they understand the value of flexibility. Therefore, an important characteristic of Israeli business leaders in the startup ecosystem is their ability to improvise and demonstrate spontaneity in their approach to business.
For example, it would not be uncommon for an entire week of work to be rescheduled around an investors’ demo, or for last minute meetings to appear in the diary. Should an opportunity for business expansion arise, Israelis are quick to chop and change their plans accordingly. So don’t be afraid to schedule meetings for the same day for fear that you are not giving enough notice - if there is an opportunity for networking that aligns with the reasons that you are on the trip, take it!
Outsource support and guidance for negotiations & deal making from third party partners
Israelis consider themselves to be warm and hospitable, whilst acknowledging that their tone can be very direct and upfront. At the negotiating table, this assertiveness can be interpreted as aggressiveness for those who are unfamiliar with the Israeli culture.
Therefore, it is imperative that you anticipate and prepare for this style of negotiation through proper training from third party experts operating across Israeli and international markets. From our experience, successful deal conversion is often the result of thorough training on both sides from local experts aiming to ensure that the needs of all parties are fulfilled.
On the ground innovation experts can help to facilitate relationship building with key players in the Israeli tech ecosystem
Whilst scheduling a meeting may sound like a simple task and one that is performed on a daily basis, it is worthwhile to draw on the knowledge, experience and continuous intelligence work of external bodies located within the ecosystem. Since new startups and entrepreneurs enter the tech scene at a rapid rate, international visitors may not know about them or where to find them. Without a website and office, up-and-coming ventures that align with your interests can be difficult to locate without the help of local partners.
Likewise, the Israeli tech ecosystem is diverse and supported by a strong infrastructure of corporates, investors, entrepreneurs, public bodies and universities, to name a few. A third party partner will be able to match you with these different entities, giving you a well-rounded understanding of the interconnected bodies forming this unique ecosystem.
Business meetings in Israel are a place for debate and collaboration - communicate your viewpoint clearly and concisely, whilst being open to accept new ideas
Meetings do not tend to follow the structure of a hierarchy with clear roles for each participant. Instead, Israeli business meetings tend to be much more fluid, and it is expected for all members to share their opinions openly with the room, regardless of their job title.
In the spirit of open communication, it is common for disagreement and debate to arise. Our recommendation is to engage with those who might challenge you by listening to their feedback and how it might improve your business prospects. In saying this, feel free to push back should you feel it necessary to do so; joining the debate will clarify your standpoint on the issue, allowing for a productive and collaborative effort to reach a viable and successful deal.
Also important to note is the importance of following up. You should expect to meet many people in a very short space of time, which can be a fantastic but intense experience. Since business cards are often considered old fashioned, especially in the Startup Nation, it is important to stay connected with the people that you meet via email and LinkedIn. In particular, LinkedIn is a very useful tool to continue networking with thought leaders in your area of interest and stay up-to-date with their latest news and innovation developments.
Maximize your time in Israel and immerse yourself in the culture by embarking on once in a lifetime tours
Should you have spare time in between meetings and after work drinks, we would recommend using a tour provider to show you one of the many outstanding attractions and popular destinations that Israel has to offer. There are a plethora of tours available in Israel, and we want to make sure that you maximize your time here by using providers that can tailor your trip to your liking.
Whether your interests lie in architecture, art, entertainment or food, our partners will arrange everything from transport and accommodation to meals and a guide to give you an in-depth experience that you will carry with you long after the trip ends.
Here at Tech It Forward, we are also proud to share our tech tour and delegation offerings. Our customized tech tours include lectures on the Startup Nation ecosystem, meetings with our network of partners, lab tours and walking tech tours. These tours can be adapted to any audience, so it doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur with many years of tech experience under your belt, or if you are a student eager to learn more about what makes Israel an innovation hub.
Learn the language! Even a few key words and phrases will go a long way to show your commitment to building long-term partnerships and investing in your future
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages in Israel, and most Israelis are multilingual. Although English is spoken in international meetings, it will be useful for you to learn common greetings and phrases, since this will demonstrate your efforts to connect with the innovation experts that you meet. For instance, it will not go amiss to wish Israelis a yom tov (good day) and ask them ma nishma (how are you?)
There are also certain Yiddish words that perfectly describe the Israeli approach to business, and familiarity with these terms will give you a deeper understanding of the business culture. To give an example, Israeli entrepreneurs will demonstrate chutzpah, which refers to boldness or courage that can appear almost arrogant. This approach may not resonate with Western customs, further demonstrating the value of third party experts who are accustomed to the intricacies of facilitating and closing deals in Israel.
Learn about Israeli working patterns in order to make meaningful connections based on cultural understanding
Since the Jewish day of rest falls from Friday until Saturday, the working week in Israel begins on Sunday and ends on Thursday (although some Israelis work on Friday morning before Shabbat comes in). Israelis tend to start their working day from around 8:30 am and finish at 6:00 pm, but again, this varies from company to company.
A common theme throughout Israeli businesses, however, is the smart-casual dress code. This means that ties and heels are rarely needed or expected, although you should obviously wear whatever you feel most comfortable in! You will also find Israelis enjoying a ‘happy hour’ or post work drinks, where colleagues and business partners can socialize and strengthen relationships in a slightly more relaxed setting. These events present a brilliant opportunity for you to get to know key players in the ecosystem and find out how they can support or inspire you to reach your business goals.
A few final thoughts
Your business trip to Israel promises to be a thought-provoking, inspiring and potentially life-changing experience. Get ready to embrace Israel’s unique culture and meet the brains behind one of the most innovative countries in the world.
Our most important piece of advice? Come prepared. Business culture in the Startup Nation thrives off opportunity, networking and the building of meaningful relationships with trusted partners.
To get the most out of your trip, make use of local professionals in the tech ecosystem who can guide you through the process from meeting inception to following up with key contacts once you have arrived back home. These experts can help you to find the right partner and give advice on how to connect with them so that you can build a lasting relationship that meets each of your business goals.