Op-Ed: Olim Might Think Small in Business
I spent my first fifteen months as an new immigrant, an oleh hadash. meeting people in business, because that’s my interest. I met people they recommended I speak with about business opportunities in Israel, and I attended numerous conferences and seminars around the country where I met more people who offered to meet me.
I learn a lot about Israel’s hi-tech prowess, but I also hear about its often-overlooked lo-tech industries that underpin the economy and create many jobs.
A recent book and series of articles by authors Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock illuminate how American support for Israel goes beyond moral obligation and common strategic interests. "Asset Test: How the United States Benefits from its Alliance with Israel" (Washington Institute, 2012) attests to the mutual blessings of their extensive trade relations and sovereign benefits from Israel’s technological triumphs in military hardware, cyber-security, medicine, biotech, agriculture, water conservation, and more.
Eisenstadt and Pollock pick up where Senor and Singer left off in their book "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle "(2009). Senor and Singer describe how technological innovations and business savvy became the engine driving the expansion of Israel’s economy. Emphasizing the importance of hi-tech innovations today, Eisenstadt and Pollock quote Bill Gates, “Innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of the technology business.”
What happens to entrepreneurs not hi-tech bound? Hi-tech companies get all the horns and whistles. Are lo-techies all operating falafel shops, managing clothing stores in malls, or rabbis?
Hardly! There is a sub-culture of lo-techies with street smarts, but they get short shrift from politicians and little media attention. Their products do not come out of university R&D centers, and seldom are the result of venture investment and foundation grants. Lo-techs do not elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ like PillCam, geothermal power plants, solar energy windows, HiSense monitoring of baby breathing to prevent crib death, and Waze that sells for a billion dollars. Nevertheless, lo-tech products give legs to a fledgling economy needing jobs and capital growth, and make for some interesting investment opportunities.
The first place to look is Israel 21c, a web site devoted to promoting product development and Israeli ingenuity. A few examples will suffice.
To begin with, there is the cardboard bicycle set to sell for $20 featured on television and news sites around the world.
Greenbo is an award winning colorful planter for flowers. It decorates and brings out a smile, after being attached to naked apartment railings and other sterile stairwells. Create a vertical herb and vegetable garden on any terrace. To date, around 250,000 units have been sold at about $25 apiece.
Hishti, is an Israeli “inventor” that grafts vegetables for the professional market. A new eco-living improvement from advances in agricultural technology is the long living basil tree in a pot or even a Greenbo planter. Take indoors in the cold and outdoors in summer. City dwelling chefs will kvel over this innovation. Hishti employs over 400 people in Israel.
A non-electric, non-laser hair removal tool is as basic as lo-tech gets. Epilady is a small, hand held, disc style gadget that removes hair similarly to a waxing treatment. Women swear by Epilady, a two decades old company with global sales of over 23 million in 13 different models. Lots of reasons for ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here—pun intended.
Two new lo-tech Israeli products with takeoff potential are Mianzi and La-Tweez.
Lo-tech products give legs to a fledgling economy needing jobs and capital growth, and make for some interesting investment opportunities.
Mianzi is a luxury fashion line for the special needs community. The father of a special needs child tired of seeing his son wearing a bib all day, everyday, invented a high quality line of shirts from fabric already on the market that is quick dry, anti-bacterial, anti-odor, eco-friendly, absorbent like French Terry, beautifully designed and comfortable. Mianzi means “A face of dignity and prestige” in Chinese, where the bamboo-based fabric already existed waiting for a hi-tech mind to apply it to the simplest of needs. Mianzifashion has pre-sold nearly $20,000 of shirts.
La-Tweez is a new product fighting to break into the beauty supply thickets. Founded in Tel Aviv in 2004 following the inventor’s post-army trek to China, so the story goes, he bought a tweezers in a small town market. Today, La-Tweez is building an international brand of high-end tweezers and beauty tools. La-Tweez sports a LED light to illuminate the hard to see hairs encased in a beautiful lipstick style holder.
Long before the profits from hi-tech products brought a glimmer in the eyes of Finance Ministers, Secretaries of the Treasury, and venture fund managers, simple goods underpinned world economies. In 1500 BCE, a caravan of traders with animals, spices, handcrafted clothing and jewelry bailed Joseph out of the pit bringing him to the dense and teaming markets of Egypt where they were travelling to sell their wares.
The next time you are looking for an investment opportunity, think about what is in your home and office of a simple nature. Look for something that you will miss if someone had not invented and others had not invested in it.
Coca Cola began its stellar rise when that first test tube was filled with that delicious syrup and water before it was ever sold to a thirsty little boy. Inventors of simple products are a testament to Dr. Seuss when he wrote, “You can’t wait around for things to happen to you; you have to go out and make your business dreams come true.”