This question is bound to get different answers from people in different locations. In America kids will probably discuss the college they’re going to. In Israel, where we live, most kids will discuss the obligatory military service they are going to spend the next 2-4 years in, depending on the program or job they will be chosen for. College decisions arrive at a later stage for the Israel young people, normally into their 20’s. Well after the teen years are over.
In both cases society determines the route. Only for Israeli kids there really is no choice. It’s the law. In some cases kids are sent by the army to acquire academic education, and repay by a longer military service – served at a more professional job. Still, becoming an entrepreneur immediately after high school is a sweet dream.
Israel is often called “The Silicon Wadi”, referring to the Silicon Valley of course. I admit that after visiting the valley last month it seems like a pretty pretentious title to me. But statistically, after the Silicon Valley, Israel holds the highest rate of hi tech startups per capita and visitors get terribly enthusiastic about entrepreneurship in Israel. The spirit of innovation seems to be found everywhere. You go to any networking event and the adrenaline sky rockets.
Israel excels in startups, innovations and life changing inventions. ICQ and the IM technology must be one of the best known worldwide ventures. But there are so many other inventions, used worldwide daily – all developed by Israelis in Israel and I am not sure people are aware of their Israeli background. Intel’s Pentium chips, the cellular phones technology, Firewall, phone camera chip, voice mail, drip irrigation systems for agriculture, electric cars, solar power panels, Tzunami detectors, Given Imagine swallow pills for disease diagnosis, Baby Sense monitors for sudden infant death prevention, medical and aesthetic applications of lazer technology, the Copaxon – the drug that’s used to fight multiple sclerosis, from cardiac stents and eye stents all the way to seamless garments, and back to technology.
What’s going on in this country? Israel seems to have produced more scientists and techies per capita than any other country in the world. Same goes for Nobel prize winners. As Meir Brand, Google Israel CEO is saying here: “The foundation of Israel itself could be seen as an entrepreneurship project. The pioneers who came to build Israel from scratch they were real entrepreneurs”.
This foundation, along with that weird detour that takes kids from high schools and turns them into soldiers before releasing them into colleges and universities, probably plays a part in the end result for our tiny 7 million people country.
Still, having said that, times are changing. Being a mother now, just about to send my first born to the army, I would much rather that she be allowed to develop her world changing entrepreneurship venture right now. Who knows where her head will be in 2 or 3 years?
So I’ve started to develop a new plan: I am calling to start an entrepreneurship unit within the IDF. That military service has gone way past an army or fighters. I was a journalist in the army. My friend was a singer and entertainer. Another friend’s son is a trumpet player soldier. My cousin was a teacher during her military service and helped kids from poor areas get their high school diplomas. There are hiking guides soldiers who guide school field trips. The military service is about servicing the community you live in, more than actually fighting in combat (god forbid). So for this country I suggest a new unit. Let kid entrepreneurs develop their startups during their military service and optimize the contribution they make.
The idea popped in my head following the visit with the Thiel Fellowship – 20 Under 20 – in San Francisco last month. While Thiel wants to take kids in their teens and let them develop their entrepreneurial ventures in the Silicon Valley before they become college slaves, I think there are plenty of amazing resources here to take such kids, who are going to serve their community and let them develop any world changing or community affecting venture within their military service right here, in the Silicon Wadi. I believe mentors will be standing in line to donate their time to such a program. Not to mention what this can do to all communities throughout the country.
I challenge all politicians and wanna be politicians to make it happen and call on the high tech entrepreneurial community to join hands in making this vision a reality.