ISRAEL: The Godfather of Israeli High Tech

You may have never heard the name Yossi Vardi, but ask any Israeli in the high tech industry and they’ll probably sing his praises. That’s because Vardi, in the course of his 41-year career, has played an immeasurable role in the development of the industry, inspiring Israeli start-ups  and founding or helping to build more than 60 high-tech companies there. Known as the Godfather of Israeli high tech, the entrepreneur has worked in the areas of software, energy, electro-optics and the Internet. He has inspired a wave of young Israelis to enter the field with new start-ups each year, exemplifying the country’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Last month, the San Diego chapter of StandWithUs, through its Israel Start Up Nation Series, brought from Israel Vardi to speak to audiences both within and outside the Jewish community to showcase this hugely successful facet of Israeli society.

“Part of this series and the thinking behind this is that like Israel, San Diego is one of the most networked and thriving innovative communities,” says Audrey Jacobs, regional director of StandWithUs San Diego. “[Through the series], we want to highlight Israel beyond the conflict, and we are hoping to showcase and encourage collaboration with Israeli entrepreneurs.”

On his San Diego tour, Vardi will speak to students and faculty at UC San Diego and Hi Tech High and to employees at Qualcomm, which has established a presence in Israel.

“The hi-tech industry is not a monolithic thing,” Vardi says. “If you look on a timeline of a company, you see that in the beginning, you have to come up with an idea and to be willing to take risk. You have to grow fast, you have to think fast, and you have to do this usually in small teams.”

As a founder and key member of more than 70 technology companies, Vardi knows of what he speaks. At 26, he co-founded and later served as CEO at one of the first Israeli software companies, Tekem. In 1996, he was the founding investor for the first company to provide Internet-wide instant messaging. That company was later sold to America Online (AOL) for more than $400 million.

But what is it about Israel that makes it such a hotbed for new technology? For Vardi, it’s teamwork.

“I think this is where Israel has the advantage,” he says. “When it comes to running a mammoth software project, Israel is not necessarily different from other countries, but when it comes to originality and the need to come up with an idea and get all the components into place, to deploy it and to get it into proof of concept, Israel is a terrific place. This is the reason why there are currently about 6,000 startups in Israel. And the nature of the Israeli entrepreneur — who is not afraid and is resourceful, motivated and fast moving — all give us an advantage.”

But even with all Israel’s success in technology, Vardi says the country still has a way to go in terms of gaining approval in the international arena.

“I think the Israeli high-tech industry will continue to thrive, but we have to realize that the world is not living only on the high-tech sector,” he says. “We have some other issues we have to resolve. One is the embracing of the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs by the industry and the second is to come into agreement with our neighbors, namely the Palestinians. These are two very pressing issues that will affect Israeli society, and I don’t believe that high-tech can live alone, detached from the rest of the national issues… we have to take risks or we will not go anywhere.”


Reporting by Alanna Berman; Published in the San Diego Jewish Journal.

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