‘Tsav 8’: A call to duty for hi-tech mavens

When the GSM Association, sponsors of next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, hands out awards, it splits the world into four regions.

When the GSM Association, sponsors of next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, hands out awards, it splits the world into four regions, presenting top prizes to the world’s best cellphone technologies and applications made by companies that hail from each region.
Two companies are chosen from each region: the Americas (North and South), Asia Pacific (India, Korea, Singapore, etc.), EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) – and Israel. Like a medieval map of the world showing Jerusalem as its center, says Israeli hi-tech advocate Yael Shany, “according to the GSMA, Israel is a continent all its own!”
It just goes to show the power of Israeli technology – a power that Shany, along with officials in the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Export Institute, the Israeli Hi-tech Industry Association and a slew of private organizations, are trying to parlay into more than GSMA glory.
“Israel needs ambassadors to show off its positive side, and the hi-tech people who attend the Mobile World Congress and other international events can help,” Shany says.
To that end, she and Pitango Venture Capital director Rami Kalish organized a pre-GSMA prep session for Israeli companies attending the Barcelona show, the second annual “Tsav 8.” Deriving its name from the IDF term for an emergency reserve call-up, Tsav 8 brought together top experts in Israel’s hi-tech and cellular industry to share their thoughts about the direction of the business and what companies can expect in Barcelona. There were presentations by diplomats and image builders, who supplied tips on how to beat the stereotype of Israel as a “garrison state” and instead emphasized its creativity, energy, heritage – and fun!
What does Israel mean to Israelis? Well, there’s no single answer to that question because Israelis are a diverse bunch. But it turns out, says Foreign Ministry official Ido Aharoni, that abroad there is just one answer: Israel, he said in his presentation at Tsav 8, is all about “the conflict.”
That’s the challenge, says Shany, and with the tools executives picked up at Tsav 8, they will be able to enhance not only their company’s fame and fortune in Barcelona, but do a little something to present Israel in a different light.
Although it would seem obvious that Israel is a major hi-tech center (remember that GSMA regional map), that creative genius has not rubbed off on Israel’s reputation around the world. Tsav 8, says Shany, was designed to give business people tools to spotlight other, more positive aspects of Israel’s being.
“Israelis are open, giving, helpful, creative and energetic,” she says. “That’s part of our culture, and we want to encourage people to show that off. When you have visitors from abroad, take them to Tel Aviv, to the beach or a nightclub. When you visit Barcelona, take some Israeli wine to give to potential customers.”
It sounds elementary, but what is truly shocking is just how negative Israel’s image is abroad: According to Aharoni, research shows that Israel’s image in Western countries fares as well (or, rather, as poorly) as South Africa’s and China’s; an in-depth sociological study shows that people think the average Israeli lives in what amounts to an army bunker; and despite Israel’s many advantages, people just can’t seem to get past the effective Palestinian propaganda that appears nightly in the media.
While Aharoni doesn’t deny the existence of the conflict, Israel, he says, is getting a raw deal: Compare Israel’s reputation to the reality of living or doing business here, to the reality (crime, kidnapping, poverty) and reputation of a place like Brazil (fun, sun, carnival).
While Aharoni is working on a national level to deal with the issue, there is much the “little people” can do, former consul to the US Alon Pinkas said, such as pointing out Israel’s accomplishments in hi-tech, reclaiming the desert, desalination, absorption and so on, when confronted with “the conflict.” Clearly, he said, a hi-tech executive should not be expected to do a diplomat’s job, and it’s alright to say so to people who confront you, demanding answers about Israel’s policies. The key is not to sidestep the challenge but to amend it, he said, adding, “The conflict is there and it’s not going away, but it’s not what defines Israel.”
One of the things Barcelona attendees can talk about is Israel’s efforts to help Haitians. A riveting presentation at Tsav 8 by Gal Lutsky, of Israel Flying Aid, described how Israeli volunteers were doing what they could to stem the tide of misery.
Along with the diplomacy, attendees were treated to interesting discussions about the current state of affairs in the mobile industry (it was mentioned only a few times, but the specter of the iPhone loomed large in all the presentations).
Mario Cavestany, a top IBM Europe official, predicted that the mobile market would be worth a trillion dollars in 2013. Microsoft Israel R&D head Moshe Lichtman (the event was held in MS’s Herzliya facility) bemoaned that MS had slipped in the race to lead the mobile market, telling attendees it happened because the company “had tried to imprint efforts with our philosophy and culture” of “unlimited flexibility and open platforms” (but he promised big things from the company at the Barcelona show and beyond). And a host of top VC folk, including Rina Shainski of Carmel Ventures and Ehud Levy of Vertex Venture Capital, gave their take on industry prospects over the coming decade.
Topping off the evening was a toast with Juan G. Barba, Spain’s deputy ambassador to Israel, who marveled at the similarities between Israelis and Spaniards.
Yet another way to promote Israel as a positive place is to leveragethe large Israeli presence at the show. The Israel Export Institutedeveloped an application that it presented to all attendees with allthe contact and product information for companies presenting inBarcelona – introducing them as Israeli companies.
“Instead of just sending someone your business card on their phone, youcan send them this application,” Shany says. “The industry looksimpressive when seen as a whole, and that’s good for Israel’s image,too.”
While between 50,000 and 70,000 people are expected in Barcelona nextweek, only about 1,000 Israelis plan to attend (some 85 Israelicompanies will be presenting). But judging by the weight the GSMA givesthem, the Israelis will be among the most influential attendees at theshow. And hopefully, says Shany, they will be able – using the toolsthey picked up at Tsav 8 – to promote not only their brands, but “brandIsrael” as well.