How Israeli tech survived the war

“I know that for some of you, coming to Israel after a very challenging summer might cause hesitation,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told a crowd of hundreds of techies wearing neon-pink wristbands and ID necklaces. They sat in an old, restored British train station along the coast of Tel Aviv on Sept. 16, having flown in for the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) Tel Aviv Digital Conference — a two-day event in its fourth year, modeled after a similar one in Germany. It has since become the largest of its kind in Israel.

“So I’m happy that you did not hesitate, and I’m happy you have come,” the mayor said. “I see it as a sign of confidence and friendship. Thank you all.” 

The DLD event, one of three tech-related conferences going on in Israel simultaneously, began a tight three weeks after the final blow of Operation Protective Edge, a bloody 50-day war between Israel and Gaza. Homemade rockets launched into Israel by the military wing of Hamas, Gaza’s government, set off daily air-raid sirens in Tel Aviv. One night, a piece of rocket landed on a major Tel Aviv highway, narrowly missing traffic. Gaza health officials estimate that Israel killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, during the war; 66 Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians died in the fighting.

[More: ” target=”_blank”>took a gut punch from Operation Protective Edge. Hotels and tour companies, which had been on track to have their best year ever, reported dips in business during the war as low as 30 percent to 50 percent. Combine that with the plunge in domestic spending and slowdown in local manufacturing, and analysts are putting Israel’s lost gross domestic product (GDP) between $1 billion and $2 billion.

But its high-tech industry apparently emerged unscathed — preserved by what has become known as the Tel Aviv bubble.

Experts say it’s too early to tell whether the war left any real bruises on Israeli high-tech. The second financial quarter of 2014, which ended right as the war began, saw Israeli tech companies raise record capital — a total of $930 million. Results for the third quarter, encompassing the war, won’t be out until October.

However, judging by two massive initial public offerings (IPOs) that dropped during the operation, Israeli tech was operating on its own economic plane.

Just a couple of weeks into the war, Mobileye, an Israeli company whose car security systems help drivers avoid collisions, went public in what was the largest U.S. IPO of an Israeli company in history — raising an initial $890 million. And two weeks after that, ReWalk, which creates exoskeletons for paraplegics, became the best-performing IPO of the year when initial investors made as much as a 230 percent profit in the company’s first few days on the stock market.

At least five other major Israeli companies reportedly went public within the same time frame. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange continued to rise during the conflict, and had hit an all-time high by mid-September.

“I don’t see the impact” of the war, said Jonathan Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, an American-Israeli crowd-funding venture that discovered ReWalk early on. “The last month, I’ve been traveling all around the U.S. and Canada, and I haven’t seen the impact at all. People ask how you’re doing, and then they start writing checks.”

Medved noted: “These tech investors are investing in a risky business in the first place. You learn to work with risk and accept risk — and with Israel, geopolitical risk is just another part of the equation.”

A young Israel Defense Forces soldier checks out the SkyStar surveillance drone at the Unmanned Vehicles Israel Defense conference.

Yaacov Lifshitz, former director general of the Israel Ministry of Finance, argued that “high-tech is not so much connected to specific geographic area.  It’s more about ideas, software — things that are not so tied to the ground.”

A few Israeli startups at DLD said that because a few of their staffers had to report to the Gaza border for reserve Israeli military duty, the quality of their services suffered some — but not enough to affect profits in the long run.

“I suffer more from Google than from Hamas,” said the founder of an online advertising startup, who attended DLD but wished to remain nameless, referring to a recent algorithm change in the search engine that caused some of his clients to “suddenly disappear from Google.”

The ad entrepreneur said the war’s domestic blows didn’t affect him because most of his clients are abroad. “Even my Israeli clients have clients abroad,” he said.

Israeli social-media marketing company Wivo experienced a curious twist: Although profit from three of their largest Israeli clients dipped, a fourth — a T-shirt company with pro-Israel slogans — tripled its exports, more than making up for their loss.

Wivo executives also learned which ad language caused potential customers to emote the most in wartime. “You should always put ‘Hamas’ in the same ‘support Israel’ sentence,” said Johnny Brin, the company’s vice president of marketing, while making rounds at a DLD night mixer.

During the week of events surrounding the two-day DLD conference, techies schmoozed and partied across the city, clustering along central Rothschild Boulevard. Colored orbs hung from Rothschild’s trees and startup booths lined its sidewalks; any open spots were packed with hoola-hoopers and street musicians.

“When we’ve traveled, we’ve found that Israel high-tech is very well-respected — especially Tel Aviv,” said Gil Margulis, CEO and co-founder of QuikBreak, a startup that specializes in targeted mobile advertising. “There’s the two ideas: Israel is like conflict zone, but Tel Aviv is like beach, tech, fun, innovation. It kind of has a different position in your mind.”

But the war — which because of Palestinian civilian casualties drew unprecedented global criticism of Israel — was an inevitable topic of conversation at a DLD mixer in the backyard of a nameless bar along Rothschild, its awnings draped in vines and twinkling lights. A 21-year-old British tech prodigy who co-founded three startups said he had been trying to ignore friends on Facebook arguing Israel versus Palestine, a conflict he barely understood. “I just told them to chill,” he said.

Over drinks, an editor at a U.K. tech magazine was surprised to learn that the scientist featured in his magazine for inventing a twerking robot was furious at a different U.K. newspaper editor for his pro-Palestinian coverage of the war. Later on, the same scientist was surprised to learn from another journalist that most Gazans have no way to leave Gaza.

Two startup teams from Gaza, in fact, were denied entry to the conference, according to Abdul Malik Al Jaber, a DLD speaker and leading Palestinian businessman who runs startup accelerators across the Arab world.

“The timing is difficult. But the fact that someone like me is coming here shows the interest is there,” Al Jaber said, adding that “economic partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians is the only way to move forward” in the conflict.

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, fourth to the podium at the DLD conference, was similarly optimistic. “I think the gate to peace is the new age of science and technology,” he said.

Peres warned, however, “In every technology, there has to be a moral point. Without fair human judgment, it can cut heads.”

Peres’ reference to war was one of just a handful throughout two days of conference speakers celebrating Tel Aviv as the world’s most vibrant startup scene after California’s Silicon Valley.

But half an hour east, near Ben Gurion International Airport — where there was no sea breeze to cut the heat — another conference in a Vegas-style hotel convention center used Operation Protective Edge as a key selling point. At that event, called the Unmanned Vehicles Israel Defense (UVID) conference, the steelier end of Israeli high-tech — weapons and security companies — was showing off technologies recently tested in Gaza.

Specifically, they unveiled the unmanned spy and attack drones used to assist soldiers on the battlefield and bomb enemy targets. Companies also put large focus on repurposing technology used in Operation Protective Edge for other countries’ wars, and for civilian uses abroad.

“We’re here to tell you the future is here,” Ran Krauss, creator of three mini surveillance drones currently used in Israel, said at the conference. “We’ve been doing it for quite some time here in Israel, legally and in a very superior way.”

Former Ministry of Finance Director General Lifshitz, also a past chief economist for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, estimated that of all the country’s high-tech exports — which make up about one-third of total Israeli exports — one-third of those are weapons- and security-related.

And “if you are trying to sell a system,” he said, “you will always get the question of if the IDF is using it.… It contributes to the selling power.”

At the UVID conference, expo poster boards were stamped with phrases like “battle tested” and “combat proven.” Israeli weapons giant Elbit Systems showed off images of their Hermes 900 unmanned aircrafts carrying munitions to drop on Gaza, while the smaller startup Roboteam unveiled the “unstoppable” underground bot they created in just four days to help IDF soldiers navigate Hamas tunnels in the heat of war.

“The Americans have not yet internalized the project of tunnels,” Col. Itzik Elimelech, president of Israel Military Industries in the U.S., said at the conference. “I think we’re pioneers here,” he said, imagining a day when robots could also be used to patrol U.S. border areas.

RT Aerostat Systems, the company whose white Skystar 300 surveillance balloons have become as recognizable along Israeli-Palestinian border areas as concrete separation walls, said business boomed throughout the war. “The IDF doubled our balloons along the Gaza border,” said Taly Shmueli, the company’s vice president. 

Shmueli said RT is currently in the final stages of locking down a contract with the U.S. government for providing surveillance drones along the Texas border with Mexico. She hoped Operation Protective Edge would be the final stamp of approval RT needed to close the deal.

“Really, we are the only tactical mobile system in the world that has proven the system in more than 500,000 flight hours in battle areas,” Shmueli said. “We think it’s a good solution for the Mexican border. The large systems can identify a person from up to 15 kilometers away.”

Yet another Israeli tech conference last week — the International Cybersecurity Conference at Tel Aviv University — focused on Israel’s growing advantage in the cyber-security industry. “Here in Israel, during the fighting in Operation Protective Edge, there were 2 million cyber attacks daily, which had very little success,” the conference chairman told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

In dozens of conversations at both the DLD and UVID conferences, most participants brushed off as a nonissue the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli products on behalf of Palestinians.

“What’s BDS?” asked an entrepreneur from England at DLD.

BDS “doesn’t permeate high tech,” said Margulis of QuikBreak. “I think the tech people aren’t really into that. They go, ‘Look, Israeli technology is awesome — you’re cutting-edge, you’re the best.’ They could boycott Israeli stuff, but they’re going to lose out, because it’s the best.”

If Israel resumes its war in Gaza at high intensity, Medved of the OurCrowd startup-funding platform said “there’s always the risk of a boycott. But the boycott is limited to groceries or tomatoes or Dead Sea creams. No one has had the courage to boycott Google, Microsoft, Intel.”

The women of startup nation

Kira Radinksy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Israeli startup SalesPredict, is something of an anomaly among the leaders of Israel’s proud “startup nation.” And not just because she was a child prodigy who started her computer science career at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at age 15. Rather, it’s that she’s a woman.

At 26, the dark and stunning Russian-Israeli entrepreneur has locked down a doctorate in computer science from Technion, built an award-winning data-mining system for Microsoft Research and started her own company, a cloud-based application that helps other companies predict customer behavior. In August, the MIT Technology Review took notice, recognizing Radinsky as the youngest of 10 women in its annual crop of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

In person, she’s petite and ultra-chatty, trading the hoodies and jeans of her eight male staffers for a ripped T-shirt and capris held up by a chunky white belt. According to Radinsky, it hardly ever crosses her mind that she’s a woman in a sea of men — but there are always those odd moments of self-awareness, like when someone assumes she’s the SalesPredict secretary or human-resources girl, or when, during a photo shoot for Israeli magazine Lady Globes, she’s dolled up in thick makeup and Dolce & Gabbana and told to “look powerful.”

“Here in Israel, no one really talks about” the absence of women in high tech, said Ranit Fink, vice president of business development for hot Israeli startup Cellrox — another rare female success story in the startup nation. “It’s just not on the agenda.”

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up about 35 percent of the nation’s high-tech workforce, a statistic that hasn’t budged for the last decade. (It also doesn’t illustrate how many of these women are filling low-level and nontechnical positions within the high-tech sector.) And although Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor could not provide more specific data on the male-to-female ratio within the nation’s high-tech startups by press time, various company heads and investors in Israel — when interviewed by the Journal — agreed that they very rarely see a female face within the upper ranks of the Israeli tech world. 

“I see very, very, very few,” Fink said. “I go to conferences; I go to meetings — and it’s very rare that I see women.”

A review of the management teams for “20 Israeli startups to look out for” — published this spring in Israeli economic journal The Marker — shows that a mere 8 percent of team members are female. A representative for the Israeli venture capital firm The Trendlines Group said that of its 60 current portfolio companies, only about three are run by women. And over the last five years as a senior associate at Israeli venture capital firm JVP, Evelyn Rubin, now a vice president at crowd-funding venture OurCrowd, said that she “could probably count on one hand” the total number of women who have passed through the JVP offices. 

“I remember this crazy sense of having seen almost zero female entrepreneurs,” Rubin said. “Of course you’re not going to see 50/50, but you would expect to see at least 15 percent.”

At OurCrowd, too, Rubin guessed that in the last six months, the deal flow team has encountered only about seven female entrepreneurs, out of the 80 to 100 startups it sees per month. (OurCrowd, though it boasts three women on its management team, has yet to fund a female-run startup.)

Some encouraging steps for women in Israeli high tech have made the news in recent months. Thousands of female Charedi Jews, for example, are being employed as coders and software testers across Israel, and are — as touted in a Haaretz headline — “closing the high-tech gender gap in Israel.”

“The Charedi education system is geared toward encouraging women to pursue lucrative careers,” said Rubin, who works with women in the ultra-Orthodox community. (However, she added that “it’s a bit of a different model. These are mostly software development businesses, not your typical high-risk companies like Waze,” the navigation app company recently purchased by Google.)

In addition, more life-science-oriented branches of the tech industry in Israel, such as biotechnology and medical technology, are actually dominated by women: According to the online news magazine Israel21c, a full 65 percent of Israel’s biotech workers are female. 

“When I first took a position in med-tech, women felt more comfortable to come and to try, because it was dominated by females,” said Nitza Kardish, who now runs Israeli startup incubator Mofet Venture Accelerator. “It created this ecosystem where we were comfortable.”

But Israel’s most prized economy — its buzzing collection of 1,000 or more trendy tech companies, all built from scratch — is overwhelmingly male. There’s a reason that Tel Avivians often jokingly profile the stereotypical “startup bro”: because so many of them fit the bill.

Experts have presented a few different theories as to why women like Radinksy and Fink are so rare. 

One common narrative is that women are less likely to take large financial risks or make big life changes for their job, which can conflict with the traditionally female responsibilities of family and home. “Almost 100 percent of the women entrepreneurs that I meet, if they’re married, will base their ability to do what they’re doing on support from their partner,” said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the U.S.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of a recent report on the challenges for female entrepreneurs. And Daphne Koller, the Israeli co-founder of booming U.S. startup Coursera, attested that: “For me, the biggest challenge is trying to juggle family commitments with an ever-increasing workload.”

Rubin of OurCrowd said that, in her experience, “It’s not a question of the actual time commitment, just an element of an appetite for risk. An ability to say, ‘I want to take $10 million to fund this business’ ” — not knowing if it will necessarily succeed.

Another theory is that from a young age, girls don’t see computer science and technology as subjects in which they are most likely to succeed — partly because of the low visibility of female role models in the field.

For men, Rubin said, “They see that a guy named Gil who lives around the corner was able to do it, so why can’t they do it? There are women who have built successful companies, but they’re not at the forefront.”

Radinksy, the CTO of SalesPredict, said she has observed other women shy away from the field because they are worried that they aren’t “technical” enough or as obsessed with gadgets as their male peers. She credited her own high-tech confidence with her upbringing in a Russian family that held more communist values of gender equality, wrote simple computer programs with her as a kid and valued computer science above other subjects. Radinksy said she never saw herself as less cut out for the field than any man. 

“Until I went to the army, I never knew I was a minority in anything,” she said.

Indeed, the male-dominated technological units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have come to serve as incubators for the cliques that eventually become Israel’s hundreds of tech startups, according to Radinksy and others familiar with Israel’s startup culture.

“[Israeli] men will not be shy to pick up the phone,” said Helena Glaser, former president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization. “Men will feel obligated to help one another — and it starts in the army. Women in general don’t have this network. And this is a network of getting jobs.”

According to statistics provided to the Journal by the IDF, as of last year, only 16.8 percent of soldiers serving in technological positions in the IDF were women. And that’s a huge step up from a decade before, when the IDF reported that “the percentage of woman serving in these positions had reached 7 percent at most.”

Said Fink of Cellrox: “In Israel specifically, people are recruiting people based on the army. And in my generation, women couldn’t do everything in the army.”

From a funding standpoint, investors might also be more likely to stick with the kind of startup that has worked for them in the past. 

“Part of the issue now in Israel, is that funders tend to fund experienced entrepreneurs,” said Rubin, an experienced investor in Israeli startups. “So, because there hasn’t been a first generation of women entrepreneurs, they’re up against that barrier against men who have already [seen success].” 

Even once a woman has networked her way into the high-tech bubble, the workplace environment isn’t always welcoming.

Fink said that as a female in Israel’s high-tech sector, she has received dozens of “horrible comments — really horrible things” relating to her gender, both from outside businessmen and her own colleagues.

On blogs and forums online, much has been written about a similar male-to-male network in the Silicon Valley — a “bro-grammer” culture that keeps men in tech’s top positions and sometimes makes the workplace uncomfortable for women.

Ellen Ullman, a high-profile U.S. software engineer turned author, said that in America, she has witnessed an unhealthy “boys in a treehouse” attitude propagate itself among the nation’s techies, both at the academic and industry levels. “A woman walks into this culture, and she gets the worst of it: She’s more visible, scrutinized more closely and will not feel welcome,” Ullman said. She added that from the perspective of many venture capitalists, “Everyone’s got to be a kid in a hoodie. If you don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg, maybe you’re not right for it.”

So what does high tech stand to gain from a larger pool of female leaders?

A Dow Jones report in 2012 surveying 20,000 startups across the United States, showed that “companies have a greater chance of either going public, operating profitably or being sold for more money than they’ve raised when they have females acting as founders, board members, C-level officers, vice presidents and/or directors.”

Mitchell cited the study, saying that in order to move forward, both men and women in high tech “need to acknowledge this data and create solutions themselves by changing the networks” of entrepreneurs and investors. 

With a stronger female presence in high tech, the possibilities for modern technology are vast, said Weili Dai, co-founder of global semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group and a speaker at this year’s Israeli Presidential Conference: “We need more women to participate because technology is becoming part of our lifestyle,” she said. “I see this as a duty, to reflect the natural talent of women in the high-tech industry.”

And the startup nation may never reach its full potential without the talents of this untapped population. New research coming out of the Reut Institute, a widely respected policy group created to advise the Israeli government, suggests that the linear, non-inclusive model of startup nation as we know it — which has, up to this point, underutilized not only women but ethnic and religious minorities as well — may only succeed for so long. 

Orna Berry, famed Israeli venture capitalist and one of the original female entrepreneurs of startup nation, likewise warned that in order to remain competitive in the global market, the Israeli high-tech economy needs to see greater participation from a workforce made up of varying genders, age groups and backgrounds.

“If you team up with people who come from the same mold, and you’re choosing only people who you know what their path was and what their intellectual style is, it is somewhat restrictive in my mind … and it is a limiting factor in the scale-out element,” she said. “This is not just a matter of social justice.”

Billion-dollar Waze

UPDATE [7/29/13]: Google bought Waze for $966 million.

Just a couple of years ago, the Israeli entrepreneurs behind the traffic-fighting smartphone app Waze were knocking down the door of every news outlet in Los Angeles. They were seeking publicity to help forge their way into the iPhones and Androids of L.A. drivers by promising some reprieve from “Carmageddon” weekend on the 405 freeway. Waze argued that its brave new method of crowdsourcing map and traffic data — via social media, with input from an active user base — would be the perfect tool to navigate drivers around the monster 405 freeway project and resulting traffic jams. The company needed press, and bad — because if enough people didn’t use the app, it wouldn’t work for anyone.

Well, they don’t need the press anymore. On June 11, Google Inc., the American tech giant at the forefront of online mapping, bought Waze Mobile for between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, according to various media reports (neither company has disclosed the final sum). Google’s acquisition is one of the largest in the history of the Israeli tech industry and stands as a major vote of confidence for both Waze and Israel’s startup scene at large.

These days, the Waze guys, who once reached out to Los Angeles eager for attention from any reporter, are mum. They are happily cloaked under Google’s strict no-press policy. “We are Google employees” now, says one of the app’s three founders over Facebook chat, “and we cannot speak to the press.”

Even without Google, Waze picked up a fast and loyal following in its first five to six years on the market: The app already boasts almost 50 million users in 190 countries and counting.

But no one will ever love Waze quite as fiercely as Israel.

[Related: What is it with Israelis and high tech?]

The buzz of the billion-dollar sale could be felt last week through the summer heat in Tel Aviv and environs, where Waze has long been regarded a national treasure — the top of the class in a nation of 1,000 startups. “Congratulations, you have reached your destination,” cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a reported phone call to Waze’s founders on the night of the sale.

“The Israeli people feel that they have some part in this huge success story,” said Izhar Shay, head of Israel operations at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. “We were the test group. We were the first users of an international breakthrough project, and we were part of the reason why Waze was so successful.”

The local market may only be about 7 million strong — a shortcoming that some say has slowed the overall progress of consumer-oriented invention in Israel — but it’s famously hands-on.

“By nature, people here are happy to try out new technologies, new concepts, new ideas — especially if they’re introduced by Israelis,” said Shay. “When Waze started, everybody knew somebody at Waze. So if people had bugs or issues with something that didn’t work properly, they would pick up the phone and call to yell at somebody at Waze.”

There have been local concerns, over the years, that large foreign companies are harvesting many of the best Israeli business ideas at an unripe age. But industry analysts who spoke with the Jewish Journal argued that the Waze buyout, which reportedly includes an agreement to keep Waze’s headquarters in Israel for at least the next three years, is the best possible scenario for a local company looking to go global.

Gil Ben-Artzy, co-founder of UpWest Labs — a training program in Silicon Valley for Israeli startups — called the sale a natural and smart evolution for Waze, and a “beacon” for other Israeli entrepreneurs.

“I find it hard to accuse somebody who sold their company for over $1 billion of selling too early,” said Jonathan Medved, head of Israeli crowd-funding venture OurCrowd.

Waze “fought like a lion to keep its development in the country,” Medved said. “The fact that these guys showed that you can fight that battle and win, and still sell your company for a good price, means that everybody’s going to try to do it.”

Up until now, Google Maps has been a dirty word in Israel; everyone wants to support the home team, plus Waze appeals to the Israeli nature to jump into the conversation, so the app has become extremely accurate due to all the input. But the two companies’ new all-star collaboration has now set the tech blogs on fire with speculation on the future possibilities of online mapping.

One thing they all can agree on: Waze’s secret weapon in a world clamoring with startups — and undoubtedly one of Google’s top reasons for scooping it up — has always been its devoted army of Wazers, who together helped the app reach the critical “viral” stage by telling all their friends and helping chart new territory within Waze’s virtual map system.

In combining their strengths — manual and social-media mapping, respectively — Google and Waze have hit such a sweet spot in the online map market that Southern California-based interest group Consumer Watchdog has even expressed concern that the duo might become a monopoly.

Facebook and Apple, who were also rumored bidders in the race for Waze, can’t be too happy about the new superpower.

“When you are driving in your car and you’re using Waze … you’re stuck in traffic, and all you have is this small screen in front of you that delivers the most important news to you,” Israeli investor Shay explained. “Now Google has access to our hearts while we are at a very significant part of our day, and we have nowhere to go.”

Israeli techies and investors are also touting the Waze acquisition as a ribbon-cutting of sorts for the new and exciting “consumer-oriented” frontier of Israeli innovation.

In the past, the country has been known more for its security software, semiconductors and other business-to-business (read: boring) technology. 

Waze is the polar opposite — a people’s product to the core. With its cutesy icons and game-like elements — including swords and badges for those drivers who submit warnings about “objects in the road,” police stakeouts, etc. — the app has proven as addicting as any Farmville or Angry Birds, only loads more useful. For the Waze addict, a commute is no longer complete without the soothing voice of Waze’s token she-bot, coaxing her customer through each lurch and turn.

To be sure, the app has had its detractors. Some traffic-safety advocates have worried that Waze’s highly interactive, video-game-like experience can prevent drivers from paying attention to the real-life road in front of them. The company has responded by installing voice-command and motion-sensor functions, as well as a keyboard lock for when the vehicle is moving — although drivers can easily override the latter by telling Waze that they are in the passenger’s seat. Last week, New York Magazine blogger Kevin Roose wrote in a concerned post on the acquisition: “As Google considers adding revenue-generating features like local advertising to Waze’s already-packed interface, it may raise the question: How much information is too much for drivers to handle safely?”

Yet, for Waze’s defenders, the proof is in its adaptability — and with Google’s latest infusion of cash, the app will no doubt keep adapting to meet user demands. 

Consumer-oriented innovation “requires a certain aesthetic understanding, and a certain design excellence” that Israel hasn’t necessarily been known for in the past, said Mick Weinstein, a longtime tech writer based in Jerusalem. “And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about Waze, is the user experience.”

In the wake of Google’s winning bid, Oren Hod, co-founder of video creation marketplace VeedMe, which connects videographers with prospective clients, said startups like his are catching Waze fever.

“I think [the sale] gave hope to some entrepreneurs and Israeli startups that are not super technology-oriented … to make it big in the U.S. market,” said Hod.

Local and international investors, too, are apt to be inspired by Google’s big move, said Shay — and “we should expect to see additional votes of confidence in Israeli startups as a result.”

Medved added that he has “never seen a time when there have been more good-quality Israeli startups that are really attracting worldwide attention — I think it’s a golden age.”

Waze, for one, doesn’t need the press anymore, nor the hasbara. As Google’s gorgeous Tel Aviv campus buzzes with new life and Waze enjoys its hard-earned spot on top of the world in Ra’anana, it begins to sound superfluous — even old-fashioned — to rave about Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” as if it were a niche or an underdog.