For a small nation, Israel punches far above its weight when it comes to innovation, start-ups and cutting-edge technology. The Chamber’s Young Executives Club teamed up with HKU SPACE Executive Academy to organize an Executive Study Tour to Israel, to explore what Hong Kong businesses can learn from the country’s success.
The six-day visit, from 1-6 April, included lectures and company visits, with a little bit of time for sightseeing in this most historic of regions.
Delegates attended four tailor-made lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to learn how a culture of innovation and creativity has contributed to the country’s emergence as a “start-up nation.”
Nathan Zeldes is a globally renowned consultant on workplace efficiency, and is also a guest lecturer for the executive programme at the university. He focuses on how businesses can deal with the “information overload” of technological change and ensure their employees are happier as well as more productive.
His lecture covered the business applications of new technology, and he discussed how developments including AI, big data and the Internet of Things are now moving from the realm of science fiction into daily life. To demonstrate this, Zeldes introduced some Israeli corporations and their research in niche technology areas. For example, Afimilk, a company that develops solutions for managing dairy herds, has created tags that can monitor aspects including a cow’s health, heat season and calving. In another example, Allerguard is developing a handheld sensor using AI to identify allergens in food.
However, Zeldes also shared his concern about possible downsides to advanced technology. “These rapidly growing technologies may also put the future of humanity at risk,” he said, quoting Stephen Hawking.
Zeldes also noted that some experts believe the intelligence of a computer will exceed that of a human by 2045. However, the question remains whether such advanced machines will be able to solve the problems of mankind and enhance the human condition (known as “transhumanism”), or end up being a destructive force.
“It was an inspiring lecture that helped me to understand more about how the latest technologies are changing the world,” said Charles Lo, Consultant of Grant Thornton and one of the partipants on the tour. “For example, chatbots are already in operation at some hotel chains to serve guests.”
Professor Yisrael Aumann is a Nobel laureate in Economics for his work on game theory and its uses in conflict and collaboration. His lecture, “Game Theory: Game Engineering,” looked at game theory in decision-making from a theoretical point of view and with some real-life cases.
Aumann explained that incentives are key in game engineering, as people need to have a reason to do a certain action. Ideally, that action will beneficial for all parties involved. He shared an example of delivering a win-win negotiation between two opposing parties, with strategies that participants could use in the workplace and in daily life.
In another lecture, members learned about the key role that Judaism has played in the country’s innovative mindset. Dr Rabbi David Mescheloff reviewed the connection between Jewish culture and creative thinking that has fuelled the spirit of entrepreneurship in the country. He also explained that in Israel, vigorous and respectful debate with the aim of reaching the truth is encouraged.
Anthony Chiang, Sole Proprietor of Anthony S L Chiang & Co, said that he had been inspired by Mescheloff’s talk. “We learned that Jewish people are passionate in their disagreements,” Chiang said. “It is a way for them to always pursue the truth.”
Teresa Ng, Head of Marketing at HKT, added that the lecture had helped her to understand how the approaches to parenting and education in different cultures have an impact on children’s creative development.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) play a key role in the culture of the nation, with virtually all citizens over the age of 18 doing national military service for at least two years. It is also a fertile breeding ground for the development of innovation.
In his lecture, the IDF’s Captain Yaakov Selavan explained the link between the army and innovative thinking, as well as how to translate battlefield experience into business culture. He discussed the security and moral challenges facing the army, and how the special conditions of serving in the forces demands out-of-the-box thinking and real innovation solutions.
Captain Selavan is also the founder of Slingshot Company, which runs programmes that give participants the chance to experience life as an army commander.
Delegates also enjoyed a tour of the university where they learned about notable alumni including several Fields and Nobel prizewinners, and Albert Einstein, who was a member of the university’s first Board of Governors.
From start-up to success
On the second part of the study tour, the delegates visited a number of Israeli companies and organizations, including AtoBe, an accelerator at the Azrieli College of Engineering.
Michael Mizrahi, Head of the Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Authority and Director of AtoBe, introduced the accelerator programme for start-ups. He explained how AtoBe provides guidance, knowledge and support to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into a thriving business model.
On a visit to OrCam Technologies, members learned about the company’s wearable devices to help the blind and visually impaired. Leon Paull, International Sales and Business Development Manager, demonstrated the OrCam, which uses AI to read and recognize the objects in front of it.
“This device is definitely good news for the elderly and people with visual disabilities,” said participant Ian Robinson, Member of the Hong Kong Housing Society.
The delegation also visited Surecomp, which provides global trade solutions for financial institutions that have been adopted by some major banks in Hong Kong, and the autonomous driving technology company Mobileye.
The Centre for Israeli Innovation arranged a tour for participants to introduce start-ups in sectors ranging from agriculture to transportation. They also invited Uriel Ekstein from The Floor to share the fintech company’s history and its strategies for growth in Asia, and in Hong Kong in particular.
“It was fruitful learning about the various types of technology that these start-ups are developing,” said Dorcas Lau, CEO of Vitasoy International. “Some of them could be brought to Hong Kong to promote social betterment and help improve the quality of life.”
During the mission, delegates also had the opportunity to visit a number of historical sites including the Western Wall, Mount of Olives and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They also took a short trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Masada, and the Dead Sea.
Angela Lee, Chairman of Laboratory JaneClare Limited and Vice Chairman of the Chamber’s SME Committee, said that the study tour had been a success. “It was very inspiring to discover the wide range of innovative technologies being developed in Israel, and in particular to understand how its culture plays such an important role in the success of this start-up nation,” she said.
The Chamber would like to thank SEA and the Consulate General of Israel in Hong Kong and Macao for their support in organizing this study tour.