Going from a startup nation to a scale-up nation

American-Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved speaks with the ‘Post’ about the morality of capitalism and the Social Justice movement.

Jonathan Medved (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jonathan Medved
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This past week, some of America’s top economic theorists came to Jerusalem to participate in a conference entitled “Religion and Economic Liberty: A Match Made in Heaven?” Filled with speeches endorsing the morality of the capitalist system and discourses on Pharisaic Judaism’s compatibility with the current economic order, the conference provided a marketplace of ideas for those concerned with the bad rap that capitalism seems to have taken in popular morality, or as the conference organizers at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies put it, “the question of why so many Jews and Christians are discomfited by capitalism and the idea of organizing an economy along free market lines.”
One of the keynote speakers, Jonathan Medved, is the embodiment of Israel’s embrace of the the American-style venture capital-fueled hi-tech system. A modern Orthodox immigrant from the US, Medved brought an American mind-set to this country and established Israel Seed Partners, one of the country’s larger venture capital funds, and currently heads the hi-tech start-up Vringo.
Speaking at the conference, and later privately with The Jerusalem Post, Medved explained his views on the public relations benefits of Israel’s tech sector, the morality of capitalism and Israel’s value to the US.
During a lunch at the David’s Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, Medved noted that in Massachusetts alone, 137 companies “trace their roots to Israel” and that 21,000 permanent hitech jobs and $7.5 billion of economic activity annually in that state come from Israeli firms.
“And by the way,” he noted, “similar numbers are now coming out from New Jersey and California.”
“Today the phenomenon of ‘Made in the USA – Invented in Israel,’ whether it’s Microsoft Kinnect or it’s the Sony Playstation...
we are providing the engine which is leading to US economic recovery, and this is a strong case of payback [for] all the wonderful support and investment that the US taxpayer and private individuals have made in this country.”
Speaking to the Post after his lecture, Medved expanded on the theme of Israel’s economic value to the US.
You indicated that a lot of positives to the US-Israel relationship don’t seem to get the mention you believe they deserve.
Look, we are not great at selling Israel and it starts off with, I think, a strategic flaw, which is that people are tired of hearing of endless conflict and endless politics and endless Arab- Israeli conflict; especially if we are trying to reach younger people. That’s just, in my opinion, brain dead.
We need to tell a story about our country which is essentially our story, on our terms, and our terms of debate instead of “why do you keep on doing horrible things to the Palestinians,” [things] which I don’t believe we do. When you talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if you agree to get into that discussion, you are setting yourself up to lose.
I believe that we have to tell a story about what [kind] of society we are and this story about Israel as a start-up nation and hi-tech power is one part of it. The part of it that is most important is not just “look at how great we are,” but “look at how we are benefiting our partners and friends,” such as the US.
I think that the reason that we don’t do that is primarily because people are not aware of these numbers.
When I meet with congressmen and senators, they get this. There is a new movement among mayors on a city level, where they never had anything to do with foreign policy, [who] are saying bring us Israeli businesses to locate in our cities.
We have to make the case of why Israel is helping to drive American economic recovery.
What we are doing [is creating] American jobs [and] innovative products at big American companies. It’s extraordinary how much stuff starts in Israel.
What about movement to boycott Israel?
The BDS people are just noise. The bottom line is that the only way to deal with them is not to go talk about Israel and the conflict, but to say: here’s what’s going on, here’s how Israel is creating jobs and making the world a better place, here’s how we’re solving problems with water and solar energy and this is what will, I think, end up, in the long term, making friends for Israel.
Why do hi-tech companies here sell off early and not develop into multi-nationals as in South Korea, another country with a small population and enemies on the borders?
Michael Eisenberg, my good friend and partner, says that we need to go from being a startup nation to a scale-up nation and he is very, very right. How we scale up our companies needs to be addressed. It’s being addressed, by the way, and it doesn’t need to be addressed by government hand-outs. It has to be addressed by bringing more private equity into the country such as groups like Silverlake and others that will provide later-stage, bigger checks for companies, that can then make the choice to drive harder.
It’s going to happen because our entrepreneurs are going from start-up 1 to start-up 2 to start-up 3 to start-up 4. We have this phenomenon of serial entrepreneurs who sold their first startup for 40 million and the next one for a hundred and then finally they’re going to try and get that billion-dollar company, and that’s going to happen organically.
But I don’t think it’s so bad to have start-ups.
The whole world comes here to study what we do with start-ups. Start-ups are great. Being at the beginning of that food chain which feeds that innovation is a huge thing.
One of the speakers at this conference noted that there is a gap between the benefits afforded us by the capitalist system and the way in which we view it as a moral force. For example, we had the social justice protests last summer in Tel Aviv. Are Israelis getting over the socialist mentality?
I think we are confused and I think that it’s a strange world that we are living in when a leader of the opposition can insult our prime minister [by] saying that he is the most capitalist prime minister we have ever had. She meant it as an insult.
I thought it was a campaign pitch. In other words, the bottom line is that calling somebody a capitalist is a good thing and I think that the problem we have is that there is just a great ignorance about what capitalism is. You don’t have in this country the same kind of media outlets for free markets and conservative thinking that we have in the US.
In the US you have talk radio and people like my brother [radio host Michael Medved].
Here, [there is] still pretty much a groupthink in the media which is clearly not overly friendly to free market ideas and to capitalism, and what is interesting is that you have people like [Labor Party chairwoman] Shelly Yacimovich, who made this comment, and yet in her party you have Erel Margalit, who is a spectacular guy, a good friend of mine, spectacular venture capitalist, as capitalistic as anybody could be, very active in giving back to society, and he’s running for part of the leadership team in the Labor Party.
So I would call on people like Erel to defend capitalism and to say that we can argue over what kind of social priorities the capitalist system is going to allot to welfare or to job training or to education or all kinds of things, but the bottom line is that what enables this engine of growth to happen is the capitalist system and we’ve got to make sure that the people in Israel don’t forget that and don’t fall backwards in some strange, weird nostalgia for the good old days when socialism reigned triumphant in this country and start waving flags with Che on them.
Israel is finally grown up and and is on the highway in terms of creating wealth for the entire society, and the engine for that wealth creation is our capitalist system.
Look at the countries that have gone into a socialist kind of framework and look at what they have had happen to them. The three countries that have improved their equality in the past decade, according to the OECD, are Greece, Spain and France.
So anyone who says we have to become more socialist, I want them to explain how we can avoid that terrible thing where we end up having unemployment over 20 percent.
You have to create a society, and this will be the challenge for Israel going forward, where we can continue to grow but continue to have a social conscience; where we can get people here to step up to the plate in terms of philanthropy and charity, which is important.