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Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The White City of Tel Aviv, Mecca for Startups in Zion
Tel Aviv's nickname is the White City. It's an apt one: White is the 'color' of endless possibility, of a blank canvas, and of hope.
Often called "The State of Tel Aviv" by Israelis to reflect how different it is from the rest of the country - and the rest of the Middle East and the world for that matter - Tel Aviv has a certain hopeful magic to it that is impossible to completely capture in writing and permeates its startup world.
When you talk to the White City's entrepreneurs, you feel it. I've been hliving here for three decades and it never gets old. There is a sense that you can do anything, solve anything, code anything into being, if you have enough hope and chutzpah.
I felt it yesterday morning, for example, when I sat down with a friend of mine to talk about his work in artificial intelligence. Over a large cold Americano at Arcaffe, he excitedly but rationally explained how they were breaking down the foremost barriers in AI, and seeking to bind the human and computer elements in ways that have never yet been done. Endless possibility.
It's not, of course, to say that every one of these hopeful startups succeeds. Indeed, Israelis fail fast; at a faster rate than any other group of entrepreneurs I've met.
Every trip, I have at least a half-dozen coffees with founders who have quit and moved on to new ventures since my last trip; when their last venture was their life. What a difference May to September can make! It can be very frustrating, especially when it was your capital on the line.
Nor can startups' magic banish the country's demons, which always lurk just on the edge of the city's hope border. Israelis will often tell you, in momentary sparks of deep candor, that they live in a world of frenetic denial; of frantic activity and endless hope to mask an ever more permanently embedded national cynicism.
Never was this more evident than during Gay Pride, when the city's young and talented came out in their Friday best to party under endless pink banners; a grand party less to mask than to hold the demons at bay. That the party's aftermath was marred by a tragic shooting in Sarona Market does and should not take away from such a beautiful moment.
Yet, none of these maddening elements, nor Israelis' sometimes caustic idiosyncracies, can take away from the magic of the place and its people.
In a country where the potential future border is nine miles away, Tel Aviv feels like it rests in an island of hope that ends right at its edge. And its people like it that way.