Dare To Dream - How Shimon Peres Helped Found The Start Up Nation

30/09/2016 15:30

Shimon Peres once said that "in Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds. Through creativity and innovation, we transformed barren deserts into flourishing fields and pioneered new frontiers in science and technology".

There will be many columns written about Peres's influence on world affairs, the Middle East peace process and on Israeli politics. What many people around the world do not, however, know about Peres was that he was one of the true fathers of The Start Up Nation, helping make the tiny State of Israel into a technology powerhouse and global leader in innovation.

The most remarkable thing about Peres was that the older he got, the younger he acted. He always looked to the future, to youth, to science, to innovation. He was fascinated by science and became Israel's best high-tech brand ambassador. He always had time for Israel's technology community, nurturing, advising and taking interest in people's inventions and careers. Israel has not been blessed with bountiful natural resources. The joke goes that Moses was clearly not a businessman, because if he was, he would have turned right towards the Arab oilfields rather than left to Israel. What Peres taught the Israeli people was that what we lacked in raw materials, we could more than make up for in raw courage, energy, optimism and creativity. Some called him a dreamer, but to him dreaming was really a form of pragmatism, especially when you live in Israel. We are a nation of dreamers, from Jacob's ladder, to Joseph, through to the modern day technology pioneers.

As a technology entrepreneur, I always like to look outside of my field for inspiration and having watched Peres's political career for the best part of the last 40 years I have learnt a great deal from him about innovation. As prime minister in 1985, Peres presided over an economic stabilization plan that led to the birth of Israel's modern economy. Price controls were enacted and a currency board put in place. Within a few months, the hyper inflated shekel was replaced with a New Israeli Shekel. Three zeros were lopped off the end of the old currency helping turn Israel from a third-world basket case into a market economy.

It is no coincidence that Peres is one of the most quoted persons in the famous book about how Israel became a global centre of technology, The Start Up Nation. The book, by Saul Singer and Dan Senor, details how Peres, together with partners in the US, started dreaming about setting up an aeronautics and defense industry for new State. For this he was ridiculed and criticized. However, Peres prevailed, forcing through his dream and vision, and helping to create a world leader in aerospace technology and equipment. He is perhaps most famous for his role in Israel becoming a reported nuclear power, providing an essential military deterrent against all the odds. He was always ahead of his time in his later years pushing Israel to lead in Watertech, in Nanotechnology, in Braintech, and more. Just this summer he helped launch the Israeli Innovation Centre, an initiative to bring people from around the region together to build peace.

He also put his money where his mouth was. In various government roles, he injected funds into defense research and development, creating the building blocks for Israel's pre-eminence in military technology and he was key in setting up the Military and missile research institute Rafael. The Israel Defense Forces is now one of the greatest incubators in the world for technology entrepreneurs, acting as a crucible for thousands of start-ups, in fields ranging from cyber security, to robotics, medtech to machine learning, from the Internet of Things to Fintech.

Peres once said that "over the last two decades we have witnessed the greatest revolution since Genesis...Ideas are now more important than materials...Two boys create Google. One boy creates Facebook. Another individual creates Apple. These gentlemen changed the world without political parties or armies or fortunes".

I can also think of another gentleman who changed the world, with ideas, with action and with vision. Shimon Peres was not just one of Israel's greatest statesmen, I believe he was a visionary, a pioneer, a change master, and ultimately a successful entrepreneur. His startup was the State of Israel. He was one of the legendary founding team. The last one to leave the stage. Now that they are all gone we can begin to really appreciate the enormity of their accomplishments.

The maxim goes that most political careers must end in failure, but not for Shimon Peres, the longer he went on the more successful and loved he became. He looked to the future, he constantly innovated, he questioned, he challenged and he always dared to dream. This father of The Start Up Nation will be sorely missed. May his memory be always for a blessing.

Jon Medved is the founder and CEO of OurCrowd