Move over Silicon Valley, New Zealand techies take note of Israeli entrepreneurs
A one hour drive away from Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque where Israeli troops have clashed with praying Palestinians in recent weeks, lies a budding technology and cyber security start-up community.
A New Zealand delegation of 30 private sector and Government cyber security representatives visited it in June and were blown away by Tel Aviv entrepreneurs' efforts amidst adversity.
Aura Information Security general manager and delegate Peter Bailey said the pressures of war had prompted innovation in Israel.
At least 20,000 of Israel's 8 million people worked in cyber security, possibly making it the next SIlicon Valley for technology companies, Bailey said.
He said New Zealand entrepreneurs should take note of Israeli's unwavering pride, courage and go getter attitudes. They have so much audacity they even have a name for it - chutzpah.
"As far as the work they deliver, a lot of that is done in New Zealand already, we are just not as good as promoting it," Bailey said.
"One thing we all walked away thinking was we need to promote our work better."
The delegation's week long tour was spent attending the Tel Aviv Cyber Security week and visiting universities and companies.
Bailey said some of the most interesting start-ups were using artificial intelligence to automate manual cyber security work, such as recording hacking tests.
Students at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion University cyber security research centre showed the group interesting ways to steal information from a computer.
One student flew a drone to a server and downloaded its data through its blinking light. Another heated a server to trigger a response in another which would be useful in the event of a hack.
Bailey said Israel's political and education agenda created the "perfect recipe" for recruiting IT talent.
At the age of 18 it is mandatory for all Israeli youth to serve in the military. School students that show top skills in the compulsory IT subject are hand picked by the Israel Defence Force to join its cyber security unit, named 8200.
Members of the 8200 group skip learning how to use a gun and instead train to keep Israel's military data safe.
Bailey said because the country was in a constant state of attack, the young trainees were given the best practical experience. After spending two to five years in the unit, they left with fledgling skills and many went on to start their own cyber security companies, he said.
He said the Israeli Government paid for former 8200 members to renew their IT skills in annual refresher courses.
"They have taken a situation that is quite negative and defended themselves and turned it into an industry."
Bar compulsory conscription, Bailey said New Zealand and Israel shared some similarities.
"They have a lot of pressures we do not have to deal with … [But] we are both small, motivated countries."
He said New Zealand cyber security companies should work with Tel Aviv's counterparts to form relationships so they can tap into their knowledge if a cyber attack hits here.
But he was unsure whether our companies would thrive in the Middle Eastern market. He said its technology market was pretty full already.
- Sunday Star Times