Moneycontrol
Jan 12, 2018 04:36 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Startup Lessons from Israel for Indian Army to help build innovation culture

There is a need to create an interface between the Indian military and entrepreneurs to learn from each other's experiences.

Representative image
Representative image

By Maj. Sunil Shetty,SM (retd) Founder & CEO, AskMentor

This week a barbershop conversation on Israel and its farming techniques set me thinking about the impact this middle eastern nation has created across the world.

A chit-chat between barber and client is not new. It has been on-going for ages across cultures.

Barbershops are "popular centres for daily news and gossip", and they have been that way since the Roman period.

For over a decade now Vinod, a Hyderabad based hairstylist, has been helping me with a crewcut that I have carried from my days in the Indian Army.

Whenever I am back in India from my business travels overseas; he wants to hear my adventure stories. He sometimes tests me on my political opinion, cricket and at times also seeks my advice.

This week, he wanted to know about Israel and its farming techniques.

Just to give a background; Vinod and his brother hail from the barber community in India. The young entrepreneurs have kept their family tradition alive by successfully running a salon for over 18 years now.

Keeping pace with change and development sweeping across the India, like true entrepreneurs, they have diversified into other businesses- including commercial farming and real estate.

For the past, few weeks, I have been reading and researching on the Israeli startup ecosystem.

So, when Vinod asked me about a 'hydroponics technology' from Israel-I was pleasantly surprised at the awareness of my friend. More importantly, I was pleased to hear from a barber about the penetration of Israel's brand image as a country for innovation.

There is something right this middle eastern country is doing that has led it to be recognized as a technology and innovation hub.

Numerous articles have highlighted the reasons that lead to Israel gaining the status of the 'Startup Nation' of the world.

However, my focus is on the contribution made by the Israeli defence forces (IDF), and if there are any lessons that India can adapt to groom its startup ecosystem. Here are a few lessons from IDF for the startup ecosystem:

1. A mindset to think outside the box: The Israeli special wings such as "Unit 8200" within the IDF is credited to have "redefined Israel as a startup nation."

These units induct young men and women aged 18 to 21 and then train them to think outside the box to "build technology that could address Israel’s critical security needs."

According to Oren Kaplan, founder of Sharing Alpha, the military as an incubation centre was "created, of course, to secure the Israeli homeland" but these centres now also serve as a training ground for skills that soldiers  carry over into later life" especially into the business world.

Entrepreneurs should have the ability to work in small teams, manage within limited resources, know how to handle the pressure of deadlines and stick together in a crisis.

During my army days, my senior subalterns would say "go find out and let me know" whenever I approached them with a query or a problem.

Such push to let others explore, gave me the immense freedom to think differently and often led to finding innovative ways of executing work.

There is a need to create an interface between the Indian military, entrepreneurs, and wantrepreneurs to exchange and learn from each experience.

2. Military as a technology Incubator: The Israel military is seen as a "technology incubator that exposes young minds to sophisticated equipment and managerial experience."

Similarly, Indian military could become the technology incubator for the country's engineering graduates.

The ‘Make in India’ program is a major initiative to make India self-reliant for its security needs.

Having an in-house incubation centre for R&D will give the end-user - the Indian armed forces freedom to design solutions that meet their requirements.

The innovation centre could be part of the technical and engineering wings of the Indian military.

Given the interest among big Indian corporates and SMEs in defence manufacturing industry; they could fund the establishment and running of military incubation centres on equity sharing scheme.

Such a partnership would be a win-win for all, including for programmes such as 'Make in India' and 'Startup India, Stand up India.'

Israel "lives in a tough neighbourhood" and yet it turned "its liabilities to assets" according to Ron Prosor, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the Head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy.

India with its human resource and entrepreneurial spirit hardwired in them should be able to make an impact on the global stage by tweaking the policies that limit startup culture.

(The author is founder CEO of AskMentor. Views are personal.)
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